In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

How dare you mistrust our rich white gay men?

Guess what? Time for another post about ENDA, the bitter controversy that refuses to die! But first, let’s review, shall we?

A couple of months ago, the US House of Representatives passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would grant limited forms of protection to gay people… at least as long as they don’t “act gay.” As Jill noted at the time, it was a pretty Pyrrhic victory. Even the sponsor of the bill, veteran gay congressman Barney Frank, suggested that a presidential veto was likely, and that one of the real reasons to pass it was to try and soften up Congress — to get them used to voting for LGBT rights. Unfortunately, Frank also found it was necessary to throw trans people to the wolves as part of this effort to create a kinder, gentler, gay-friendlier Congress. Discarding trans rights into a pit full of rabid, conservative lupines is a habit Frank has acquired over the years by repeatedly talking about how freaky it would be if trans people and non-trans people had to share showers. (It’s worth noting that I’ve never actually heard any trans advocate suggest what Frank is so nervous about.)

Since then, there’s been a huge amount of bitterness over the decision by Frank and Nancy Pelosi, with the backing of the most powerful gay lobby in the country, the HRC, to go forward with the non-inclusive ENDA. Prominent trans activists working with the HRC felt compelled to resign. The HRC put out a jaw-droppingly tone-deaf PR plan to win back the hearts of the trans community. Pretty much every trans person who was paying attention to this debacle felt that it was far too little, far too late. Here in New York, HRC representatives were publicly excoriated at the local LGBT center by a crowd of activists, trans and non-trans alike, and picketed by a few dozen silver-haired veteran queer activists outside the heavily symbolic Stonewall Bar.

But now, apparently, a trans activist has really crossed the line, to paraphrase the headline of an editorial just posted by Kevin Naff. Naff is the editor of the Washington Blade, the nation’s second-largest gay paper:

The recent remarks by Meredith Bacon, president of the board of the National Center for Transgender Equality, denouncing the Human Rights Campaign’s handling of the ENDA debate, serve as a vivid and disappointing reminder of why the trans movement hasn’t progressed as far as the gay rights movement.

“[A]s the chair of the NCTE Board of Directors, I can assure all who read this blog that NCTE will not work with HRC in the foreseeable future, until the current leadership is completely purged, and until we are convinced that, unlike its predecessors, any new HRC leadership is totally committed to working for transgender rights,” Bacon wrote.

“As long as HRC is controlled by and is dependent upon white, rich, professional gay men, such collaboration may never occur,” she wrote.

Her comments are offensive, counterproductive and totally unacceptable. She should either retract those comments and apologize or be removed from her position post-haste if her organization is to retain any credibility whatsoever in the gay rights movement.

Now that… that is over the line! How dare she… how does she think she can get away with this kind of “name-calling,” as Naff puts it? You know, calling people nasty names lke “white,” and “rich,” and “professional gay men.” No wait, that can’t be what he means. Everyone KNOWS the HRC is beholden to affluent, mostly-white gay folks; they provide the money, they influence the agenda. Nobody even bothers to argue otherwise. It’s how most of the large non-profits in this country work.

Maybe the point is this: how dare Bacon claim that rich white men won’t eventually come back to help other oppressed people! It’s a totally offensive assumption, and wounds the sensitive feelings and dignity of rich white professional liberal dudes everywhere, whether they’re gay or not! I mean, the HRC and its overlords are totally liberal, I mean progressive, and will always fight for the little guy, right? It’s not like the HRC endorses Republican candidates who oppose reproductive rights, affirmative action, and perform racist caricatures of Asians. Oh, oops. They DID do that. But it’s not like the HRC supported the Bush Administration’s plan to privatize Social Security. Oh, oops. They did that too, in exchange for promises that gay partners might be able to receive benefits in a privatized program. Oh yeah, you can totally trust those Bush adminsitration guys. Just like you can trust the HRC, apparently.

How dare she say that her organization won’t trust the HRC anymore? It’s appalling, this lack of trust, and she ought to be removed from her position, or none of you trannies will ever work in this town again, I say! Harrumph, harrumph. Can’t have these people insulting the rich white professional men now, now can we? Absolutely improper. Totally unacceptable.

