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

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Protecting the President

I must first apologise for my sporadic updates of late. I recently got a second job, so I'm trying to balance working, uni, and blogging. So bear with me for a while.

The annual APEC (Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Conference is being held in Sydney in September. APEC is a coalition of countries along the Pacific Ocean that meet each year to discuss trade agreements and economic growth and cooperation. A few of the member nations are Australia, the US, New Zealand, Canada, China, Japan, Peru, Mexico, Russia and twelve other countries.

The conference is most notably remembered for the rather bizarre custom of the host nation dressing up fellow dignitaries in that culture's traditional clothing. It has yet to be determined what will be the traditional clothing of Australia that the foreign dignitaries will be wearing.

What has been announced, however, and much to the chagrin of Sydneysiders, is that in honour of the conference, Australia will make the day(s) surrounding the conference a federal holiday. And not just any old holiday, but one in which the entire city will shut down. No trains. No buses. No business. And most annoyingly, the closure of all mobile phone towers for those few days. All of this pomp and circumstance is not being undertaken to impress the visiting ambassadors, but rather, to deter any possible acts of terrorism.

I'm sure most of remember President Bush's post-9/11 speech. The one in which he encouraged all Americans to grieve for the loss of life, but to go about our daily business -- otherwise the terrorists win. Yet, I'm sure he is very appreciative of Australian Prime Minister John Howard's efforts to combat terrorism while Bush visits Sydney. God knows Australia brought out the cavalry to protect Vice President Dick Cheney when he visited several months ago.

With all the precautions taken to protect the President abroad, was Bush perhaps wrong in saying that the terrorists haven't won? If they hadn't instilled a constant sense of terror into us, would he feel that such precautions -- like shutting down a world city -- were necessary to his survival?

Perhaps the President isn't so much afraid of the Islamic fundamentalists he is always going on about, but rather, those in the "Western World" who see no distinction between ideological suicide bombers and him. When VP Cheney did visit Australia, the locals mobilised and thousands turned out for a public demonstration against the vice president's presence. Already flyers have begun appearing around Newtown calling for all available people to gather and take a stance against Bush and his allies when they arrive in September. PM Howard is almost as despised as Bush; and like British PM Tony Blair, seen as Bush's lapdog who will follow him wherever Bush may go.

When the APEC heads of state do gather here in September, it will be interesting to see if any acts of "terrorism" do manage to slip by the safeguards. I do wish for everyone's safety, especially in light of all of the precautions being taken. I fear that if a terrorist -- or even ambitious protester -- does manage to commit a violent act against any of these nations' dignitaries, the next step taken to "protect us" against terrorism by eliminating some of our basic civil liberties.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Dan Brown Must Die?

Unlike most American universities, the University of New South Wales does not have a student-run newspaper. Instead, UNSW produces a student-run weekly magazine, which primarily serves as an events calendar with a few articles written by elected members of the student union.

In a recent issue, the cover story was entitled, "Dan Brown Must Die," with the author using the popular novel, The Da Vinci Code, as an example to illustrate the decline in quality that pop culture has taken. The author also highlighted Madonna, action movies, and the Harry Potter series as further proof that what we know as "pop culture" is nothing more than frivolous tripe.

Although I enjoyed the book, The Da Vinci Code, I recognise that Dan Brown is not the William Shakespeare of our time; but to call for his immediate destruction seems a little excessive. As I read this young undergraduate's article, I just imagined a third-year English major who rebelled against the status quo, and every action he took was a carefully thought out move to undermine the Man.

While I acknowledge that art, film, music, theatre, and literature are all matters of taste, I don't think that labelling all mainstream media as bad is incredibly productive, and have to wonder if it actually does anything positive to change or subvert the culture at large?

A subversive act is one that works against the grain of popular culture. The Punk Movement was a rebellion against musical and social norms. Sex Work is a subversive act against archaic and sexist laws and regulations. And while writing (if I do say so) can, in of itself, be subversive in nature, criticism for criticism's sake might actually be more destructive.

I get especially annoyed when educated, academic-types criticise popular books. I feel it is an incredibly classist -- among other things -- viewpoint for highly educated individuals to take. And while there are, indeed, some poorly written books that have been manufactured for the sole purpose of turning a profit, in an age where television and computers rule, I think novels that actually do have an impact on society should be commended, overall, rather than decried.

