Confessions of a Gay Male Feminist: April 2007 function isEmailAddr(email)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Who is the Terrorist?

We live in an age of religious fundamentalism. While the technological revolution moves forward, we continue to be plagued by people who are stuck in the past. Theological texts are their guide and they will do anything to see the morals and codes written millennia ago upheld and carried out to the letter. They threaten not only our freedom, but our very lives.

Who do you think the above paragraph is written about? President Bush and many Republicans would have you believe that these religious fundamentalists are brown-skinned and follow a religious text steeped in violence and threatening Western-values. However, what few fail to acknowledge is that the same description can just as easily be applied to American-grown terrorists; the ones who believe Christianity holds all the answers and just happen to be on the Republican payroll.

The War on Terror has resulted in thousands of lives lost in countries most Americans have never and will never visit. People around the world live their lives in fear of another 9/11 or London bombing. Like Darth Vader in the Star Wars saga, the terrorists are often faceless, yet they are apparently the personification of evil. Bush and his administration march out in front of the world every few months, vowing to fight the good fight and instil a sense of hope in those who have since lost faith.

While Bush vows to eliminate evil overseas, however, the US (and Australia, for that matter) has seen a rise in home-grown terrorism that the Bush administration seems willing to overlook, but more than happy to fund their own religious crusade. These are the religious fundamentalists interested in stripping us of our rights, make us feel guilty for embracing sexuality, and, overall, see us wiped out from the face of the Earth. And while few would call these American zealots terrorists, they are the same ones bombing abortion clinics, protesting at funerals, and the perpetrators of thousands of hate crimes each year.

Months ago, Rosie O'Donnell came under fire when she compared the Islamic religious extremists to the Religious Right and its holier-than-thou followers. Conservative politicos called her unpatriotic and ignorant. Yet, was she really wrong? How can we justify the one religious fight and not the other? And am I the only one who sees this ongoing war on terror nothing more than a thinly-veiled, 21st Century equivalent of the Crusades? "You don't think like us, and you're wrong, so we're going to come in there and make you right."

I will acknowledge the extreme oppression and discrimination that exists in Islamic countries does not exist in the States or other westernised nations. However, how can we fight overseas against oppression when there is notable oppression and discrimination carried out on a day-to-day basis on our home turf? Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of this. The damage was done and those affected weren't likely to vote Republican, so the government got back to more important things like fighting in the Middle East and arguing over the Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment. And while few people would call the amendment, or similar legislation infringing on women's rights, as domestic terrorism; the taking away of freedoms is suspiciously the opposite of what we're promising to bring the Middle East.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Everything's Up to Date in Texas

The Texas legislature recently decided not to require all of its public schools to teach Bible classes, instead opting to endorse the creation of such classes as electives, only.

This move by the legislature to not require the implementation of such an ideologically-motivated curriculum is, frankly, surprising. Texas has long been a battleground for censorship of educational materials (in particular, textbooks). For decades, a crusade led by Mel and Norma Gabler (Mel is since deceased) has resulted in censorship that not only affects the state of Texas, but the entire US as well. So to see the state legislature compromise on an issue that might have been easily passed a decade ago is perhaps somewhat comforting.

Those of you who aren't familiar with the Gablers' crusade, then you certainly have missed out on a three ring circus. Among other things, the Gablers have contested textbooks on the basis of not being Christian enough, promoting evolution, promoting sexuality, highlighting the achievements of non-White individuals over the true heroes of the world: the White European Imperialists. Unfortunately, most of their demands were often met by the historically conservative Texas legislature; and since Texas is the second largest buyer of textbooks in the US (California being the first), laws and regulations passed in Texas impact all states as it is cheaper for textbook companies to produce one version of a textbook, rather than fifty-different versions.

Fortunately, after leaving Texas and moving to Kansas, I spent my remaining years in a private school (grades 4 through 12). Consequently, I did not receive the brunt of those states' conservative educational reforms. I learned about evolution in all of my biology classes without any type of disclaimer over its theoretical basis. And I was not forced to take any type of Bible class in order to graduate (it was an independent private school, not a religiously-affiliated one). In fact, I only took one religion class, and that was "Philosophy and Religion," which focused on various schools of thought around the world and their historical context.