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Privatizing Marriage

As usual, I am with Stephanie Coontz. If you aren’t familiar with Coontz, get thyself to Amazon, because she is an incredible social historian and feminist commentator. And go read her article. A teaser:

Perhaps it’s time to revert to a much older marital tradition. Let churches decide which marriages they deem “licit.” But let couples — gay or straight — decide if they want the legal protections and obligations of a committed relationship.

“Men seldom make passes at women who wear glasses”

I’m back! I found an article a few days ago that I felt compelled to write about. Warning: I’m writing this in a state of frenzy as I’ve got about a million disconnected (and connected) thoughts going through my head. So, if I digress…forgive and forget. K? Cool.

So, the LA Times has an article out on the single (and happy!) woman in Egypt. How appropriate. The article is essentially about the burgeoning population of single, career women in Cairo, and their waning desires to get married all young and stuff and start having babies (not that there is anything wrong with that). The article addresses the social pressures (which are present in the States as well, but I think, not as prevalent) of getting married at a young age and foregoing a career in exchange for a stable, dependent husband. As if the two are mutually exclusive.

The whole idea of beauty and intelligence being two mutually exclusive attributes really bothers me. It actually really annoys the hell out of me. I had the unfortunate experience of dating a huge misogynist not too long ago, and he pretty much fit right into Parker’s quote. The reasons he broke up with me? There were a few…let me break them down…(yes, they are that good):

1) I never cooked him dinner. Ever. Whoops. Homeboy wanted me to make him sandwiches and bring them to class for him as well. I’m a bad girlfriend.

2) I “studied more than he did, worked out more than he did, went out more than he did, drank more than he did.” Dating a frat boy probably wasn’t the best idea on my part.

3) when we walked down the street, and I was talking politics or feminism or…anything serious, even for a second…it made him “feel like he was walking down the street with a 45 year old woman” (what?!?)


4) he was afraid “I would correct him in front of his friends at the weekly kegger or frat party”

Right. Right. So…homeboy kept on asserting, the entire length of our relationship, that he loved the fact that I was smart and funny and also…”a hottie to boot!” (wow, what a compliment) but that…in social situations, I was never to “one up” him. On anything. Ever. Even if he accidentally mis-used a word. Or made a total ass out of himself. Which he did. Often. Without trying to figure out my deranged mental state while dating this character…the point is…that I always felt like I had to hide my motivation, my intelligence. I had to hide the fact that I was opinionated and…that I was *gasp* a feminist! No! If he only knew I was guest-blogging for a feminist blog RIGHT NOW…I think he might pop a blood vessel.

I’m in no hurry to get married, and while I’m definitely open to the idea of marriage, I don’t feel as inclined towards meeting the man of my dreams and popping out lots of babies. My older sister, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. She’s a 27 year old, Harvard and Johns Hopkins educated pediatrician, and has definitely cried to me on the phone about her plight as the “old maid” who just wants her boyfriend to propose. She’s 27. We’re different, if you couldn’t tell. My parents have pretty much caught on (they are smart!!) that I’m not necessarily jumping up and down about the thought of getting married and I am constantly sending hints to my mother (via emails) trying to telling her that feminism, human rights, women’s rights, all of it…well, it’s not just a hobby.

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As the Unthinkable Becomes Inevitable

San Diego’s Republican mayor, Jerry Sanders, was expected to veto legislation in support of gay marriage this week. Yesterday he had a change of heart (WARNING: GRAB A HANKY):

Definitely the feel-good story of the weekend, and illustrative of why openness and visibility are important for minority communities seeking political justice. To borrow a phrase from somebody out there, this is how progress happens; something that was once unthinkable becomes inevitable. Damn, isn’t it good?


Awkward conversations

First off, this will be my last post of the week. It’s been lovely and I’m so pleased to have had the opportunity. So come by and chat at my blog if you’re so inclined.

I figured that for my last post, I’d go for a little navel gazing and then one last picture of Bronx.

When I went to go meet T’s extended family for the first time last Christmas, I knew in advance that they were a conservative lot. I also know that I am not all that great at keeping my mouth shut, smiling, and nodding. I can do it for short periods of time and then I’m forced to drag T aside and rant about whatever is chapping my hide at the present moment while he implores me to keep my voice down and agrees with me all in one breath. And when we were greeting at the door by T’s aunt, smiling and wearing a bejeweled God brooch, I knew that I was more unprepared than I realized.

