The Fem Spot

Someone probably hates you too

Posted in Marriage, News, queer theory by femspotter on January 18, 2012

January 18, 2012

I recently attended the gathering of roughly 300 concerned citizens reacting to the firebombing of a Jewish synagogue in a neighboring town. The rabbi and his family of seven live above the synagogue in the residence. Mercifully, no one was injured, but, of course, the family is shaken: scared because of the violence and saddened because of the hate.

‘Hate,’ similar to ‘violence,’ is a rather ambiguous concept, prone to semantic dispute. When asked to define either of these terms, most people tend to recall their own experiences for explanation: People hate me because I’m Jewish/Muslim/Black/Gay/Female, etc. Violence is beating/rape/spitting/yelling obscenities/shooting a gun, etc. Because of these discrepancies, we tend to forget that others too experience hate and violence in their own unique ways. Hate and violence are personal, and things we think we own.

At the vigil, members of the community, politicians and local clergymen made grand statements describing their outrage and expressing hope for peace and unity between the Jewish community and their own. I leaned forward and whispered in the ear of our minister, “You should make a statement, if you feel comfortable. Please mention that we are an open and affirming congregation that welcomes people of all sexual orientations.” He nodded.

There were many different kinds of people at the gathering, mostly varying on the basis of religion. The yarmulke on Jewish men, habit on Catholic nuns, and kufi on Muslim imams signified diversity. Then there was our Protestant pastor with no distinguishing religious attire – that I can recall, just a tweed jacket and a gentle expression. He rose and spoke on the subject of disbelief: how he and others couldn’t understand how such a heinous act could occur here, in this quiet little burg.

And that was all he said.

Oh well, I thought; there’s a missed opportunity to plug our mission. Perhaps he didn’t feel comfortable being OPENLY gay in a crowd of people who aren’t open to people being gay. I can certainly respect that, since you never know when and where hate and subsequent violence can sprout. Perhaps the mention would have caused a riot. After all, this is not a community that’s hosting vigils for LGBTQ (the ‘Q’ stands for Queer) individuals who are survivors of violence, firebombing or otherwise.

Wait just a minute! Why is that? Why is this community, which purports to accept and love all religions (or at least those on display), not professing its love (or lack of hatred) for gays? This wasn’t just a missed opportunity for a little PR, it was a missed opportunity to remind religious folk of their hypocrisy: loving those who follow the heteronormative formula, and rejecting those who don’t.

Even while the inter-faith flag flew, it was easy to tell that topic at hand was not simply hatred or violence. Instead, it was hatred and violence against a pristine family, one with a composed yet doting father, a beautiful mother and five precious children who – aside from fittingly, physically resembling their parents – look like they’ve just stepped out of an ad for GapKids®. So they look normal…acceptable? They follow the rules. And the rules are these: be born, squelch your natural instincts if you don’t fit the hetero formula, grow up, date and marry a member of the opposite sex, have children and die. Happy? Probably not. The restrictive gender binary that holds our society together is gradually tearing us apart because we collectively resist change and adhere to an antiquated understanding of “the way things should be.”

Our church, open and affirming though it may be, is not superior to this resistance. Just try offering up a suggestion for change: “That’s not the way we do it.” We’ll never get and keep new members if we’re sticks in the mud. But the reason I joined this church is because I wanted to be social in an environment that has boldly crossed the current frontier: we love the people who identify as LGBTQ. And this was not something that was easily fostered: many left the church after it adopted an O&A stance, not necessarily because they weren’t open to these identities, but because they couldn’t commit to affirming them. And now, here we are: the product of some old thinking, some new thinking, but with both feet firmly planted on the side of love. I think Jesus would approve.

It’s easy to point to LGBTQ and say “they’re the victims” these days. Bullying and suicide have reached extreme levels in our American society. But the truth is queer bias is simply a fallout from our all too rigid gender binary which informs the aforementioned formula. Look at how we react to the likes of a Susan Sarandon/Tim Robbins pairing. Many remark, “Why don’t they just get married?!” Marriage is the crucible upon which we tend to level our fear of the unknown or the undesirable. This is not just because of a fear that gays and lesbians marrying will breach the gender binary (and cost the government millions in lost tax revenue)… No, it’s the manifestation of our deeper need to put people into categories: male/female, masculine/feminine, married/single/widowed/divorced, secular/non-secular, working mother/domestic mother, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, socialist (gasp!)/capitalist, violent/non-violent, Jewish/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist/Christian, etc. GEEZ – we’re judgemental! But that keeps us safe, right?! (It’s a pity that Sarandon and Robbins have split…just as we were starting to get a handle on the concept of domestic partnership!)