Now, the Texas lawmaker who first introduced the bill requiring such classes, Rep. Warren Chisum, claimed that teaching the Bible in primary and secondary schools would provide the students with an appreciation of its historical value.

Historical value?! Historical value as what?! As a parable? An allegory? As a historical collection of texts representing the suppression of women, non-Arian races, non-Christian religions, prostitutes, and homosexuals? No, I imagine that its "historical value" would be more along the lines of highlighting the ludicrous claims proposed by Darwin and evolutionary scientists; as well as illustrating the Earth's true age, 6,000 years, rather than the 4 billion years claimed by those same scientists.

I would not be so suspicious of such Christian-themed courses if -- ignoring the separation of church and state -- Texas agreed to offer similar courses on Islam, Judaism, Pagan, and Eastern Religions. Or if a course similar to the general "Philosophy and Religion" class I took was the only religious class available, offering a comparative study of religions rather than just a narrow view of the "right" one.

Perhaps the compromise over such ideologically-motivated legislation is a sign of changing times in the state of Texas. Whereas Texas was once the state that gave us George W. Bush and a strong supporter over the erection of a wall along the border with Mexico, perhaps it will soon be turning a lovely shade of Blue rather than remaining strictly Red.

Or maybe this was just a mistake and Christian classes will soon be required in Texas the same time next year.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Stating the Obvious

My heart goes out to those affected by the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

My condemnation goes out to President Bush who took this opportunity to reaffirm his belief in a citizen's right to bear arms amidst such a horrible time in the US' history.

The shooting at Virginia Tech was the lead story on every Australian news program and in every newspaper yesterday. Guns are illegal here (except for a few registered gun collectors and hunters), so the fact that such an event is even possible in this day and age is shocking to most Australians.

Australian journalists recalled other gruesome shootings while discussing Virginia Tech; recalling last year's massacre at an Amish school in Pennsylvania, and of course, Columbine in 1999. The most recent shooting in Australia was the Port Arthur mass killing in 1996, which triggered the country to reform most of its gun laws.

I don't imagine the death of 33 people at Virginia Tech will prompt any major gun reform in the US, as both the President and the powerful gun lobby released statements backing the Second Amendment shortly following the news of the shootings.

Cho Seung-Hui was able to purchase his 9mm Glock 19 Pistol without so much as a background check, registration, or waiting period. Virginia has some of the most liberal gun laws in the States, and we have now borne witness to the consequence of such carelessness.

Let Virginia Tech and its community grieve and recover, but as days become weeks and weeks become months, please don't remain silent on this issue. We have a Congress at our disposal that should, in theory, back gun reform. Those who stand behind the Second Amendment when a tragedy like this strikes are the same people who have the victims' blood on their hands when all is said and done.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Defenders of Hate

Out of my many vices, the one that takes the most precedence is my love of celebrity gossip. Not a day goes by where I don't visit a number of trashy Hollywood gossip websites. Concurrently, several of my friends here in Sydney and I have a tabloid-magazine weekly exchange. We each buy a different celebrity gossip rag, then once we've finished reading it, we trade.

Now, as much as I hate to admit this, one of the websites I frequent is Perez Hilton. As an individual, I find Perez to be an attention-hungry, self-obsessed media-monger who would prefer to be friends with all of the celebrities rather than just report on them (which is why, as many have pointed out, Perez rarely reports anything negative about Paris Hilton). However, he does tend to be fairly correct with his "news" and updates his site very frequently (although my favourite gossip site is Oh No They Didn't).

A pastime I've recently come to enjoy, however, is reading the comments people leave in response to Perez's postings. Typically they are a mixture of individuals desperately trying to be the first one to leave a comment and those who hate Perez Hilton so much that they feel they need to visit his site daily and remind him how much they hate him.