Harry Potter is actually a very good example of this. When I was in elementary school, teachers struggled to get students to read. Reading groups were created. Bribes were placed before us. Practically everything was tried to get us to read during our free time, and yet, many of my fellow classmates never did (I, however, became intensely involved with the Boxcar Children and Goosebumps series). Not so suddenly, however, JK Rowling began writing the now larger-than-life series of books about a boy wizard; and children (and adults) are so anxious to read them that bookstores must hold midnight release parties to curb the enthusiasm. And while Harry Potter has received far more critical praise than The Da Vinci Code, at least both have prompted discussion over written material rather than the latest reality TV game show.

Following my post on radical culture last week, I must again express my sadness at those who feel that it is their duty to dictate to others as to how to best express themselves. While I recognise I clearly have an agenda I am pushing on you, the readers, the only ones I outright condemn are those ever-present hate mongers like Ann Coulter.

Otherwise, I wish people -- like the young and angry student writer at UNSW -- would learn to pick their battles and better identify which causes are actually worth fighting for.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

A New Circus is in Town

I must first thank my friend, Darby, for alerting me to this issue. Although Sydney gets every other piece of news that comes out of the States, apparently prosecution of a DC Madam slips under the radar.

In a case reminiscent of the Heidi Fleiss scandal, Deborah Jeane Palfrey has been charged with several crimes related to running a DC brothel. Her criminal charges prompted an appearance on the ABC News program, 20/20, in which she stopped short of naming names of clients who utilised her "sexual fantasy services," and, according to her, include high-ranking military and political personnel. She vows that if she is required to appear before Court, she will call upon these individuals to testify.

I must ask: At this point in time, is this all really necessary? Doesn't it seem like about once a decade the police begin the prosecution of yet another brothel owner? Prior to Hollywood madam, Heidi Fleiss, it was Rebecca Rand in Minneapolis. And in a few more years, the media will highlight the downfall of yet another "morally objectionable" woman (I doubt they will ever prosecute a man in connection to sex work). All of which do nothing more than ruin the lives of everyone involved (except the high-profile clients who pay to have their names removed).

As I have been looking into Palfrey's case, I see the same debate playing out that always plays out. Some academics and spokespeople come out and decry the criminalisation of prostitution, arguing, rightly so, that it is often a choice made by both the worker and the client. Then some other conservative organisations decry sex work, claiming that it is never a victimless crime -- always stressing that women servicing men are the victims; never do they make any mention of queer sex workers.

What surprised me this time around, though, are the several articles I've read which quote a number of high-ranking academics and political pundits arguing for the decriminalisation of "indoor prostitution" (i.e. brothel-work, escort services, etc). Georgetown University professor, Ron Weitzer (editor of the wonderful book, Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry) was quoted by ABC News as arguing for such decriminalisation, saying that doing so does more good than harm. The article goes on to call such prostitution "high-end prostitution" and argues that many law enforcement agencies already overlook those people who partake in it.

While I think the decriminalisation, or legalisation, of so-called indoor prostitution will be the ultimate first step in decriminalising all sex work in the US (Many Australian states have already decriminalised indoor prostitution), I think merely turning the other cheek prior to said legalisation still leaves sex workers open to police violence -- something not brought up in any of the articles I've read related to this case. And while I get excited when any news agency proposes the thought of decriminalisation, the argument to only decriminalise "high-end prostitution" creates a set of class issues in of itself.

I draw my parallels to the criminalistion of cocaine use. As we all know, there is powdered cocaine and there is crack cocaine. Powdered cocaine is not as potent, yet is more likely to be "pure" and not mixed with dozens of other substances. It is also very expensive. Crack cocaine, on the other hand, is less expensive and is often mixed with other dangerous substances. Now, over time, wealthy white people have discovered their love for cocaine in the powdered form; whereas crack cocaine is generally attributed to lower-class, African-American individuals. Eventually, laws were enacted that created harsher penalties for those using crack cocaine, and not so much for those caught with powdered cocaine. And why is this? Because those who love powdered cocaine were the ones making the laws.