If you’re not normal and we can’t understand you, we hate you. Period. I wanted my daughter to be exposed to diversity at the gathering, and I was sorry for the lack of it beyond religious/ethnic categorization…or at least obvious categorization. Some people still have to hide. Perhaps worse: some people still believe they do even when it’s safe?

Of course, it’s completely impossible to quantify hate. I mean, the synagogue incident is terrorism; it’s horrible! It’s not the byproduct of a greater hatred than that which exists for other terrorized peoples. We can’t be in the business of oppression olympics, even if we are identifying systemic causes of violence. If someone says, “Life is harder for me because transgendered people can’t use public restrooms without dirty looks and, in some places, physical assault,” someone else could say, “Yeah?! Well millions of Jews died in the Holocaust!” or “Did you know that one in six women in the United States is the victim of rape?” etc. Any hatred and resulting violence is wrong: even if it’s just a mean word designed to hurt feelings. (DO NOT SAY IT!)

But in the wake of hatred and violence directed at you, try to remember that it is also directed elsewhere. Reach out with love. And if you haven’t experienced a beating or a rape or a firebombing…remember this: there’s always tomorrow. And somebody probably hates you too.

Marriage, shmarriage… (Carrie Prejean vs. Perez Hilton)

Posted in Marriage, Pop Culture, queer theory by femspotter on April 23, 2009

April 23, 2009

Legal same-sex marriage has come to fruition in some of our United States. Not because everybody believes that all people should be allowed to enter into a marriage contract with their person of choice and receive equal rights and privileges under the law alongside heterosexuals, but because some people do. And gay rights activists should be proud of their achievement, which seems to be growing and spreading into the most unexpected places. To recap: same-sex marriage is currently legal in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and will soon be legal in Iowa (April 27, 2009) and Vermont (September 1, 2009).

Connecticut? The stingy, puritanical state with the highest average rate of per capita income (as of 2007, according to the United States Commerce Department) and the low average rate of pre-tax income charitable giving (1.3 percent as of 2005 according to Iowa? The seemingly conservative state nestled snugly in the Bible Belt?

Of course, I’m generalizing, which is unfair. While some people who live in these states may be opposed to same-sex marriage, others are not…though neither belief can be said to define the whole state in question. What this legality means for American homosexuals is that they will soon be able to live in legal matrimony in four states where heterosexuals must – by law – tolerate them. This is progress and it is good.

Unfortunately – even though he might have good intentions – the celebrity gossip blabbermouth known as Perez Hilton has set this progress back a bit by refusing to exercise tolerance for those with a different perspective. Apparently it’s all or nothing with him. As a judge at the 2009 Miss USA Pageant on April 19, Hilton posed a question regarding same-sex marriage to contestant Carrie Prejean, Miss California. Here’s her response:

Well I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. Um, we live in a land that you can choose same sex marriage or opposite marriage and, you know what, in my country and in, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think that it should be between a man and a woman.

Needless to say, out-and-proud Hilton was not pleased with her response and responded by calling her a “dumb bitch” on his blog the following day. He later “apologized” for his attack saying that he was “just soooo angry, hurt, (and) frustrated by her answer.” He took down his initial post but has left this reminder of its sting:

Carrie Prejean, according to Perez Hilton

Carrie Prejean, according to Perez Hilton

See, to me, that illustration is much more offensive than her remarks at the pageant. (I think that image implies that she may have gotten to the top of the pageant circuit by “alternative means.”) Let me explain how her remarks don’t justify the shock and disdain they were greeted by. For starters, it seems to me that Prejean championed the equal rights of homosexuals saying, “I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other,” referring to the choice of marrying a person of either one’s own or opposite sex. Furthermore, her personal belief that the word “marriage” is applicable to heterosexual unions ONLY is the majority viewpoint in this country, though it doesn’t mean that most Americans (Prejean included) advocate hatred. According to one recent poll, while 60 percent of the country is in favor of some kind of legal union between homosexuals, only one third of Americans support same-sex marriage. Even our liberal political pantheon (the Clintons, the Obamas, the Bidens, etc.) don’t advocate same-sex “marriage.” But Miss California: she’s the real villain? From where she stands, she has no ability to impact laws and amendments to the Constitution, crown or no crown.