Despite however much I dislike Perez's public persona, he does tend to advocate for GLBTQ rights on a weekly, if not daily, basis. He was the loudest voice calling for Isaiah Washington's dismissal from Grey's Anatomy following his use of an anti-gay slur (his firing, of course, did not happen). He also was one of the first to bring Roseanne's recent comments to light, despite how negatively he viewed them to be. And he also posted Harvey Fierstein's recent op-ed from The New York Times decrying the lack of action taken over the use of "faggot" by Ann Coulter and Isaiah Washington, whereas Don Imus was fired over his own on-air racial slurs.

As with all of Perez's postings, his politically-motivated ones are not without their share of user comments. And unfortunately, with almost a morbid curiosity, I typically scan through each set of responses reading what the online masses are thinking.

If you are a feminist, queer advocate, or any type of social activist, nothing brings you back to Earth quite like reading all of the sexist, homophobic, and racist remarks that litter Perez Hilton's comments area. People decry Perez as pushing a gay agenda; not reacting strongly enough to Don Imus' own offensive remarks; and, most often, proving Roseanne's comments about gays and lesbians being self-centred as right on the mark. Others decry the gay community for aligning themselves with the Black civil rights movement. My personal favourite was the one line response that was simply, "I hate gay people."

Now, by no means am I saying that those individuals who visit Perez's website are representative of America, or the world; but it is so disheartening to see that not only is there so much ambivalence towards social politics out there, but that there is also an abundance of active hatred.

I've always found people who use their lives to spread hatred throughout the land as wastes of time and space. Even if it is as trivial as the "I Hate Britney Spears" websites that popped up in her heyday, why would anyone choose to spend their lives expressing their dislike of something? I've always thought that those individuals must secretly enjoy the person(s) they are decrying, but feel that hating them publicly is a more appropriate outlet. This is illustrated, especially, by the number of religious bigots who end up being exposed as adulterers or homosexuals themselves.

Unfortunately, I am currently having a hard time seeing a solution to all this hatred. If educations and media exposure haven't been successful, then what will be? Solving that problem is the ultimate million-dollar question.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

You Must Be this Old to Ride the Relationship

Since we were ten-years-old, Lauren has wanted to marry Jim Carrey. I remember pointing out to her on numerous occasions that he is twenty-years her senior, but she would always brush those rationalisations aside and insist that one day she would be his bride. As time has gone on, however, Lauren has accepted the fact that she probably will not be Mrs. Carrey and has set more realistic, and younger, aspirations for herself.

As though my post from earlier in the week was some kind of foreshadowing, I happened to meet a very nice man named, Steve, while out with some friends on Tuesday. We got along incredibly well, until he randomly asked me how old I am. I informed him that I'm 23, and he began chuckling to himself. When I asked how old he is, he politely informed me that he is 40.

My age realisation with Steve prompted me to remember Lauren's infatuation with an older man from years ago, which got me thinking: Is there an age limit when it comes to choosing a partner?

With the recent death of Anna Nicole Smith, we have been reminded -- practically everyday since then -- that she was once married to a wealthy old codger who wasn't just old enough to have been her father, but in all likelihood, was probably the age of her grandfather upon his death. Following the millionaire's demise, Anna Nicole took her case all the way to the Supreme Court, fighting for the money that she felt she rightfully deserved from the man she loved. All the while, her late-husband's family -- and the population at large -- insisted that the only thing that Anna Nicole shared with this man was a bank account.

But is it possible that Anna Nicole actually loved J. Howard Marshall II? I'm assuming that had he been a 90-year-old homeless man instead of an oil tycoon, she wouldn't have been initially attracted to him; but who are we to say that the only thing she found attractive were his houses, cars, and piles of money?

Age has always been a deciding factor when choosing a partner. Typically, I prefer to be with someone older (obviously not too old), but my track record proves that that is not a requirement. I remember being eighteen-years-old and meeting a man who was twenty-two and thinking, "Wow, I could never date you, you are way too old for me!" But suddenly I'm twenty-three and I'm finding eighteen-year-olds slightly too immature and inexperienced for my taste. And now, when setting my internal age limit, I typically make it no more than seven or eight years older than me.

Is my age restriction too much of a restriction though? I've always been afraid that dating someone much older would lead to plenty of awkward silences due to a lack of conversation. What can I possibly have to talk about with a man who witnessed the moon landing? However, those moments of silence have come about with some of the men I've dated who are my own age.