As I was introduced to T’s aunts, uncles, cousins, and cousins’ kids, they were all very pleasant. They said how nice it was to meet me and how lovely the wedding was going to be. And then they stopped. I waited for them to ask about law school or working for the Army or my family or *anything*. Nothing. T kept on answering his uncles’ questions about school or what he was up to professionally these days, but every question posed to me was about the wedding.

It was then that I had an important realization: with one exception, all of T’s female cousins and the wives of his male cousins are all stay at home moms. (The one who’s not a SAHM is single and works in retail.) They all live in the same small town and belong to locally prominent families. They’re well educated and well off. And we have nothing at all in common.

Under normal family circumstances, I wouldn’t worry too much about this. I’d see them at holidays, smile, nod, and drink a lot of Christmas punch. But come September, I am going to have to chat with all of the women in T’s family for an entire afternoon during a wedding shower.* My wedding shower.

Every wedding shower I’ve ever been to has been awash in gendered traditions, giggling about sex, and some really, really bizarre ideas about the inherent nature of men and women, none of which I want any part of. I could deal with the giggling about sex, but probably not with this crowd. My future mother-in-law is throwing the shower and has promised that there will be no ridiculous games and similar, but I’m still nervous. Are there survival tips for dealing with people you barely know, must make nice to, with whom you have nothing in common? I’ve already made a note of not mentioning my own lack of desire to be a SAHM or waxing poetic about Linda Hirschman. But beyond that, I’m not too sure.

In my own way, I’m mostly worried about being judged for not changing my name, not planning to stay at home, and dragging T to all corners of the globe while I work for the Army. Reading what I’ve just typed, I still have a hard time processing the fact that any of those things would be controversial or cause for comment, although I know they will be. And I know who to blame.

*BTW, is there a purpose for wedding showers besides getting more gifts?

P.S. And before I depart, one last puppy picture:

Complicating the Gay Marriage Debate

There are supposed to be two sides to this marriage debate. Either you’re a member of the Religious Right and are opposed or you’re a good liberal and are in favor. Right? Not so much. I’ve seen a huge range of opinions on this issue from queers who don’t identify with either of these mainstream opinions. I wish that more of these voices were represented in legislative actions and in media representations. And from a personal perspective, I’m kind of done with having people assume I’m gung-ho about gay marriage just because I’m queer.

Gay marriage advocates are fighting for the same rights that straight people already have. I’d like to question why straight marriage is the model from which to build gay marriage. Is it convenience? Strategy? (i.e. what is winnable?). Why aren’t we fighting for more, why aren’t we representing nontraditional family structures instead of just traditional nuclear family structures? (and no, I’m not talking polyamory right now). What good is the right to share health insurance with your partner when millions of Americans don’t have health insurance to begin with? Furthermore, why should the government get to police who shares our benefits, who can inherit from us, and who can adopt our children? Considering that only 25% of families in this country follow the traditional nuclear model, wouldn’t we be better off instead seeing what might be best for everyone? How do (or will) co-parenting families, cohabiting adults in non-romantic relationships, single parents living with a sibling, and elderly parents living with their child and their child’s partner (among countless other permutations of family) benefit from a marriage that only provides rights to two romantically involved adults? Furthermore, it seems ironic that in a time when it seems like every straight person is avoiding marriage like the plague, gay people are fighting hard.

Academic John D’Emilio puts these changes into historical context brilliantly in his November/December 2006 article in the Gay and Lesbian Review, The Marriage Movement is Setting Us Back. D’Emilio argues that gay marriage actually goes against history. He explains:

Since the early 1960’s, the lives of many, many heterosexuals have become much more like the imagined lives of homosexuals . Being heterosexual no longer means settling as a young adult into a lifelong coupled relationship sanctioned by the state and characterized by the presence of children and sharply gendered spousal roles. Instead, there may be a number of intimate relationships over the course of a lifetime. A marriage certificate may or may not accompany these relationships. Males and females alike expect to earn their way. Children figure less importantly in the lifespan of adults, and some heterosexuals, for the first time in history, choose not to have children at all.

