Transgender Women and Women’s Sports

19 04 2014

Chloie Jonsson Transgender Woman AthleteRecently, RuPaul’s Drag Race came under fire for its usage of the word she-male in a skit in which contestants had to guess whether a picture of a person’s legs were those of a ‘male’ or those of a ‘she-male’. The complaint by transgender advocates was that such language denigrates transgender people by invalidating their gender identity.

Some transgender women, such as model Carmen Carrera, have denounced the usage as unequivocally pejorative, while other transgender women, such as classical pianist and musician Our Lady J, have defended it as artistically meaningful and provocative.

This whole fiasco has forced me to wonder how transgender people are being treated in the everyday world. Just as some transgender people are entertainers, some are also athletes. While the dialogue over usage of she-male in Drag Race heats up, transgender people are also facing obstacles in the world of sports.

Recently, personal trainer and Crossfit athlete Chloie Jonsson, who is a transgender woman, sued Crossfit for discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The fitness company allegedly barred Jonsson from competing in the women’s division of the CrossFit Games. In defense of Jonsson, GLAAD created a petition requesting that CrossFit change its policy to allow ‘transgender athletes to compete under their consistent, lived identity’.

CrossFit responded with this less-than-sympathetic and doggedly deterministic statement:

The fundamental, ineluctable fact is that a male competitor who has a sex reassignment procedure still has the genetic makeup that confers a physical and physiological Chloie Jonsson Transgender Woman Athlete IIadvantage over women. That Chloie may have felt herself emotionally, and very conscientiously, to be a woman in her heart, and that she ultimately underwent the legal and other surgical procedures to carry that out, cannot change that reality. Further, the timing of her sex reassignment surgery (and any subsequent hormone therapy) does not change this discussion.

Our decision has nothing to do with ‘ignorance’ or being bigots — it has to do with a very real understanding of the human genome, of fundamental biology, that you are either intentionally ignoring or missed in high school.

How positively decisive and ‘scientific’. But CrossFit’s decision is not necessarily based on an ineluctable fact about biology, at least in regard to transgender women who have undergone gender reassignment surgery. Rather, they seem preoccupied with black-and-white ideas about sex biology. Consider this argument by an anonymous Facebook user in response to a cisgender woman’s attack on transgender model Carmen Carrera:

With the removal of the testicles, plus 2 or more years of hormone therapy, she is at a disadvantage, not an advantage. Her testosterone levels are nearly zero, BELOW cisgender females, whose ovaries do produce some testosterone. Plus
with the loss of testosterone, muscle mass reverts to female structure. Genes (XY or XX) have zero to do with this. Did you know that 1 in 30,000 females at birth is XY, has a vagina, and grows up to be a girl like any other girl? Did you know that 1 in 100,000 males at birth is XX, has a penis, and grows up to be a guy like any other guy?

The truth is far more complex than grade school biology might assume and there is zero evidence that trans women have any substantive advantage in sports.

Who should I believe? You? Or the medical professionals who analyzed all this data and said that tTransgender Woman Aeris Houlihanranswomen are biologically women for the purposes of competition? I think I’ll stick with the opinions of the experts.

The woman in question does not “still have testosterone”, meaning your entire line of reasoning rests of false assumptions. I would suggest you reconsider your logic, because by starting with erroneous assumptions, you have reached an erroneous conclusion.

http://lizdaybyday.wordpress.com/…/medical-information…/

Another anonymous Facebook user showed how it is profoundly insulting and biologically inaccurate to deny transgender people their identity, especially after transitioning (although whether or not one has transitioned does not affect their identity):

No, she’s not. She’s not male; especially after going through HRT and (presumably) surgery. Everyone has testosterone in them. Everyone also has estrogen and progesterone. EVERYONE. It just so happens that these hormones are present in someone’s body in different levels based on their designation at birth. When someone goes on HRT, the hormone levels in their body change – if someone AMAB goes on estrogen, their muscles shrink and weaken, bone density goes up, fat distribution changes, body hair and skin softens. Same with someone AFAB going on testosterone – their muscles get bigger, faster; bone density goes down, body hair increases and their body fat moves to cis male patterns.

The fact that someone was AMAB or AFAB has no standing after they’ve been on HRT for extended periods of time. Like someone said in the comments elsewhere, trans women often end up weaker than cis women due to the estrogen they’re taking (which can knock their testosterone levels way below what a woman is supposed to have).

This isn’t an attack, it’s a biology lesson.

Would you tell someone who was AFAB and is naturally 6’2″, 320 lbs.+, who has been on testosterone for over a year, Gina Caranothat he shouldn’t compete with cis men just because he had been born with a vagina?

Same basic principle. This isn’t a matter of “she was designated male at birth so she has all the advantages a cis male would have competing with cis women!” – it’s transphobia and transmisogyny.

Obviously the point is that transgender women should be able to compete in women’s sports alongside cisgender women, and, also, that transgender men should be able to compete in men’s sports alongside cisgender men. It seems that when surgery and hormone treatments permit, transgender women might actually have a disadvantage compared with cisgender women. Perhaps research will reveal something similar about transgender men.

There are four things to take away from this.

First, if a transgender person is denied participation in all sports, where are they to play sports? In a special Transgender Olympics? I suppose they could, but it doesn’t seem very fair, does it? Transgender women are women, and transgender men are men. I understand this might seem strange, but think about it. Is it fair?

Second, why do companies like CrossFit still believe that men are like this, and women are like that? It’s pseudoscientific bullshit. Cordelia Fine proves so many of these ideas wrong in Delusions of Gender. It is not enough to challenge the notion that gender is ‘ineluctable’. We have to call out pseudo-science purveyors of gender like John Gray on their bullshit.

Third, how are males superior to females? I can understand physical contact sports like football. Yes, most men are physically stronger than women. But what about sports like golf, or tennis, or badminton, or running? What about archery, balance, flexibility, and agility? Women are superior to men in some of these areas. How can you say that men are physically superior to women? You can’t, because they are not.

