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.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Exploring Chrianna, Protective Moms, and the Innocent Child

I love pop culture. It is like an aphrodisiac to me. It brings me so much pleasure. It is simply titillating. I realize that perhaps one is not supposed to “love” popular culture since it is popular and it is much classier to be in love with something not “popular”, less trashy, more “high class” or “high culture”. But, I come from the lower end of the class/culture spectrum and I prefer to stay there most of the time.

But, that is neither here nor there. My interest in popular culture, in part, is that it is a much more effective educational tool than most of the crap we do in education – in my opinion. This is not to say that what we do-do in education is worthless, only that students aren’t much engaged in it, it doesn’t captivate them, it doesn’t amuse them, it doesn’t excite/anger them. I mention something from “high culture” to my students and they look at me like I am crazy. I provide an interesting academic article and it is ok, but I relate it to popular culture (i.e. reality shows) and the conversation is off in rather interesting, provocative, and educational ways.

Yet, popular culture gets such a bad rap. Parents often times hate popular culture, especially TV, the most. In watching Real Housewives of New York, I was reminded of this as Alex said she and her husband did not allow TVs in bedrooms – sad day for their kids. I was also reminded of this when watching CNN and the Mom-Brigade was all in a tizzy because Nickelodeon would not remove Chris Brown from the ballot for a Kids Choice Award. Nickelodeon officials said they would not because the show is about “Kids Choice” and therefore would not intervene stating something to the extent that “the kids put him on the ballot and they, the kids, will decide who actually wins the award”. Of course the Mom’s retorted saying that Nick is not controlled by kids and that “kids don’t have the ability to make all decisions on their own”. I understand the mom’s concerns so I don’t want to be seen as a mom-hater. I just think they can get ridiculous sometimes as we all can I suppose. I want to explore the mom argument further for its implications in education. [Please note, after writing this, I learned that Chris Brown has removed his name from the ballot which adds more to this in my opinion]

The mom’s argument is that Chris Brown has set a bad example for young boys, that rewarding him the award would be awarding his behavior. Of course such an argument 1) assumes the kids understand what happened or even cared and 2) negates everything he did to get the nomination. Are we not allowed to fuck up without totally fucking up our lives anymore? The moms seem to want only “good” representation and good “role” models, but what exactly is good representation or a “good” role model? Chris Brown was not nominated because he is a great boyfriend, he was nominated because he is a good performer and in my opinion a rather good model for certain things.

But, let’s talk about the mom argument because they invoke the power of “popular culture” to educate and educate “wrong”. They demonize that which I love in order to make their point. In such demonizing of course they would probably hold up “other” more “upstanding” individuals who most likely have just not gotten caught. They would perhaps point to PBS for its wholesome representations, representations that will not pervert their kids and should be embraced as such. Their arguments seems to rest heavily on the notion that their children are innocent, that children need to be protected when perhaps such a stance is not fair (to us or children).

Now, before I go any further to take on this discourse around the Chrianna fiasco, I want to note that I am not arguing that violence against a person, any person, is justified. I do not think Chris should have beat up Rhianna, so move past that – that’s not my argument. My argument will engage this controversy, but to make it more complicated, to perhaps show that we are all victims and victimizers?

My interest is in the way that the mom’s invoke the victim narrative of the “female” but see no problem with the multiple messages that they might be sending young girls. They appear to want to send the message that it is not ok to allow someone to beat you up or violate you in any manner (be that physical, verbal, emotional). But, in such a lesson they propel forth another lesson - teaching perhaps that girls are still the weaker sex…that they need to be protected by a “universal” sentiment that “you shouldn’t hit a girl”? While I agree with the explict lesson, it is the implicit lesson(s) that is(are) ignored that concerns me. What is the cost of positioning the “girl” as weak, as needing a “universal principle” to protect her? What is the cost for the “girl” and what is the cost for the “boy”? Does the boy learn to take such violence from a girl rather than hitting back? (I hit back when I was a boy and when told not to hit girls, said whatever, if she hits me I’m gonna hit her back cause she’s bigger than me)