These new “lifestyles” (a word woefully inadequate for grasping the deep structural foundations that sustain these changes) have appeared wherever capitalism has long historical roots. The decline in reproductive rates and the de-centering of marriage follow the spread of capitalism as surely as night follows day. They surface even in the face of religious traditions and national histories that have emphasized marriage, high fertility, and strong kinship ties.

The gay marriage movement has also been accused of racism and classism and of taking up so much of the mainstream LGBT movement’s time and energy that it has little left for any other issues (trans rights in NY state, for example).

Is gay marriage the way to go? Can’t we embrace the fact that the nuclear family structure is no longer useful for so many people in this country and legislate to be able to support and be supported by who(m)ever we want and choose? To be clear – I support anyone who wants to celebrate their relationship privately or with their community. In the post, I am addressing gay marriage in a legal sense, the problems I have with the government policing our relationships and the rights that those relationships bring us.

I don’t want to leave out last summer’s Beyond Same-Sex Marriage (BSSM) statement, the most widely-read document that I know of that questions the legitimacy of the gay marriage movement and its “you’re either with us or against us” mentality. The BSSM executive summary is certainly worth a read. Its signatories advocate for:

  • Legal recognition for a wide range of relationships, households and families – regardless of kinship or conjugal status.
  • Access for all, regardless of marital or citizenship status, to vital government support programs including but not limited to health care, housing, Social Security and pension plans, disaster recovery assistance, unemployment insurance and welfare assistance.
  • Separation of church and state in all matters, including regulation and recognition of relationships, households and families.
  • Freedom from state regulation of our sexual lives and gender choices, identities and expression.

Realistically, this will never pass as legislation, though I don’t think that was the intent of the writers. I believe they wanted to spark a conversation, to bring the gray areas of the marriage discussion to the fore. Since last summer, not much follow-up has been done, save for a few events here in New York (one of which I attended and kept some notes on). Queers, marriage skeptics, if you’re out there, does BSSM speak to you? Is there anything useful (media or legislatively speaking) we can do with it? For all of you — what are your thoughts on gay marriage beyond the “I believe in equality for all people” lines and in light of these issues? Is gay marriage really the path to equality?

cross-posted to saltyfemme (where I also link to some of my previous writing on this topic)

“Nudity is not a solution”

Via India Uncut, this story about a woman in Gujarat who protested against dowry harrasment by walking along a road in her underwear, carrying bangles (an important part of marriage in many parts of India) and a baseball bat.

The protest (especially the baseball bat) made me smile a little, till I read the comments. These fall into two groups, broadly. The first group is of the opinion that while dowry is bad, her “nudity” is far more shocking and she should have found a more socially acceptable way of protesting (because that would’ve gotten her media attention, heh) instead of resorting to “indecent ways”. A subset of this group believes that someone daring enough to do this cannot have been harrassed and is far more likely to be the harrasser, because “ultra-modern girls” in India are regularly filing false charges against their husbands and in-laws, and all the laws are biased and won’t somebody think about the men? (quote: “Time has come where media (like CNN-IBN) should take up a debate on such emerging issues, else if the emerging menace of the wife’s torture on men is not capped, BOYS WILL STOP MARRYING BECAUSE OF FEAR OF HARRASEMENT.”)

The second group are more supportive (as in, they think dowry is an awful thing and she was right to protest) but most of their comments go on and on about the terrible, shameful thing the poor woman has been forced to do, the awful depths to which she has had to sink, etc.

Oh, and? The police are planning to arrest the protester. For indecent behaviour.
The news can be terribly depressing.

The Wedding, culture, and my Indian identity

It’s really difficult for me to write these days. I’ve just come back from a 3 day wedding – a wedding filled with firsts: my first Indian wedding (this was a North Indian wedding), the first family wedding I’ve attended (my cousin), and the first event where I have had to be around family, fully decked out in North Indian clothes and seen as an adult.

A lot of life is about performance, I’ve come to realize. It’s all about those little details that keep family from getting caught in arguments – what I refer to as “family politics” – a fake laugh, keeping your mouth shut when your elders tell you that you’ve gained weight, learning not to distinguish “art college” from “liberal arts college” when they attempt to belittle your choice in pursuing the humanities. At a certain point, whether I intend to or not, I find my eyes move slightly down, my walk becomes a little slower and my voice is heard considerably less when I’m at family events (hereby referred to as “functions”). These things all come down to the gender roles that have been assigned to me through a variety of things – little comments that were made to me as a child by extended family, the media. And the particularities of these gender roles are dictated by my family’s culture.

I have a long history with resisting culture. I was sitting at the henna-ceremony, looking around at the one of 40 women that had attended the event who was around my age. The first was 23. And married. Her hair was perfectly straight and her outfit was perfectly tailored and her husband was an attractive and wealthy South Asian man. She looked like an Indian Barbie doll. She looked domesticated and manicured and feminine – and to be honest, it doesn’t matter whether she is reading Sister Outsider under her covers with a flashlight while her husband is asleep or not. What matters is her performance – her ability to fit a model that is dictated by a culture that I cannot relate to.

My claim is this: I don’t know if I ever will feel connected to my identity as an Indian-American because of culture. Culture is not the thing that dictates my struggle for social justice. The reality is, the aspects of “Indianness” that make me feel like an Indian-American is the solidarity I share with other Indian-Americans regarding racism, sexism and homophobia in and outside of the community. It is often a shared experience my family has with other South Asian families that immigrate to the United States. It is the brown color of my skin that I have grown to love that helps me to identify as Indian-American. It is my parents. My grandparents. My aunt.

There is more to say, but it will have to wait.

Cross-posted at Woman of (An)other Color

News Out of MA: Legislators Defeat Same-Sex Marriage Ban…

This just in: The constitutional same-sex marriage ban that was being pushed in MA was defeated 45 to 151. The proposed ban needed at least 50 votes to make it to the ’08 ballot.

This is great news.

“We’re proud of our state today, and we applaud the legislature for showing that Massachusetts is strongly behind fairness,” said Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, in a statement. “The vote today was the triumph of time, experience, and understanding over fear and prejudice.”

Crazy? Or rational?

I posted about this a bit in the roundup post below, but I wanted to put it into its own post.

Here’s what I wrote a few days ago about this movie, and about Burt and Linda Pugach:

****Finally, we’re getting some really bizarrely chirpy PR emails about a new film, Crazy Love. I mean, check this out:

Hi there,
Crazy Love has been released in selected cities, starting today! To celebrate, I have selected a particularly juicy clip from the film, in which Burt goes off the deep end when Linda breaks up with him. His crazy eyes haunt me in my dreams!

Do you know who Burt and Linda are? Burt Pugach was a married man in 1959 when he pursued the young Linda Riss. When she got fed up with his unfulfilled promises to leave his wife, she broke up with him.

The going off the deep end bit? He hired a couple of thugs to throw lye in her face, blinding her. He spent fourteen years in prison for the crime, during which time he wrote Linda long letters which largely went unanswered. Nevertheless, he was the only man who wanted her now that she was blind and her world was shrinking, and she ended up marrying him when he got out of prison.

From reviews, it sounds like the film makes her out to be just as nuts as he was. But was she? She was from a time when a woman was nothing without a man; was it an unreasonable choice for her to agree to marry the man who’d blinded her if no other man would have her?

Manola Darghis made a good point in her review, which I think needs to be highlighted here:

When reporters have written about what happened between these two, they sometimes have used the phrase crime of passion, one of those slyly misleading idioms, like collateral damage, employed to paper over ugly reality. Crimes of passion have often been viewed as categorically different from other crimes because they supposedly originate in lust and desire, an argument that has been used historically and even legally to rationalize violence against women, including rape. What is odious about the notion of so-called crimes of passion is how the phrase necessarily implicates victims, because it is the very desirability of the victims, after all, that provokes their assailants to madness (passion). All of which makes the image of Mrs. Pugach standing by her man squirmingly uncomfortable.

It’s the chirpy PR people and their “juicy” talk that are nauseating.****

I haven’t seen the film, but the clips on YouTube are pretty interesting. She’s not all sappy about him, she doesn’t seem to sugarcoat what he did to her, and she doesn’t admit that she loves him. But she does say that she is now damaged goods, and he’s a good husband to her. Even her friends and family members, who were horrified that she married him when he got out of prison, grudgingly admit that he treats her well.

It seems to me that she made a rational choice, given the options she had available — and even though his acid attack limited those options for her. That’s not to say that what he did was not reprehensible, or that her decision is above reproach. But who can honestly say what they would do in her shoes?