This issue is truly semantic. As a non-Christian, should I transition the label of my union from “marriage” to “civil union” because I’m not religious, even though I am married to someone of the opposite sex? Marriage, shmarriage… It doesn’t matter to me what you call it; I want everybody to have the right to do it. I feel the same way about polygamy. As long as my tax dollars aren’t supporting the wives and children that a polygamous husband chooses to ignore financially – and as long as there’s no abuse involved, sexual or otherwise – why can’t polygamists have the “marriage” they want?

It seems that Hilton – who is himself the beneficiary of the free speech amendment as a blogger who often has less than eloquent things to say about people in the public eye – is not in favor of free speech for people who don’t share his opinions.

Or perhaps this whole thing is just a publicity stunt?

If that’s the case, and nobody’s feelings are really hurt, then this incident is upsetting me on several levels. In the first place, it’s taking attention from “real” news that’s more important: the state of the economy, women’s rights in the Middle East – and everywhere, new advances in the fields of science and technology, etc. The fact that CNN has devoted so much of its air time to this fiasco – booking Hilton on Larry King Live, for one thing – demonstrates once again the way this news network has devolved to tabloid journalism. (Good thing I don’t work for CNN, or it might have fired me for that declaration just like it did Chez Pazienza! Check out his blog. It’s definitely a better click than the one you might make to Hilton’s blog.) Hopefully this story will get lost in the haze of what CNN considers to be newsworthy: “Octomom” and her antics, tracking the outcome of reality television competitions, and the comings and goings of Sarah Palin and her daughter’s ex-fiance, to name a few of its hot topics.

But what REALLY bugs me about this is the fact that it forces me – a feminist blogger – to defend a beauty queen: a woman participating in a competition that reduces her to the status of an inanimate object. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not that kind of feminist. If Prejean is happy doing what she is, then I believe she should enjoy herself and I’m sorry that expressing her personal opinion may have cost her first place in the Miss USA Pageant. I’m the kind of feminist who thinks women should do whatever makes them happy without harming others: from raising kids to performing in porn movies to running businesses to running for President… But Prejean is not the person we should be listening to when we want to have a serious discussion about issues like same-sex marriage. She’s not qualified to make decisions about that for the mindless idiots who might hear her answer and agree with it because she’s very pretty! That spot should be reserved for somebody who has considered both sides of the argument and can render a “fair” decision, or at least for somebody who is prepared to answer the question with clarity. In a beauty pageant, the questions are a surprise.

Come to think of it, I don’t think Hilton should be the one to represent the gay community either. He’s definitely not qualified. And he’s made it his mission to “out” suspected homosexuals claiming that it’s their duty to be out and proud the way he is. There’s such a thing as personal privacy, Hilton. You’re not calling these alleged “closeted homosexuals” on their hypocrisy; you’re robbing them of their privacy. If I were a member of this community, I would resent the fact that Hilton has positioned himself as a gay crusader of sorts and despotically seized the spotlight as a representative of my cause. For me, this would be like waking up one otherwise average day to find out that I am being represented – as a feminist – by Ann Coulter. I don’t agree with anything she stands for – just the fact that she stands tall in her beliefs, so I would feel horrible if hers was the standard feminism by which mine was judged.

I aspire to live in a time and place where everybody can be who they are without criticism for it, and they don’t require the attention of others to validate their sameness or contrarily their uniqueness: where – as Gore Vidal envisioned – we will not be labeled as “homosexual” or “heterosexual” people for the homosexual or heterosexual acts we do.

Somebody whose take on same-sex marriage I would have liked to have heard perished on April 12 at the age of 58. Queer Theory “founder” Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick – who died from breast cancer (a disease that I’m convinced would cease to be the rampant epidemic that it is if it affected more men) – was apparently a straight girl like me, but one who posed interesting ideas about Jane Austen and masturbation, as well as insightful observations about the male characters in the works of Henry James, and more. Sedgwick thought that it is dismissive to read only heterosexual intent in the established literary canon, and reductive to assign the label “homosexual” to that same body of work. Instead, consider sexuality as if it were something elastic and something that has nothing to do with the words society uses to define it. The same thing can be said for gender: it doesn’t exist except for what we – as a collective society – say it means (masculine means strong/aggressive, feminine means weak/passive etc.). Sedgwick – having considered all of the relative social issues – is somebody I’d have liked to hear discussing gay rights issues, rather than the bland and beautiful Prejean or the offensive and rigid Hilton.

Perhaps Boy George said it best: There’s this illusion that homosexuals have sex and heterosexuals fall in love.  That’s completely untrue.  Everybody wants to be loved.

…even Prejean with her unattractive perspective. …even Hilton with his vulgar scribbles.

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