“QUEER” — a.k.a., my ‘trigger’

If I had a personal “n-word”, it would be the “q-word”, but I think it is silly to use childlike abbreviations, so it’s just queer. It’s a word that provokes a visceral reaction from me, and it makes me want to scream and slap the person saying it. From trans friends who argue with one another about words like the “t-word” (“tranny” if you’re not a child), I understand this is my trigger. Of course, triggers are not trans things, or even LGBT things…they are things that set off a flashback transporting the person back to an event of her/his original trauma.

Why do I have such an issue with queer?

REASON 1: As I try to explain to millennial gaybys that I meet in clubs, queer is my trigger because it was the word that was used to insult me, not only by other school kids, but also by my own family members. Having been called that by family, I find the word especially ugly. One of the things LGBT people give to counter African Americans when they assert we have it easier because we can hide ourselves (whereas skin color is obvious to the bigots one encounters), is that African Americans can come home from school and get support from family members who suffer the same slights in society. I don’t believe in “us vs. them” and trying to determine who suffers the most, but I will say that rejection by members of one’s family is rough — and for me it was much more painful than what I encountered at school. Just in case the reader missed it the first time, I don’t believe in “us vs. them” and I’m not trying to say sexual orientation is more difficult than issues of race; I don’t have a clue what African American children experience. I’m just saying that the magnitude of my negative experience was related to my family not being “like me” and feeling very alone when attacked about my sexuality.

REASON 2: As I try to explain to millennial college students who are super excited about their “Queer Studies 101” class, I find their explanation of reclaiming queer for our community condescending, self-important, and insensitive. I went to college. I took a sociology class. I’m not stupid. I understand the concept of minorities reclaiming derogatory language and how that is supposed to dilute its power. I just disagree. There is a huge difference between me not understanding vs. me not approving. It never fails that some child born long after my college days were over believes that he can educate me — and he believes that if he does, I will no longer have a dissenting opinion. The tedium of it is as exhausting as it is infuriating.

REASON 3: As I try to explain to millennial “gender-queer” activists before they go postal on me for having a contrary opinion, I’m not convinced that their use of the word truly constitutes a reclaiming of language by those who were originally harmed by it. In my generation and in my locale of birth, queer was used as a slur against boys (and men) who were considered effeminate. We were the exclusive targets of this word. Some of us eventually self-identified as gay, and others of us now self-identify as trans.

I never observed queer being used as a slur against people such as women who liked to dress in a manner that was gender-ambiguous and/or were uncomfortable with pronouns such as “she”. This makes me question the right that these people have to reclaim my slur. Even if the word was used against them, I am not gender-ambiguous and they do not represent ME. Don’t misunderstand — they can self-identify as anything they wish, and I fully support that. I support their right to dress in any way they want, date anyone they want, have any job they want, and modify their bodies in any way they may want. I donate funds and personal time to make sure their rights are protected as well as are mine. What I do NOT support is the argument that they are doing the “community” a service by removing the hurtful power of this word for everyone. Unless queer was used to hurt you, you do not have the right or ability to “reclaim” it. And if you’re not a sissy boy, you’re not reclaiming it for me and the other sissy boys. You’re just choosing a word you like.

Also, queer seemed to fall out of favor by the time I was in college, with terms such as faggot being more en vogue with the bully types. I question whether any millennial had anachronistic slurs poured upon them, even if they are sissy boys. Again, if no one attacked you with the word in an effort to obliterate your self esteem, it’s not reclamation. You’re just choosing a word you like.

REASON 4: As I try to explain to everyone who uses queer in reference to ME, I do not self-identify as queer, and I (a) should not have to explain to anyone why I specifically do not want to be referred to by a hateful slur (b) nor should I have to plead with anyone not to use it when referring to me and my community. If I politely share with any compassionate human being that I am hurt by certain language, their response should be something like, “I am sorry, I didn’t know. I’ll make an effort not to refer to you using that word”. Period. It shouldn’t be a debate. But it almost always IS a debate, and this makes me hate the word even more. Again, exhausting and infuriating.