Does such rhetoric teach girls to be defenseless? Does it teach boys to be chivalrous (sexism in disguise)? Does it fail to recognize the complexity of human relationships – that in moments of passion people do irrational things and in doing so need to seek reparations afterward? Does this lesson teach boys or girls to walk away from relationships after such emotion-laden experiences? Does it fail to show that love is not always easy, that love can be violent? Diddy (Sean Puffy Combs), recently on Ellen, expressed his concern over this affair noting that relationships are difficult and things happen in them…people get emotional, people make mistakes, people fuck up. The difference, as he discusses it, is that 1) these are public figures and 2) the rest of us keep it quiet, don’t talk about it in our own private lives. Why don’t we talk about it? Why don’t we admit that humans are not entirely rational, that humans get emotional, that humans lose control and in recognizing this move away from shaming someone for such an action and talking about ways to ward off such an incident from occurring again? This talking of course may not cure the “problem” but it may take the scandal out of it allowing more people to see that “shit happens” and while “shit happening” is not an excuse for what happens (reparations should be made, apologies should be give) it should also not be an excuse to make an example out of someone or not talk to someone anymore. In talking with Patti about this, she said that NPR just had a story on abuse where an “abuser” couldn’t get help to change – turned away for being the victimizer and as such victimized, branded much like we brand sex offenders and put them on registries (I won’t go there now).

Yet, the issue gets more interesting if we move away from the mom’s and to various other discussions about this issue. Rhianna and Chris have subsequently gotten back together. Many see this as absolutely ridic (that’s the cool way to say ridiculous). I think it is what it is. I think if they love one another and want to work through these issues, repair the trauma and damage, then I say go get ‘em. Yet, others have scorned Rhianna for making such a decision – some saying she is suffering from “battered wife syndrome”. First, why do we have to pathologize her decision to return to the man she loved, who made a mistake? Now, this is not to say again that his actions were “cool” or “justified” – they happened and if we all look deep within ourselves we can find things that we have done that were not very nice, perhaps violent to an Other (physically, verbally, emotionally). Second, and this might get me in trouble, is it possible that (some of) those who go back to “battering spouses” (male or female) do so because of the thrill, because they get some pleasure out of such situations. Or perhaps even that their love overwhelms their rational senses? Now, obviously this is a bit difficult to swallow, but what role does pleasure and desire play in decisions made about our relationships with an other? Some engage in such actions consciously (S/M) but perhaps others find such a relationship, either unconsciously or due to an unwillingness to express it consciously because of the scorn such a statement might cause, titillating, exhilarating, pleasurable?

Basically, if we engaged popular culture and the ways it positions subjects can we engage students with issues that are so often simplified? What would it mean to not pathologize men or women who keep going back to an abusive relationship? Or to look at such cases much more closely? To produce a different story about love? It is easy to look at such high profile cases and to in a sense displace the issues by doing so…but in such displacement do we lose the opportunity to implicate ourselves in these issues, to take a look in the mirror and see that we are all fucked up and that’s ok...that the issue perhaps, as Kincaid notes, is the story we are being told and we need to write new stories, new descriptions of issues?

Heterosexual Jealousy
In further thinking about this issue, I was re-reading a chapter by Judith Butler (2004) where she discusses heterosexual jealousy in light of the “inescapable ways that heterosexuality and homosexuality are defined through one another”. In her exploration she discusses the ways in which a man’s woman lover wants another man and in such a dynamic the “male” exposes the inability for passions to be mutually exclusive – that his (our) desires are simultaneously heterosexual and homosexual [in part I believe because as Lacan notes “desire is the desire of the Other”].

How you ask? In that by being enraged at his woman lover he may desire in part, to be in her (imagined) receptive position and in such a position see her not as taking on the feminine position, but actually exposing his imagination of her in “a position of passive male homosexuality”. He is enraged in part because he imagines himself in her position, a position disavowed in a homophobic symbolic, but cannot take on such a position…illustrating heterosexual and homosexual desires or passions where desires are never mutually exclusive.