I guess to make a blanket statement and say, "I will never date anyone older than..." can be detrimental. But it does seem to take self-confidence to be willing to date someone who is many years your senior (or junior). And maybe Anna Nicole was an example of how age is meaningless and love doesn't discriminate.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Revolution Roseanne -- Part II

Roseanne Barr has recently come under fire from GLBTQ groups for making disparaging comments about the gay community while hosting a California radio program. In their fluster, these groups have gone so far as to compare her remarks to those derogatory comments made by radio host, Don Imus. In actuality, this is what Roseanne said:
"Never once in my 54 years have I ever heard a gay or lesbian person who's politically active say one thing that was not about them. . . They don't care about the minimum wage, they don't care about any other group other than their own self because, you know, some people say being gay and lesbian is a totally narcissistic thing and sometimes I wonder."
Within hours of coming under fire, Roseanne had posted an apology on her blog and clarified what she had meant to say:
"The leaders of gay groups need to align with the leaders of Acorn, and other groups of poor and desperate Americans and fight against those who oppress all of us!"
Now, I have always been and always will be a Roseanne-fan. I truly think that she is a commendable woman and a strong feminist and liberal activist -- all while being very funny! And to be perfectly honest, I somewhat agree with what she said on the radio.

While, as she admits on her blog, she did not chose her initial words carefully, GLBTQ groups have long been narrow in their focus (especially the Human Rights Campaign, who was one of the first groups to release a statement about Roseanne's comments). Even within our own equality fight, many groups no longer fight for the right of individuals, instead devoting all of their time to fighting for the rights of monogamous couples seeking out marriage equality.

There are a couple of points I find particularly interesting about the fury over Roseanne's comment. First, isn't this just typical of progressive allies to tear each other apart? Roseanne has long been an outspoken advocate for the GLBTQ community, and immediately when she brings some of our dirty laundry to light, she is severely reprimanded. Feminists are especially guilty of this as well, reprimanding hyper-sexualized women who identify as feminists (i.e. Madonna, Christina Aguilera) yet supposedly hurt the feminist movement through their sexual expression. And for the most illustrative example of this, pay close attention to the Democratic primaries.

Secondly, Roseanne's statement is nothing that gay groups don't know already -- they are just afraid to admit it. Of course, her regarding all gays and lesbians as narcissistic is a bit extreme, yet the fights that we declare victory over rarely affect society as a whole. During the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change Conference in November 2006, several speakers stood up in front of the 2,000+ crowd and reprimanded us for celebrating the defeat of the anti-gay marriage amendment in Arizona, while several anti-immigration bills were passed in the same election.

While the whole point of a social movement is to fight for a specific set of rights, GLBTQ groups have been slow to show support for causes that don't quite fit their frame of reference. The NAACP is often one of our biggest supporters, quick to release statements to the press when an injustice against queer people has been committed. NAACP Chair, Julian Bond, has even agreed to be the keynote speaker at the next Creating Change Conference in February 2008. Yet, when racial inequality has been committed (like Don Imus' recent comment), few GLBTQ groups utter so much as a word.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Where is the Love (And How Do We Find it)?

I have been living in Sydney for over two months now, and in all of that time, I have not had one date. I have had a few sexual encounters, but those have been undertaken with the sole purpose of gratification -- no dinner and movie to diffuse the situation. Consequently, I find myself currently stuck in a bit of a bind: I would like to find love, but I hate going through the screening process that we call dating.

Never have I been an enthusiastic dater. When I go to a bar or club, I never strike up a conversation with someone with the hope of getting a date out of it. Likewise, unless I am really attracted to someone, I will most likely not ask them out on a date.

With the exception of one or two incidents, all of my past relationships have blossomed out of nowhere. Usually, I get very close to a friend of mine and suddenly it's like a light switch has been flipped on and we find ourselves in a relationship (unfortunately, this has had its consequences with regards to maintaining any type of friendship post-breakup). And with the exception of Chris, the relationships that did occur as a result of dating never left me terribly satisfied (as illustrated by my current lack of a relationship).