Fourth, some people of some ethnic descents have an advantage over some people of other ethnic descents. Should you discriminate against Asian men because they are shorter than African men? Where are you going to draw the line?

I will leave you with a superb fight scene featuring Gina Carano in Haywire:

 





8 Reasons Why Transphobia Makes No Sense

22 11 2013

Transgender Man Evon YoungTransgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) was 20 November, but I didn’t post this blog entry in time. Ironically, it has allowed me to cull from the Web information that was only available on the day itself. It has allowed me to calculate the shocking cost in human terms of hatred toward transgender people.

**Trigger warning for graphic description of violent crime**

It has allowed me to acknowledge the horrifying fact that Evon Young, a 22 year-old rapper from Milwaukee, was suffocated, beaten, and shot before being dismembered and set ablaze.

Transphobia is abhorrent in all its forms, but it takes on a new shape when it involves class and race. Many victims of transphobia are poor, black, and utterly lacking in social or financial resources. That’s enough Carmen Carrerato think about in itself.

Compassion is key to ending transphobia—there is nothing more needed than an understanding soul—but I also find it helpful to challenge transphobes with reason (of which compassion is the keystone). Thus, I offer eight reasons why transphobia makes no sense. If this doesn’t sway you, I don’t know what will.

1. Transgender people challenge gender stereotypes

This is a classic argument used against transgender people by the religious right-wing. Yes, they do challenge gender stereotypes. So, what? What is wrong with a person offending your sense of the way males or females should appear or behave? You don’t have the right to restrict another person’s rights just because of your ideas about gender.

2. Transgender people reinforce gender stereotypes

This is the reverse of the supposedly ‘conservative’ stance. It states that transgender people are sexist because they reify ideas about gender. For example, a transgender man might cut his hair short and wear pants. How is this any different from anything a cisgender man might do? If you can blame the transgender man for Chaz Bono Cherstereotyping, you also have to blame the cisgender man for stereotyping. There is no difference. This attitude suggests that cisgender men can get away with being masculine, while transgender men can’t. Vice-versa for transgender women and cisgender women. If a cisgender woman can get away with growing long hair without being seen as sexist, why can’t a transgender woman? As long as cisgender people maintain gender stereotypes, they are in no place to judge transgender people for doing the same. We all live in the same milieu of gender-crap.

3. It’s unnatural

Of course this is bullshit. As I stated in 8 Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense, just because something is natural does not make it right, and just because something is unnatural does not make it wrong. Clearly cutting hair is unnatural, but how many people create an uproar over that? Likewise, not Amanda Simpsoncutting your hair is natural, and few people create an uproar over that. So even if being transgender were unnatural, the appeal to nature argument is a fallacy. A thing doesn’t have to be natural in order to be valid.

4. Transgender people reduce people to their genitals

As opposed to cisgender people?? The argument is that transgender people reduce people to their genitals because they fixate on gender reassignment surgery. First, not all transgender people seek gender reassignment surgery—some transgender men can give birth, and some transgender women don’t want penectomies; second, so what if they did? There’s nothing wrong with wanting different genitals. It isn’t a fucking gender statement; it’s them realising themselves. In addition, some cisgender women undergo hysterectomies and mastectomies, and there are post-menopausal women, but we don’t say they are no longer women. Why should we say the same about transgender women? Why should cisgender women care so much about their anatomy, but not transgender women?

5. Genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation is an horrific crime against humanity in which all manner of mutilations are Trans Mancommitted against women and girls for the sake of the virginity, marriageability, social acceptance, and suppression of desire among women and girls, often with dire physical consequences. It is an abhorrent act that no cultural relativist can justify. It has nothing whatsoever to do with gender reassignment surgery. People who seek gender reassignment surgery do so voluntarily—and often at great cost—to fulfil their needs. It is absolutely wrong to equate FGM to transgender people seeking gender reassignment surgery.

6. Transgender women are dicks in disguise

There is this weird idea among some members of what is called the radical-feminist movement that transgender women are really men disguising as women to infiltrate the sacred sisterhood and violate them. Ugh. First of all, if you believe in gender ambiguity, how does somebody who’s fighting for their right to be recognised as a woman threaten you? Second, if a transgender woman has undergone sexual reassignment surgery, how can she do anything to you that any other woman hasn’t?

7. They’re pathologically confused.

No, they are not pathologically confused. You are. They know who they are, even if you don’t. In case anybody has any doubts, the American Psychological Association has not only validated transgenderTransgender Child identities as healthy, but has also provided a very helpful booklet of information for those who still don’t understand why transgender identity is good and healthy.

8. What about children and families?

I understand your apprehension. It seems like transgender people can’t or shouldn’t create families. The fact is, some of them do, and all of them have come from one. There are transgender men who bear and nurse children. Why should they be treated differently from other men? Because of their anatomy? Remember the woman who has had a hysterectomy. I understand that this seems silly and abstract, but think about it.

Those are among the many reasons why transphobia makes no sense. After reading about Evon Young’s horrific murder, I was paralysed with horror, but I figured that providing these points might help educate people about the real-life consequences of transphobia. It is not rational, good, or healthy to be cruel. Transgender people need our support, and wherever you meet a transgender person in need, give them the coat off your back.





My Halloween Night

1 11 2013

You know how parents protect their children a little too much? How they enfold their children from a frightening sight?

Rubbish.

Halloween is supposed to be a little bit scary—a little bit unsettling. I understand if your child is very young—around the age of 5—but even then they should be allowed to experience a little bit of the macabre, in my opinion. I will modify my actions for a young child, but not for a frowning father or mother who cares nonetheless.

With that, I thought I would share with you my thoughts on my Halloween dressed in full drag as a witch-priest raised from the dead as a vampire passing out candy to trick-or-treaters. Ultimately I decided that she might be some sort of vampire Carrie, but they didn’t know that. Nor did I until I looked in the mirror.