So, why do I add this? I add it because I want to explore how her argument could illuminate different possibilities in reactions to “cheating”. Many reports note that the “jump-off” between Chris and Rhianna started from a text from another woman. In seeing this text, Rhianna became enraged and in response Chris became enraged – violently assaulting her. Unlike, but related to, Butler’s example, this one places the female as the one who originally becomes enraged but in such a rage provokes a rageful response. Heterosexual jealousy still rears its head, but in a slightly different dynamic. It is the male who, as is traditionally seen, is the one doing the cheating and exchanging/using women. While Butler then focuses on the male homosocial and homosexual bond and desire wherein male rage emerges in part out of the disavowal of the homosexual and the inability to be such…can we read the Chrianna incident as exposing the lesbian homosocial/sexual bond and desire also? Did Rhianna in her rage, imagine herself not in the passive feminine position (she was not getting from Chris by his being with another woman) but in the active masculine position (that Chris was imagined to be in) where she was not just pissed that her man was cheating but that she could not enter such a position, that she could not, in a homophobic symbolic, engage in such a relationship with another woman? Was Chris’s response then, in part, a homophobic one where he did not imagine Rhianna in an adulterous relationship with another man, but with another woman as she took on the active “masculine” position – eliminating the “male” dynamic in the relation and “hurting” his male “masculine” ego. Was his violence in part against the homosocial and homosexual passions and desires of the “lesbian” that were operating simultaneously in Rhianna’s response. This is not to say that either are "homosexual" merely to ponder the contradictory and multifaceted aspects that desire may have...Chrianna, because of their current "status" are merely place markers for thinking about this contradictory and multifaceted read.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

On Love

I find myself often meditating on the concept of love. It is said to be many things. It is said to make the world go ‘round. Yet, in making the world go ‘round what else does it make us do? Does it make us go mad? Does it make us feel sad? Does it make us feel a connection to something in a world so often feeling devoid of meaning or is it that which gives us meaning,
what which makes the world bearable, livable?

What is it about love that makes us so…so scared? So happy? So vulnerable? What is it about love that splits us from ourselves, further than we are already as a split subject? What is it about love that is thought to be able to solve the problems...that if we just loved, things could be, would be, should be different?

Who is it that is allowed to love? Who is it that we are allowed to love? Who is it that we allow ourselves to love? Why is it that we hurt those we love? Must we inflict such hurt? Is such hurt, such pain necessary for love to be understood, known, felt?

How is it that we can walk away from love? Is it because we never know that it is love until, there, in the future, when we can look back on “now” and see that we had love? That we felt loved? That we loved?

Do we fool ourselves to believe that love is possible or do we fool ourselves to believe that love is impossible? Is love delusional? If love is delusional, what does it mean for those of us who love, or want to love, or have loved, or have lost love, or have, in an instant felt all of these – pushing and pulling us in different directions – this queer thing called love?

Do we ever walk away from love without knowing what we are walking away from? Is it easier to walk away from love, to re-fall in love somewhere else, some-time else so not to feel the creeping feeling that we will soon, fall and shatter the self, the self that we have produced and believe is real, true when perhaps that’s just it…we are not whole, we are always split, always divided? We can never love entirely for we know not ourselves entirely? Is love a failure because of this? Or in such a failure can love be something different? Something radical? Something strange?

Do we search for love and search for it often without ever asking what it is we are searching for or if what we are searching for is even something that can be searched for? Do we search for it when we’ve found it, hoping, believing, desiring, fantasizing that something different, something “better”, something of our dreams will finally come along? Or are we swept off our feet in a different time and place and in such a time and place have to just love and not look back…not looking back even if that means hurting the one we loved, there in a different time and place?
What happens to those who are left there, back there when others move, fall, or re-fall in love?

What do we do when we are left here, in the past, with our love there, somewhere there in a different time and place with a different love? Do we shatter further? Do we begin searching for love again, even if such a search is always in vain? Do we fall again…further in love in an attempt to fall out of love? Do we fall out of love and in doing so fall back in love…with someone else? With our self? Do we mourn our loss? Can we mourn such loss? Is such a loss grievable? What does such a loss require to be mourned?