I have friends who have joined online dating services, like Match.com, and have ended up going on dozens of dates. Unfortunately, few of these dates give way to a more meaningful connection or full-blown relationship. And by witnessing their trial-and-errors, and based on my own relationship experience, I find myself wondering: How exactly do we find love?

Despite my lack of religious convictions, I do have a strong belief in fate and pathways. If something is meant to be, then you will come upon whatever it is you're supposed to find in due time. However, when seeking out a partner (or partners), should I be taking a more active role? If I sit back and wait for love to find me, will it perhaps simply pass me by?

People spend millions of dollars each year in their quest for love. Online dating, personal ads, self-help books and seminars, speed dating; each one is undertaken and paid for in hopes that it will lead to lifelong relationship. But while people might attribute their "finding of love" to one of these efforts, would love had found them regardless of services rendered?

Now, I understand that -- like anything -- sitting home alone will not lead to a happy relationship. But is it healthy to be so consumed with finding love or a relationship that we sacrifice our individual identities and desires in the process? As I have stated in the past, although I wouldn't mind a relationship, the absence of one does not consume my every thought. I'm slightly preoccupied with grad school, a new job, making new friends, and generally getting reacquainted with Sydney. Perhaps that is how we will come upon love, though. By making sure that we are comfortable in our own skin, we will be comfortable enough with allowing someone(s) to come in and share our life with us.

And no amount of money or dating can determine when you're ready.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Am I Really a Dirty, Dirty Stripper?

I love Grey's Anatomy! I purposefully did not watch any of the new season prior to moving to Sydney, knowing that Australia would be several months behind the States in airing new episodes. Fortunately, the third season began here several weeks ago and every Sunday night I curl up on the couch to check in with some old friends living in Seattle.

Shonda Rhimes, the creator of the show, has stated that she purposefully crafted the series to be representative of all walks of life in America (white, black, Asian, Latino, even a few gay supporting and guest characters). However, in an effort to create a diverse cast, Ms. Rhimes seems to have designated one segment of the population to be lower than all the rest: sex workers.

One of the biggest criticisms of Grey's Anatomy is the amount of sex that is had by the series' characters. An episode without even the slightest hint of sexual innuendo is hardly Grey's Anatomy in true form. But while all of the characters do have very active sex lives, they constantly reprimand each other by deeming each other to be "sluts" or "whores" or "dirty, dirty strippers."

Perhaps it is not Shonda Rhimes' intention to constantly put down members of the sex industry, or simply the sexually adventurous. Maybe she is just reflecting society at large. While derogatory remarks concerning race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation become more and more inappropriate, insults comparing people to sex workers remain fair game.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people use the words "slut" or "whore" as insults. I don't believe sexuality or sex work is anything to be ashamed of, so why would I use either of those terms as insults? My friend, Chris, once heard me say "whore" in the heat of an argument, and I suddenly became horrified at what had escaped me lips (and soon became victim of Chris' taunting as he is forced to watch his language whenever he is around me).

For the same reason that I don't say, "That's so gay," I refuse to use the aforementioned sexual labels as insults. Aside from being hideously inapprorpriate, you never know who you are inadvertently going to offend. How do you know that someone isn't gay, just like, how do you know someone doesn't run an escort service out of her apartment? People are always shocked to learn I was a stripper because I don't fit their ideal of what a stripper should look like. But do you think they would feel more remorse about saying, "That's so gay," in my presence, or using the word, "Whore," as an insult?

What's interesting to me is that, although sex workers are viewed as the dregs of society, many moderate people don't hate sex workers. They pity their situation -- their inability to escape the sexual exploitation that has apparently plagued their lives. Unfortunately, whatever feelings these people have regarding sex workers immediately -- perhaps subconsciously -- turns to hate when they utter the words," you dirty whore," in an effort to hurt someone.

One of the main characters on Grey's Anatomy, Izzie Stevens, has made it known that she put herself through med school by modeling. And what happened when people found out? She was taunted and her credibility questioned. But what would have happened if, instead of working as a model, she had worked as a stripper to put herself through school? Maybe if Shonda Rhimes had written that back story for Izzie, then the others wouldn't be so quick to judge another's sexuality.

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