What a horror they must have beheld: Brandon - Halloween 2013

Can you imagine this camp queen spooning processed candy into the already-full baskets of your young ones?

It doesn’t help to acknowledge that this vile image exists: Brandon - Halloween 2013 II

The satisfying  thing was that I gave candy away to a tiny little girl dressed in full Superman costume. I have to give kudos to her parents for that.

But this other little boy said, as he was taking his candy away, ‘Wow, she is a real vampire!’ Brandon - Halloween 2013 IVWell, thank you. Yes, I am.

But on this solemn date, I must implore you to treat your animals with care:

Brandon - Halloween VI

There are still superstitious assholes out there who hurt cats for no logical reason.

Halloween is a night when the fairies run afoul of men, but it is also a night when parents let their children enjoy being scared shitless. It used to be a time when parents themselves were scared shitless. Why can’t we return to this, whether parents or their sweet, trick-or-treat child-things?





Drag Queens out of Drag, in Drag!

7 05 2013

I’m happy, so I’m going to use Dragulator.

My hopes and dreams came true when Jinkx Monsoon won the crown on Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’ve been trying to pinpoint exactly why she resonates with me. Part of it is her slightly sloppy, adorably camp good humour, but it is also her rich understanding and appreciation of vintage drag and drag history–something to which more of us need to be exposed. I even liked the fact that her crown was slightly crooked when RuPaul placed it on her head. When I look at the “sleeper from Seattle”, I see Mae West after a rough night in bed. Everything about America’s first narcoleptic Jewish drag superstar–from her unfinished lady-of-the-night look to her comedic buffoonery–screams Pacific Northwest “realness”. To me that means liberal, relaxed, and willing to be yourself while letting others do the same.

Like Jinkx, I do believe we should take drag less seriously. That is, after all, why RuPaul herself created the Web site Dragulator, where you can take pictures of people’s faces and transform them into their drag alter ego. Since Season 5 of Drag Race is over, I thought I would try to deconstruct the very scrupulously crafted drag persona of each of the season’s royal triumvirate–Roxxxy Andrews, Alaska Thunderfuck, and Jinkx Monsoon–by taking photographs of them out of drag and then dragulating them! And how could I leave out the queen-bitch of them all, RuPaul? I bet she never imagined that scenario when she created Dragulator.

And with that let us commence with the dragulation!

1) Roxxxy Andrews

Roxxxy Fuck

Darling, you don’t look so bad-ass here! Your sartorial presentation is refined and polished, and you have much to teach about sewing and costume construction–but why are you trying to sneak away with Jinkx’s crown?

2) Alaska Thunderfuck

Alaska Thunderfuck Dragulator - Body

Hark! It is Alaska without a wig. You’ve turned trash into 1980s prom queen couture, darling! I can’t wait to see you dance to ‘You Spin Me Round’. How does it feel to be a cool high-school girl from the ’80s, garbage-hooker??

3) Jinkx Monsoon

Jinkx Monsoon Dragulator - Body

Oh, god. Jinkx, did somebody ask you to do blackface? Because that’s one area I don’t think you’ll master. The face doesn’t match the–oh, wait. That’s right. I matched your face with a black queen’s body on Dragulator. Somehow, though, I think you’ll pull through and render a masterpiece out of the random scraps and pieces.

4) RuPaul

RuPaul Dragulator - Body

Whoooaaagh, shit! Tell me one thing–how do you stick that wig on your head? Do you use Elmer’s Glue (which is apparently cruelty-free)? Do you use superglue? Because that would be very painful to tear off. I just want to know how you create that seamless melding between forehead and hair. It is an important part of drag.

Oh, wait. I forgot an important part of this post. Singer and songwriter Aubrey O’Day said she didn’t like Jinkx Monsoon. Well, how would this Playboy model like it if I took a picture of her without makeup and transformed her into drag?

Aubrey O'Day Dragulator - Body JPG

What’s wrong, Aubrey? Cat’s got your–oh, wait. Half of your head is gone. I guess it’s like when Uma Thurman sliced off Lucy Liu’s skull in Kill Bill, Vol. I. Well, some people deserve a lobotomy.

With that, I want to say that I appreciate the contribution of all three queens to drag history: Roxxxy’s professional pageantry, Alaska’s unabashed sordidness, and Jinkx’s subversive commentary on gender. All of these things open up our eyes. But, still, I want to know how RuPaul  puts her wig on. How? I wonder….





Drag Queen Jinkx Monsoon Talks Gender and Makeup Tips

14 02 2013

The fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race has commenced, and we are all dying to know which queens will make the cut to the much-relished triumvirate, let alone who will win the crown. I’ve actually had a hard time identifying the queen I think will win (in the past I’ve accurately predicted Raja and Sharon Needles), but I am quite enamoured with Seattle’s own Jinkx Monsoon. She’s just so bananas and full of character! And purpose.

I’m going to tell you why I think Jinkx is such a fascinating creature (and might deserve to win the crown), but first I want you to watch this video of her sharing her makeup tips as well as her ideas about gender, drag, and performance art:

The first thing that caught my attention were her thoughts on hyperfemininity in Hollywood films: “There are a lot of really hyperfeminine villains in American culture. I think we think that women can only be evil if they use their seduction to…gain status over their enemies.” I don’t think Jinkx is saying, “Hey, this is what women should be!” I think she is parodying traditional expectations of womanhood by making them look absurd and turning them on their heads by glorifying the traditionally scorned woman. Often, in drag, the “evil woman” is actually the misunderstood woman with a rich history that Jinkx Monsoon Seattle Drag Queen RuPaul's Drag Racedeserves exploration before fielding judgement.

I also appreciated Jinkx’s comments about drag as a performance art: “Beyond just the fact that you have to paint your face and change your body and step into this whole new skin…. It’s an art-form because it’s not just a form of self-expression, but it’s a forum for kind of discussing topics and bringing things to the foreground that you want people to start talking about. I think really good drag makes you think about something, just like any–any good spectacle or theatre piece or anything–they kind of make you take a look at something you may have not noticed yet.” This is precisely why drag is not just gender illusion–it is gender commentary. But it’s still fun to dress up, of course.