REASON 5:  This reason will make you think that I am crazy, stretching, and self appropriating things that I have no right to appropriate, but I still believe it. As I previously mentioned, I think that queer is an anachronistic slur — having been much more popular with bullies in my youth and even more so with previous generations. Here in San Francisco, one doesn’t run into a lot of guys from previous generations. Why? Well, many of them died from HIV/AIDS in the 80’s and early 90’s. I believe that if the thousands of these guys were still here, there would be more voices like mine saying that queer is ugly and it’s not OK for groups purporting to represent all of the LGBT community to adopt the word queer as a lazy catch all for everyone. I’m not a fan of the ever growing alphabet “soup” that is LGBTQI+, but I certainly prefer that to the use of the most hateful slur I can remember. I feel that my voice is being overrun by a new, more populous generation that is insensitive to the earlier generations who made much of their current freedoms possible.

How many times in one post can I insinuate that this is all because of millennials? At the risk of sounding like that crazy old man who yells at children to stay out of his yard, I’ll say it one more time — “millennials, stop using the word queer to refer to ME and MY community!”

Peace.

Sotomayor: Another Minority Advocate Missing the Point

Official Portrait of Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Official Portrait of Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, was the guest today on my absolute favorite radio program, FreshAir from WHYY. On today’s show, host Terry Gross interviewed Sotomayor on a variety of subjects — ranging from her personal background to her beliefs on affirmative action. As interesting as the interview 1 was, it hit on a pet peeve of mine regarding how to categorize and/or identify the disadvantaged in our country.

Raised in the Bronx during the 1950’s–1960’s, Sotomayor had a modest upbringing as the daughter of a nurse and a tool-and-die worker. She describes going to college at Princeton University as a real eye-opener for her limited point of view from poverty. It was clear from her interview that she considers herself to have come from a radically disadvantaged childhood, and I have to take some issue with that.

I should first say that I’m not writing this post to start some sick “who had it worse growing up” contest with Justice Sotomayor. Instead, I’m writing this post to start the conversation, again, about who qualifies as disadvantaged in our country. Sotomayor went to public school in the Bronx. I went to school in Cheatham County, TN. Here are some facts about the elementary school that I attended for K-6:

Black or White: Does it matter here?

  • We often had no air conditioning in a part of the country that can easily reach 100+ degrees. Best case, school would be cancelled and we would forego education altogether. Worst case, we suffered through it in classrooms as hot as ovens.
  • We had failing roofs. When it rained, the custodian distributed buckets and pans to the classrooms to catch the dripping water — and we moved our desks as best we could to keep dry.
  • We lacked sanitary bathroom facilities. The smell of urine was so strong that students covered their faces with their hands when they passed the bathrooms in the hall.
  • We either had no textbooks for class, the textbooks were long out of date, the textbooks were worn to pieces, there were not enough to go around, or some combination of each of these issues.
  • We had no paper for things like tests. Teachers wrote the questions on the blackboard, and we copied them to paper we had to provide from home.
  • We were served “state approved” lunch menus where cheaper alternatives were substituted in place of more expensive, healthier ingredients. For example, potato chips were substituted for lettuce on the salad bar.
  • We had too few teachers to segregate children by grade level; one class might stretch a teacher across 2–3 grade levels.
  • We had too few classrooms to accommodate the students. Some children studied in make-shift classrooms in rented trailers.
  • We had no safety shelters even though students were studying in mobile trailers in tornado zones.
  • We had no music education program.
  • We had no art education program.
  • We had no physical education program.

I mention all of these issues here ad nauseam to emphasize that disadvantage is not just related to racial minority status — this is an example of one of many poor, predominately white rural schools in The South. In the bigger picture, disadvantage simply correlates with poverty. It’s a mistake to focus too much on the race of the students when evaluating how to help people improve their lot in life.

When asked about affirmative action, Justice Sotomayor indicated that, “affirmative action doesn’t just level the playing field, it actually introduces minorities to playing fields they never knew existed”. I could not agree more; however, I believe that applying affirmative action to our citizens solely on the basis of race significantly dilutes its effect.

Applying affirmative action policies equally to both African-American students in poverty and to African-American students of the middle class excludes entire segments of the population who are living in poverty and who are in equal need of enfranchisement. Just as when Justice Sotomayor first visited Princeton University and discovered a new, previously incomprehensible playing field, so too would white students who have been long accustomed to dodging leaky roofs and avoiding the open sewage in their halls of education.