As Deborah Jeane Palfrey has detailed, many of her clients are high-ranking DC officials, so are we likely to see any sort of punishment given to those men (and possibly women) who utilised Palfrey's services? Of course not. Not only will they escape any and all prosecution, these very same people may well be the ones that legalise indoor prostitution; not for the health and safety of the sex workers, but simply for their own personal gains.

I suppose, though, that even if such pro-prostitution legislation does come our way, I should be happy with whatever it is regarldless of the reasons for enacting it.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Who is the Real Liberal?

Stereotypes and preconceived notions run our lives. Not a situation goes by that we don't try and anticipate what will happen when meeting a new person or undertaking a new experience.

The word stereotype typically conjures up negative images projected onto minorities by conservative bigots. The flamboyant gay man. The man-hating feminist. The gun-toting African American. Those with a more progressive mindset like to brush-off such imagery as inaccurate and offensive. However, it seems that those on the left seem to have their own set of stereotypes and projections that we paint on not only the right, but our allies as well.

The suburb of Sydney that I live in, Newtown, is a centre of progressive and radical ideology. The closest thing I can compare it to is the East Village in New York City. Newtown is primarily inhabited by people under the age of 30; there is a thriving alternative arts and theatre scene; a visible queer culture; and flyers everywhere announcing the latest anarchist or socialist gathering (which seems ironic that these two groups would exist side-by-side). Walking down King Street, you are greeted with a virtual kaleidoscope of colours on the people passing by. Pink hair, men wearing tutus, and purple-and-black-striped stockings are embraced by many of Netown's inhabitants. And while the alternative culture does create a safe environment, it instigates a double standard among residents: It's not OK to just be progressive, many believe you must embrace the radical style in order to be a true liberal.

As with the US, the radicalist culture here promotes its own breed of bigotry. Not only must you talk the talk, but you must look convincing doing it. And seeing as how my weakness is semi-expensive clothing, rarely am I pegged as a progressive-minded, sex positive queer feminist when I meet people out and about. And on rare occasions -- both here and in the States -- I am reprimanded for buying into consumer culture and not embracing second-hand goods and brightly-coloured polyester.

My friend Eileen was very much apart of the radical culture when we first began our education at American University. She attended rallies and marches and protests, and became close to many of her fellow young radicals in the process. But then halfway through the year, Eileen found herself pushed to the outside. She was deemed not progressive enough because she didn't attend every rally, dress like many of her cohorts, and was a meat-eater and not a vegan. And although she did miss many of her friends, she decided to just stop participating in such events because she wasn't feeling the support that she wanted and deserved.

At this point, I'm sure some of my readers are growing tired of my "let's all get along" message that I have driven into the ground over the past year. But it just frustrates me when I encounter resistance based on nothing more that stereotypes and projections of what it means to be progressive. I commend those who dress outrageously, constantly defend any underdog, and resist popular trends and culture -- but that doesn't always fit who I am and my personality. And by decrying me or anyone else who doesn't fit the notion of what is good and right, then how will we ever stand together?

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Cautious Victory

The US House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Thursday with a vote of 237 to 180. The bill will now be voted on in the Senate, under the title of the Matthew Shepherd Act -- no date on when a vote will take place has been set, however.

Hours prior to the House passing the act, the White House issued a statement saying that aides will advise the President to veto the bill if it gets as far as his desk. Their reasons being that such protections already exist on a state and local level and enacting a federal law would be overkill; both of which are downright lies (few states have hate crime prevention acts that cover sexual orientation; gender identity and expression; and disability). If Bush does indeed veto the bill (if the Senate votes to pass it), it will be his third veto ever since coming into power. His second occurred this past week when he vetoed a military spending bill that called for a withdrawal of troops out of Iraq in 2008.

The religious right has continued its vicious attack on the bill since its passage in the House on Thursday. Their biggest fear -- aside from giving GLBTQ people recognition as citizens -- is that the bill will infringe on their freedom of speech. The Traditional Values Coalition propose a scenario of a minister preaching against homosexuality could be prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Act, which is in fact, also a lie. The text of the bill spells out exactly what a "crime" is and makes clear that freedom of speech will not be affected.

The religious right also claims that GLBTQ people are not significant victims of hate crimes. In fact, the FBI reports that 14% of all hate crimes in 2005 were committed against people because of their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the FBI does not keep records of hate crimes committed against transgendered people, but this bill would rectify the oversight.