The most profound thing Jinkx says in her interview is about gender identity. “The best drag queens are commenting on gender Jinkx Monsoon Seattle Drag Queen RuPaul's Drag Race IIor sexuality. And when you’re playing a character, you can say things that you wouldn’t normally say as yourself. Like, I can call out all kinds of bullshit as Jinkx that I would never really talk about as myself.” In other words, men become drag queens to comment on the stupid ideas of sex roles produced largely in the middle twentieth century. But this aesthetic is also pretty, and they do celebrate that. It’s OK to be feminine too. Both are good.

Drag queens like Jinkx Monsoon are fascinating because they know what they are doing. They are sophisticated and ethereal about their craft, but they also know how to turn it out on-stage. Jinkx knows that she is mocking traditionally feminine roles while also celebrating the beauty of femininity–which is worthy. This is a hard line to walk, but I think she aces it.

Besides. My snitty-tits said so.





Miss B Digs Her Nails Into A Gay Conservative Catholic

15 07 2012

I’m getting weary of the old-fashioned sex difference revival. (Yes, I’m channelling Linda Evans right now. Shut up.) It’s everywhere in the media, from Time to Newsweek. Clinical psychologist Rosalind Barnett and journalist Caryl Rivers tackle the subject in their book Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs. They critique the resurgence of gender myths in modern society, especially since 9/11, paring away at the bad science propping up such myths and showing how it hurts us.  And, boy, can these bitches mount a queen. In ‘The Testosterone Test,’ a section of Chapter Eight in their book, they mention a gay man who has embraced the specious notion that testosterone makes males more aggressive than females. To me this is anathema, and I’ll tell you why. I will, I tell you. I will!

As I’ve suggested, the section deals with claims that males are more aggressive than females because they have higher testosterone levels. The authors admit that males have on average ten times more testosterone than females, but they point out that the relationship between testosterone and aggression is very foggy indeed, and that we do not know whether testosterone causes aggression levels to spike, aggression causes testosterone levels to spike, or something else entirely causes both to spike. In fact, it is doubtful that there is any direct relationship between testosterone and aggression in males, according to John Archer of the University of Central Lancashire, who conducted a major review of the literature [1]. So we should remain sceptical about claims that testosterone causes males to be more aggressive than females. It’s more complex and nuanced than that, and failing to realise this point might have real-life consequences.

To show how influential quack notions about gender science can be in popular culture, Barnett and Rivers cite a sensationalistic 2000 cover story in the New York Times Magazine called ‘The He Hormone’ [2]. The article wasn’t written by a scientist–it wasn’t even written by a science journalist–it was written by a gay conservative Catholic essayist with HIV called Andrew Sullivan. Barnett and Rivers note that it would have been valuable reading if Sullivan had written about taking shots of testosterone to manage his HIV condition, because this might have great benefits, but he attempted to write a full-fledged science article on the relationship between testosterone and sex, citing out-of-the-mainstream scientists and making factual errors andinaccurate claims along the way. As Barnett and Rivers write,

Robert Sapolsky, an eminent Stanford University professor of biology and neurology and an expert on testosterone, told Slate that Sullivan ‘is entitled to his fairly nonscientific opinion, but I’m astonished at the New York Times [for publishing his article].’ Saposky notes that one of the studies cited by Sullivan is a scientific laughingstock that was discredited long ago. Three other respected researchers signed a letter to the Times about the article, stating, ‘[i]n particular, there are scant results from well-controlled experiments showing that testosterone affects behaviour of normal men in the ways asserted by Sullivan.’

So, given this scientific insight, my question to Sullivan is: Really? Are you serious? I am gonna put on my Lee Press-On Nails and slap the bitch off your face. You should know better, queen!

But, in honesty, why in the world would a gay man be promulgating such pseudoscience? Immediately I am drawn to five facts: he is gay, male, conservative, Catholic, and HIV positive. This is a very complex archetype to read, but to me it ultimately screams “sexual insecurity.” Of course, nobody should be promoting the pseudoscience Barnett and Rivers describe, but one would think that a gay man, of all people, would be among the first to recognise and criticise it. Doesn’t Dan Savage campaign against gay bullying? Doesn’t Sullivan? Anti-gay bullying is motivated largely by gender norms, after all, and gay people don’t fit  into the traditional male-female procreative script so integral to such norms. I think this strange disjunction in gay men like Sullivan stems from a sort of schizophrenia or cognitive dissonance over gay men being aggressive but also compassionate. Gay men want to be accepted for being effeminate, but, ironically, they also want to assume the bully’s role and hence gain power over the people who once tortured them. The white, bearded, brunette bear in plaid becomes this macho–in some cases very supercilious–bully towards the shaved, tanned, blond twink at the local gay disco. (Don’t get me wrong–I think they’re both silly for their own reasons.) The effect isn’t physical, but it’s psychological. And that’s also damaging.

Everybody should be dispelling gender myths, but one would expect gay men to be among the first to do so, because of their own personal experiences with how such myths have hurt them. But faggots have foggy memories, and their minds are like phantasmic labyrinths. I don’t think Sullivan wants to hurt people, but I think he does so with his essay. I think he might be confused, desperate, and slightly egotistical. Gay people should be reading more academic literature on feminism and gender theory, like Barnett and Rivers’s book or Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, and they should be constructing an argument which produces a fuller image of who we should be as human beings. We should be raping the airwaves with real, sound, solid science on how everybody suffers from gender myths.

1. J. Archer, ‘The influence of testosterone on human aggression,’ British Journal of Psychology 82 (1991); 1-28.

2. Sullivan. “Why Men Are Different.”





Women Who Like Gay Porn

8 04 2012

Surprise! No, not really. It’s quite common-sensical, actually–a lot of women like to watch pornography. You might think this strange, assuming either that pornography objectifies women, or that women are sexless emotional angels, but in fact you’d be wrong. It turns out a lot of the pornography women like to watch is gay. This actually makes sense for several reasons, and it seems to corroborate research on female lust, voyeurism, and promiscuity.