_____________________

  1. If you would like to hear a rebroadcast of the show, click to stream it from the NPR website.

When Feminazis Attack: Dunham Mauls Reporter Over Nudity Question

I’ve become a pretty loyal fan of the HBO show GIRLS — that fresh new take on NYC life from the perspective of a pack of early 20-something girls right out of college (written, produced, directed, edited, cast, and generally birthed by Judd Apatow’s new wunderkind, Lena Dunham). The show consistently scores major publicity (nearly always good), and I think this is because of its combination of particularly well–scribed leading characters and the writers’ complete lack of fear in granting them a POV without filter.

HBO's GIRLS

HBO’s GIRLS

One of the most noted missing filters thus far is the lead character’s clothing. Yes, Hanna Horvath — another role filled by creator Lena Dunham — is naked a LOT.  She’s naked so often that I hear there is a college drinking game keyed to the number of boob shots in each episode. It’s been talked about quite a bit in the media, and such discussions ran a little heated last Thursday during a panel interview at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, CA. Dunham was asked to comment by a male reporter at the event:

I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show by you particularly.  I feel like I might be walking into a trap where you’ll say something like, “Nobody complains about the nudity on Game of Thrones,” but I get why THEY are doing it — they’re doing it to be salacious and, you know, to titillate people.  But your character is often naked just at random times for no reason.

One would have thought the man had stood up and basically said, “you aren’t very attractive, and your show doesn’t seem to be very ‘deep’, so how do you explain the nudity?”

The panel was instantly enraged. One could barely distinguish the different speakers as they all yelled at once to answer the reporter who dared to find fault with their art — or with Dunham’s body.  In fact, after reading the entire transcript three times, I’m still not certain exactly what caused the infernal blowup. I must be another insensitive man.

Nudity...Just Because

Nudity…Just Because

From my interpretation, the reporter has noted that conventional cinema (i.e., not porn) sometimes contains nudity, but that nudity is shown for only two reasons he undertsands:

  1. It has artistic value. It is shown as part of a larger context; that is, the combination of the nudity and the dialogue and the expressiveness of the actors — blended within a specific environment and augmented with meaningful back story and carefully incubated tone — it all becomes a work of art that has value greater than the sum of its individual elements. In synergistic creations like these, to leave out the nudity would somehow radically destroy the artistic value of the entire scene. You know, it’s “deep”.
  2. It is shown for the sole sake of satisfying the audience’s prurient curiosity and fantasy. That is, it’s porn.

Dunham reacts explosively to the question. As do her fellow panelists. Executive producer, Jenny Konner, was even unable to answer the next question fielded to her…saying instead:

I literally was spacing out because I’m in such a rage spiral about that guy that I literally could not hear. I’m so sorry. I really don’t mean to disrespect you. I was just looking at him and going into this rage — this idea that he would talk to a woman like that and accuse a woman of showing her body too much. The idea, it just makes me sort of sick. And I just want to apologize to everyone. I’m going to try to focus now, but if I space out, it will be because of that guy. I’m not usually like that but I can’t believe he would speak to a woman like that.

Some newspapers writing about the event are throwing around words like “misogyny”. “Testosterone dominated press”. The “out of line” reporter.

Personally, I thought that it was a fair question. Given that she is not our society’s typical ideal of beauty, I think it does warrant an answer. I believe that she must have desired to be provocative by performing in the nude in unusual contexts — so it is also somewhat disingenuous of her to pretend to be surprised or insulted when asked to explain the intent behind it. For example, I’ve not been able to divine any deeper meaning from the scene where she eats cake while sitting naked on the bathroom floor. I’m left guessing that it might have something to do with women’s body image struggles. Or it might have been really hot outside.  I’d honestly like to know what her answer to that question would have been if she had not been so offended by it. For all I know she’s revealing a long hidden secret about all women. Or cake tastes better in the buff. I’ll never know.

UPDATE 2014/01/13: When I wrote this post, I totally forgot that I had given a shout out to the series in an earlier blog entry — an entry where I myself posed the question, “why are you naked all the time!?!?” It’s a question on peoples’ minds whether Dunham wants to admit it or not.