What especially saddens me is that every time this bill has been introduced since the 1980s, it aims to protect people on the basis of "sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability;" yet, because conservatives are so afraid of extending protections to queer individuals, disabled persons also lose out and continue to see crimes perpetrated against them go unpunished. And what is especially sad is that I have been hard pressed to find any conservative or liberal article make light of this fact. Everyone is so caught up in morality and justice that those who barely have a voice as it is are being overlooked entirely.

In the coming weeks, the Senate will most likely set a timetable to vote on the Matthew Shepherd Act. The religious right, however, has already vowed to put up a vicious fight, emboldened by President Bush's promise to veto any legislation that reaches his desk. We need to fight! Make a donation to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Write or email your Senator. Or, better yet, call your Senator directly and stress to him the importance of passing this legislation (The Capitol Switchboard can be reached at 202.224.3121).

We have won a small and significant victory in the fight for equality, but we still have a long way to go.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Two posts in one day?! That's pretty amazing!

For my friends in the States, you may or may not be aware that on this Thursday, May 3, the House of Representatives is voting on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The Act extends the protections of hate crime statutes to those victims targeted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. This act has been up for approval since the 1980s and it is believed that it finally has a chance for passage with the recent power shift in Congress.

The religious right, however, is aware of the power shift and has launched a vicious campaign against the Act, purporting it to further the "homosexual/drag queen agenda."

Go to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Hate Crimes Protections 2007 Action Center to find out more information and to send an email directly to your Congressman asking for his support. Or, for a more direct route, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 and ask to be connected directly to your representative.

The passage of this Act is incredibly important and would mark a significant victory for the GLBTQ rights movement.

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Sacred Science

Throughout my life, science has held the answers. When I was younger, I was incredibly interested in the paranormal and the unexplained, but as I have grown, I have found most of my explanations in science. Even in my spiritual quest, science has remained the most sacred. The religions and spiritual beliefs that I am drawn to are those that compliment scientific thought, not contradict it.

As time has gone on and I have studied anthropology, gender, and similar social sciences, I have discovered that science is not as concrete as one might imagine. In anthropology, we learn that biases always exist, and it is best to acknowledge them instead of attempting to strive for true [unattainable] objectivity. Biological and medical scientists do not share such sympathies. Granted, studying the brain's physiology may not be as socially controversial as some issues, but despite the scientific method at their disposal, scientists still have some hope as to what to discover (I say this as someone who was once a fledgling medical anthropologist).

I am now one month away from completing my first semester towards my Master of Public Health degree. Public Health tackles medical, health issues from a social science perspective. Rectifying an epidemic doesn't mean simply implementing a vaccine; rather, looking at the cultural, social, and historical context to discover how such a health crisis began in the first place and the best method to correct it. In theory, public health compliments scientists' efforts to create a healthier population.

As the semester has gone on, I find it increasingly disappointing that many of my public health colleagues accept what science has fed to them on face value. Many of them are socially aware, yet few raise their voice and question how a scientific finding came into being and who was conducting the research.

One issue in particular is the issue and benefits of breast feeding. Doctors have long since heralded the benefits of breast feeding newborns, and while I am not arguing that it's not, I am bothered as to why so much research exists on this specific value? Some of you may or may not know, but there is a school of feminist thought that the number of scientific findings released praising the benefits of breast milk suspiciously coincided with the rise of the feminist movement. The theory suggests that, while breast feeding is beneficial, research initially began as another tool to prove that women belong in the home rather than out in the workforce.

There are several professors and colleagues at my university who focus their research on gender and reproductive health (rarely is sexuality addressed). For many of them, the lack of breast feeding mothers is an epidemic in of itself. I have now sat through many classes hearing debates as to best increase breast feeding among new mothers. However, no one has ever questioned why we're pushing so hard for this singular issue? Likewise, these same people who call for no subpopulation to be left behind, fail to recognise how pushing such an issue so vigorously can actually disenfranchise and discourage people from adopting as well as same-sex couples to begin a family (Because if you can't breast feed, your child is doomed).

Whereas science was once sacred for me and could do no wrong, I find increasingly that the supposed unbiased nature of science can be just as ideological and politically motivated as almost everything else in the world. And while I still trust it above most, we should not believe everything that the scientific field releases wholeheartedly.

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