The first reason it makes sense for women to like watching gay pornography is pretty intuitive. Just as straight men are sexually attracted to women, straight women are sexually attracted to men. Hence, just as straight men like watching lesbian pornography, straight women like watching gay pornography. Now people will try to break up this neat little analysis by screaming, ‘But women are less visual than men! Research ‘n’ stuff says so!’ This is basically what Tracy Clark-Flory says in her sex column at Salon in which she responds to a woman experiencing a ridiculously unnecessary tug-o’-war between her ‘feminine’ prudery and her lust for man-on-man action: ‘It’s true that research has found men to be more visual’ concedes the columnist in a tone of tired surrender. Sigh. The all-powerful spell of biologically determined sex difference prevails once again: ‘Men are like this! Women are like that! It’s in the genes! No nuance required! John Gray! Venus! Mars! Easy as cake and commercial as shit! Tehehehe!’ But there are two problems with this: Clark-Flory didn’t even direct the reader to a name connected with the research she ‘cited’ (the curse of popular publishing), and pornography isn’t just about vision anyway; it’s about hearing and other senses, too. So, even if the research proved men to be more visual than women, women might still derive other sensory pleasure from pornography, or it might simply provoke their imagination. The point is that straight women are attracted to beautiful men by way of many senses, and beautiful men are a dime a dozen in gay pornography, hence it makes sense for women to enjoy it–despite the mountains of shame that may weigh on their conscience due to age-old prescriptions on women’s  desires.

The second reason it makes sense for women to like gay pornography is that it doesn’t involve sexual exploitation of females. We all know the formula: some ugly man slams a woman’s head into the cushion of a sofa inside some gross, overlighted Hollywood McMansion while she squeals like a stuck pig and rubs the nipples of her voluminous breasts with her French manicure.  The man’s looks don’t matter, because he is the agent, while she is the screaming lump of gorgeous, glistening flesh to be used. It’s obviously male-centred and male-dominated. It almost feels like rape. Gay male pornography doesn’t have this. It involves a man penetrating another man, so there is no man dominating and objectifying a woman. Some gay pornography does involve objectification, but there seems to be a mutual respect and understanding rather than a real-life power division. This isn’t necessarily so for straight pornography, which can conjure up troubling images and memories for many women. But straight sex shouldn’t be the way it is portrayed in pornography–there is no reason why a man and woman should not have mutually respectful, understanding, and loving sex. That’s what should be depicted in straight pornography. Until that day comes, though, women will like gay pornography. Heck, they might still like it afterward, simply because they like watching gorgeous men having sex.

The third reason it makes sense for women to like gay male pornography is that it lacks a storyline. This is curious and much less intuitive. In his blog Straightguise, openly gay clinical sexologist Joe Kort, PhD, cites an article by Elizabeth F. Stewart in In Family magazine called ‘Hot Man On Man Action (And the Lesbians Who Love Watching It)’. Kort agrees with Stewart that lesbians enjoy gay pornography for its raw nature and de-emphasis on background and storyline, but he adds that straight women may enjoy gay pornography for this reason, too. But women are supposed to like storylines, right? Wrong, according to Kort. Kort cites Stewart as saying in her article that ‘It is a myth that all women–lesbian or straight–want a storyline and emotional content in porn.’ He, too, mentions that women might enjoy gay male pornography because of the balance of power as well as the obviously real orgasm (often faked by women in straight pornography). Obviously it isn’t scientifically conclusive, but Kort’s suggestion that women like gay male pornography for its lack of a storyline, and for its mutual, egalitarian rawness, deserves a great deal of further exploration, because it totally defies the assumption that women are overwhelmingly sexless and emotional creatures. (But, then, a lot of the best gay male pornography is highly emotional and romantic, and many gay men will attest to this, citing some of the highest-quality specimens of film portraying men in love.)

But why do lesbians like gay male pornography? Because some of them do! This was surprising to me. It’s anecdotal, but I worked with a lesbian at a theatre in Vancouver, and when I asked her about this, she nodded, “Yes, it’s true.” We already know one reason, it seems: as Stewart noted, some lesbians like the rough, anonymous nature of gay male pornography. I can only speculate about the other reasons: so-called ‘lesbian’ pornography is fake, degrading rubbish made by straight men for straight men (it says a lot when lesbian pornography is so off-putting as to turn lesbians on to gay men poking each other’s anuses); lesbians may derive a cerebral pleasure watching men do each other instead of women; and you don’t have to be attracted to somebody’s sex to be attracted to what they’re doing and the way they’re doing it. This last point is important. You can be turned on by what other people do without being attracted to their biological sex per se. So, that is perfectly good reason for lesbians to like gay male pornography, especially when women are so poorly portrayed in the industry.

I should mention income disparities in pornography. Defenders of straight pornography will often argue that the industry isn’t unfair towards women, because the women, being the objects of desire, actually earn more money than men. But this doesn’t necessarily give women an economic advantage over men in the industry. For who is the producer and the director? Probably a man, and that man probably earns more than any of the female models. So even then men might have an economic advantage over women in the industry. Besides, the cost of pornography is not just economic–it is also social and psychological, given the image of women it peddles to the male masses. No wonder a lot of women choose gay over straight pornography.

One last point should be made: research doesn’t necessarily support the assumption that women are more monogamous or less libidinous than men. Self-surveys do not actually reveal how people feel, or what they actually do. The media tend innacurately to portray men as more promiscuous than women when in fact women reveal a similar level of sexual desire when interviewed privately and discreetly, as Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers explain in Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs (pp. 58-9). We get a more honest picture if we look at our closely-related simian cousins. While Darwin observed female chimpanzees’ sexual swellings, he failed to notice the “12-day period around a chimpanzee’s maximum tumescence, when she typically mates about one to four times an hour with thirteen or more partners”, according to Barnett and Rivers, quoting Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (p. 53). In fact, there might even be reason for women to be even more promiscuous than men, or at least for men to be more loyal to women than previously believed. As Barnett and Rivers note (pp. 61-3), human females don’t go into oestrus, so human males don’t know when the females are fertile. It could be two or three days out of the month, but he doesn’t know which days these are. Hence, to ensure he successfully spreads his genes, it makes sense for the male to have sex as often as possible with the same female, not with many other females, since he might be killed or injured by their mates. Barnett and Rivers explain this increasingly accepted paradigm even further in their book, which is very much worth reading. What we can say based on these observations is that women like sex, and sex with a lot of different men, a lot more than we might wish to believe given our predilection for safe and secure sex roles.

To summarise, a lot of women like gay pornography, because they’re sexually attracted to men (if they’re straight), gay pornography doesn’t exploit women, it lacks a storyline (which women don’t necessarily crave), and lesbians dislike the degrading, fake portrayal of women in straight pornography (while taking pleasure in the sex acts of people despite their gender). We ultimately get a picture of women’s true desires, which is extremely transgressive. Pornography has been bad for both men and women, but it could be good for both. The point is that women liking gay porn liberates both sexes. It lets men enjoy the role of the sexual giver for once, and women, the role of the sexual agent, for, in the end, a black-and-white power-division isn’t healthy–a balance is.





Mapping American Social Attitudes

28 03 2012

I’ve found maps fascinating ever since I was a wee lad. I remember getting a globe for my birthday in 1986 and an atlas for Christmas in 1991, and getting new maps and globes over the years to watch the changes in national boundaries. I was shitty at math but adored maps. Maps say so much in pictures  about people, politics, migratory patterns, industry, the environment, natural resources, social attitudes, and loads of other hot, steamy, bloggable stuff. Looking at different maps of the United States, we can see a stark divide in political and social attitudes about race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Here I want you to take a look at some maps of the U.S. to see where different attitudes are concentrated. It’s amazing to see the clear patterning of regional differences, which in turn shows us where we have our work cut out for us in terms of achieving social equity.

We can start this work by looking at the political attitudes, which frequently overlap with social ones. Consider the following maps of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. The first map shows states with red, Republican majorities, and those with blue, Democratic majorities; the second one shows this same information, but with a focus on population density.

As we can see, Republican voters were clustered in the south, the Great Plains, and the interior west, while Democratic voters were clustered in the northeast, Great Lakes, and west coast. As it so happens, the red areas also generally reflect sparsely populated areas, and the blue areas, more densely populated areas, revealing a correlation between cities and Democratic values.

But does the Republican-Democrat divide reflect something more than just urban versus rural? If we look at the following Gallup maps from 2011 and 2010, respectively, we get a better idea how conservatives and liberals are distributed across the country.

Not only are the northeast and northwest regions predominantly Democratic and urban, but they are also decidedly more liberal than the south and the midland. (The midland tends to be a grey area, as we shall see.) The ideological divide along geographical lines begins to deepen. Urbanity, Democratic politics, and liberalism begin to characterize the northeast and west coast while rurality, Republican politics, and conservatism begin to characterize the hinterland.

The regional difference comes into even sharper focus when we look at education and religiosity in America. Below is a 2009 Gallup map showing the most religious and most secular states in the country as well as a 2000 Census Bureau map showing educational attainment.

As the first map suggests, the south is much more religious than average, while Cascadia and New England are much more secular than average. The second map shows the inverse for education: the more secular areas tend to have better-educated people, and the more religious areas tend to have less-educated people, especially when we compare Washington state and Massachusetts with Mississippi. What this seems to show is that religiosity and lower educational attainment pattern together in the south, while secularism and higher educational attainment pattern together in New England and Cascadia (anchored by the cultural and educational centers of Boston and Seattle, respectively).

This ideological divide becomes particularly important when we look at the history of black civil rights in the United States. Consider these maps on slavery and anti-miscegenation laws:

It’s probably no surprise that the south consisted almost entirely of slave states, and the north and west almost entirely of free states and territories. Nor is it surprising that the map of anti-miscegenation laws so closely follows this pattern, with the south resisting the repeal of racist marriage laws until 1967, over one hundred years after slavery was abolished. The south wasn’t always overwhelmingly Republican, though: the region was full of “Dixiecrats” when the liberal Democrat and conservative Republican binary was not as stark as it is today.

But this general pattern of a blue, liberal region wrapping around a red, conservative hinterland doesn’t end with race; it also shows up in opinions about women, women’s rights, and sex differences, as illustrated in the following maps of women’s suffrage laws and attitudes about abortion.

In the suffrage laws map, the divide between a conservative south and a liberal north and west is slightly blurred. Large parts of the northeast joined with the south in resistance to suffrage, but vast parts of the west and northwest remained progressive on this issue, in stark contrast with the south. The north-south binary reappears, however, in the 2006 abortion map, which shows a northeast and west coast far friendlier toward reproductive rights than the south.

The south’s apparent concern for unborn babies seems incompatible with its poor record on child welfare. We see another stark regional difference looking at maps of state-by-state child poverty rates and overall child welfare across the United States.

On the 2008 child welfare map, children are better off in the lighter-shaded areas, which include Washington state, Utah, the Upper Midwest, and New England, but they are worse off in the south–the same part of the country where women’s rights, black civil rights, and post-secondary educational attainment tend to lag behind, and where religiosity tends to flourish. A very similar pattern holds for child poverty rates, with a dark band of impoverished children in the south and a lighter strip of well-off children in the west, north, and northeast.

No discussion of American social attitudes would be complete without mention of gay rights, which seems to be the social justice zeitgeist of our time. It’s everywhere in the news, at least in the United States, where everything is controversial. Once again, the general pattern we have been seeing holds true when we look at the maps below showing the advance of gay rights in the United States.

The first map shows the northeast, Midwest, and west coast taking the lead in knocking down old laws banning sodomy between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. Most of the south (as well as Mormon country) had to be forced by a 2003 Supreme Court ruling to catch up with the rest of the country. And, in typical fashion, the northeast, Midwest (Iowa), and northwest (Washington state) shine bright blue as the beacons in the gay marriage movement, while the south and Great Plains are steeped in a mostly dark blood red. We must take care not to lump the entire south into the category of “retrogressive”, however: one former slave state–Maryland–is now a gay marriage state. Now, that’s a remarkable transformation. How many states can say that they used to have slaves, but they will soon have legally married gay couples if all goes according to plan?

Certainly, looking at a few maps gives only a rough depiction of social attitudes in America, and much more investigation is required to yield a truly refined and nuanced portrait of the issue, but we can still get a general idea where American attitudes lie with respect to the rights of women, minorities, children, poor people, etc., by looking at maps. Cascadia and New England generally represent more liberal, educated, healthy people while the south generally represents the opposite. We can use this kind of knowledge to focus our efforts on helping those who have been targeted for oppression. It isn’t about judging ignorant rubes–it’s about demonstrating compassion for the underprivileged. With further research, and with the facts in mind, we can reach out to disenfranchised minorities, abused children, poor people who don’t have money for rent, young pregnant women with no access to reproductive health-care, bullied gay youth with nowhere to go, and the lonely, ostracised atheist or Muslim, with the goal of creating equity for all. This is the purpose of looking at social attitudes in America.





The “Plug-in-Socket” Paradigm: How Homophobia Overlaps with Sexism

3 03 2012

Homophobia, it turns out, has its roots in good, old-fashioned sexism, and I’ll tell you why. On February 6th, Washington state residents Jennifer Morris and Allison Vance, a 13-year-old, testified against gay marriage before the Washington State House Judiciary Committee. Their argument was basically that gay marriage is wrong because men and women complement one another. The state Legislature didn’t buy their argument, however, as Washington state legalised gay marriage on 13 February, the day before Valentine’s Day. (The Seattle bars were rife with exuberant homosexuals that night.) Still, it is important to deconstruct Morris and Vance’s argument, expose its fallacies, and show how they are motivated by sex stereotypes.

The arguments of people like Morris and Vance are usually put in rather crude, simplistic terms. Lacking a grasp on nuance, they tend to compare marriage with things that involve inserting one object into another in order to make more “stuff”, or to produce something tangible. Consider the analogy Morris draws between copulation and buildings, which the Seattle alternative weekly newspaper The Stranger reported on in its official blog, Slog:

Today my main message is that specific tools are for specific purposes…. If you were going to build a skyscraper, you would not be putting bolts with bolts and nuts with nuts, because the structure wouldn’t go up. And if it did it would probably fall apart, probably destroying many lives…. I feel very demeaned by the fact that roles don’t seem to matter.

Nuts with nuts. Such prurient imagery. According to Morris, sex is about creating people, not pleasure—despite the fact that the world is verging on 7 billion. Morris seems to care more about the tribal Bronze Age ideal of propogation than the twenty-first-century ideal of sustainability. The notion is that sex is about breeding as much as possible, despite the stress this may place on the environment, and ultimately on people. Echoing Morris, Vance says that trying to make a same-sex-headed family work is “like trying to walk with two left shoes.” She also says that “[i]n order to walk properly, you must wear one left shoe and one right shoe”. In other words,the only proper sexual union is that between a man and a woman, because the only proper sexual union is between two people who can procreate, and only opposite-sex couples can procreate.

Of course, we already know that this is ridiculous, since sterile couples, hysterectomised women, postmenopausal women, and couples who choose not to have children can marry despite their inability or choice not to procreate—because they love each other. For the same reason, then, gay people should be allowed to marry one another. Any adult can marry another adult who consents to the marriage. Simple as that. But conservatives are immune to this kind of reasoning—it tends to go in one ear and out the other, or else they come up with increasingly desperate and tenuous counter-arguments to avoid facing the fact that this kind of reasoning makes perfect sense.

But Morris and Vance’s anti-gay sentiment is not just about procreation—it is about the sex roles associated with these (as Morris herself suggested above). Think about it. Traditional sex roles involve a dominant, independent male penetrating a submissive, dependent female. The male is the logical, aggressive, disciplinarian “yin”, and the female, the intuitive, submissive, nurturing “yang”. The male is the dominant force, and the female, the recessive one. The male is the unemotional breadwinner, and the female, the emotional care-taker. Or else, as in the T.V. show Whitney, the woman is the passive-aggressive psychopath, and the male, some dumb, confused testosterone machine who stares like some fucking dumb piece of numb-brained shit at women’s asses. Here we see Vance’s left and right foot. Her argument against gay marriage is founded on old-fashioned, sentimental ideas about a relationship in which a dominant male complements a submissive female (an inherently hegemonic system), and on teaching children these roles early on.

What does this have to do with lesbians and gays, you may ask? Well, in the view of people like Morris and Vance, lesbians and gays are traitors because their relationships do not involve a man dominating a woman (left versus right shoe). Lesbianism does not involve a man dominating a woman, and male homosexuality does not involve a man dominating a woman. Not only does the rigidly mechanistic “plug-in-socket” scenario of “male and female mate, thereby producing offspring” break down in these relationships, but so do the hegemonic, sex-based social roles which derive from it. In a word, gays and lesbians have sex for pleasure, not to dominate a member of the opposite sex and keep the plug-in-socket hierarchy functional. For this reason, in the eyes of gay-marriage opponents, gay marriage is wrong.

But are traditional sex roles really a desirable thing? I don’t think so. They basically imply that women should be nicer people than men (because they have different limbic systems or whatever). But this is kind of like saying that normal people should be a little bit nicer than psychopaths. We don’t say that psychopaths should be crueller than normal people; we say that they should be as nice as normal people, and so we medicate them accordingly. Similarly, we shouldn’t be saying that men should be meaner than women; we should be be saying that they should be as nice as women, and teach them accordingly. And even if there is some biological explanation for men’s greater aggressiveness, it isn’t an ethical imperative; it is merely an observation of a natural phenomenon, like a genetic predisposition for cancer. We don’t say that those genetically predisposed to cancer should be more susceptible to cancer; we treat them for their condition. So, everybody should be held to the same standard of sensitivity and compassion, and it is simply giving licence to cruelty to say that “boys will be boys”. What gay rights activists should be doing, then, is pointing out that homophobia cannot be justified using sexism, because sexism itself is not justifiable.

Besides, true Christians (who make up a sizeable portion of homophobes) shouldn’t be buying into the temptation of saying that male aggressiveness and female submissiveness are biologically predetermined. They believe in Jesus Christ. Well, the Bible says that Jesus was compassionate (Matt. 9:36), that others should be compassionate (Matt. 18:33), and that Jesus himself commanded people to be like him (John 14:12, 1 Corinthians 4:16). If Jesus was compassionate, if others should be compassionate too, and if he told people to be like him, it follows that Jesus and the Bible required people to be compassionate and peace-loving. Now, because Jesus was male, and because he commanded everybody to be as compassionate as he, he necessarily required males and females to be equally compassionate. After all, he is the common denominator for compassion among Christians. So, while sexism motivates homophobia, if Jesus himself breaks down traditional sex roles, Christians can’t use them to justify homophobia.

I didn’t write this post using the traditional English essay formula; I wrote it in a sort of stream of consciousness format. I guess I was channelling Virginia Woolf or something. Anyway, I wanted to show how homophobia stems from sexism, how sexism is stupid, and how sexists have no basis for using Jesus to justify homophobia, since Jesus-quotes don’t justify sexism. Hopefully I’ve achieved this much. It’s important to emphasise that homophobia and sexism have a lot in common. Both gay people and feminists defy patriarchy by defying traditional sex roles. In order to attack homophobia, what gay rights advocates need to be doing is attacking sexism, since this seems to be used to justify a lot of homophobia. A discussion on gay rights is not complete without mentioning women’s rights at some point. Both concern sex roles and sexual identity, and as such they inform one another. In the meantime, let’s celebrate the recent gay marriage victories in Washington state and Maryland.





Maureen Walsh on Marriage Equality in Washington State

13 02 2012

At 11:30 a.m. on Monday morning, 13 February 2012, as the raindrops slide down the sides of Seattle’s skyscrapers, Washington state is expected to legalise same-sex marriage when Governor Christine Gregoire signs into law a bill passed by the state Legislature. The fight for equality in Washington has been an incremental one, starting with an anti-discrimination law (2006) and moving on to a domestic partnership law (2007), which was later expanded and approved by voters (2009), until the Legislature finally passed the marriage equality bill (2012). Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle, an openly gay man, has played an instrumental role in the process, having spent the last few years sponsoring bills to expand gay rights. But what do impassioned lawmakers have to say?

The struggle to pass the marriage equality bill has been anything but perfunctory. Thanks to the Internet and social networking, people around the world have had the chance to witness the powerful, heartfelt speeches given by Washington lawmakers who support the bill. Interestingly, some of those lawmakers are Republicans, showing that compassion for devoted same-sex couples crosses party lines and touches on core humanist principles. I think we should all acknowledge this basic common-sense empathy when it pops up in Republicans. Maureen Walsh, a Republican representative for Washington’s 16th District of Walla Walla (where yours truly happens to have some super-conservative religious relatives) proved for me that empathy crosses party lines:

This was an inspiring speech, and it’s no wonder it has more than a few Youtube commenters a little bit verklempt. But what we should note is how Walsh touches on the argumentum ad populum of gay marriage opponents, which states that a thing is good just because it is popular. She bravely and passionately communicates that a belief is good not because it is popular, but because it makes people happy. And she holds her fellow lawmakers accountable for making a rational, fair-minded decision (the way Thomas Jefferson would). Her message wouldn’t have had the same clout, though, had she not made it personal and intimate by recounting her relationship with her lesbian daughter, who, as she recalls, used to stand up for bullied children on the playground. She tells her fellow legislators,

My daughter stood up for that kid, [and] even though it wasn’t the popular thing to do, she knew it was the right thing to do. And I was never more proud of my kid than knowing she was speaking against the vocal majority on behalf of the rights of the minority. And to me, it is incumbent upon us as legislators in this state to do that. That is why we are here. And I shudder to think that if folks who have preceded us in history [had not done] that—frankly, I’m not sure I would be here as a woman. I’m not sure that other people would be here due to their race or their creed, and to me that is what’s disconcerting.

Walsh is right. A thing is not right just because it is popular; it is right because it is reasonable, and it takes a principled leader to stand up and say, “this is right, and here are the reasons why”. Would we have abolished slavery had it been put up to a popular vote? Probably not. Would we have approved women’s suffrage had it been put up to a popular vote? Probably not. Neither decision was decided by a popular public vote. There are reasons why we have lawmakers brooding over the rights of minority groups. They take it seriously.

Marriage equality has triumphed in Washington state in part because of people like Maureen Walsh, who, despite her Republican status, believes that every loyal couple deserves the equal protection of the law. Hopefully this will be expanded to include the rest of the United States and, eventually, the rest of the world. To facilitate this effort, what we shoud be doing is proving to people who are still sitting on the fence why gays and lesbians deserve these rights, and we can do this by breaking down fallacies like the appeal to popularity, the appeal to nature, the slippery slope argument, the “special rights” argument, the “homosexuality is a choice” argument, the “homosexuality is condemned in the Bible” argument, and others (many of which I refute in my blog entry “8 Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense“). However, we also need to complement our appeal to reason with anecdotes about the legal and personal struggles of individual gay and lesbian couples. We need to appeal to both justice and mercy. That will change both hearts and minds.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers