Friday, September 28, 2012

Honey Boo Boo Supports Gay People

Sparky and I have finally caught up on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, in order to write a post next week, but in the meantime, I thought I would share the following clip with you.

Say what you will about the problematic nature of this family, or the voyeurism that is being played to by the creation and airing of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, the fact that Alanah (aka Honey Boo) made this statement, makes her far more socially advanced then many, and certainly more than many of the Republicans currently running for office.

Alanah has a gay uncle who they call poodle.  She loves him dearly and it is out of this love that she made this wonderful statement.  Kids won't find gay people offensive and they won't be confused, if we don't stigmatize a gay identity.  Alanah may be a right proper madam as Sparky would say, but this one she got absolutely right.  Say it with me y'all, here come honey boo boo.

Dolce & Gabbana's Racist Earrings

There are times when you see something in the media that the shock of how visibly racist it is, is like a shot to the gut.  When it is followed by a denial, it adds incredible insult to injury.  During the showing of Dolce & Gabbana's, Summer/ Spring 2013 collection, they decided to reveal to the world their Blackamoor earrings.

Have a good look at the earring which the White model is wearing.  Do you want a closer look?

Can there be any doubt that this earring is racist as all get out? Don't they just scream mammy?  How could anyone create something like this and not see the racist nature of it?

The following is Dolce & Gabbana's response according to The Global Grind
The show jewelry is reminiscent of ornate ceramics that often appear in Sicilian homes, restaurants and hotels. The head is inspired by traditional Moorish people, a term used to describe the Medieval Muslim inhabitants of Sicily - a place that consistently inspires Dolce & Gabbana designs and the native country of Domenico Dolce. Traditionally, the heads are then covered with an Italian tin glaze that gives a shiny finish and painted in vibrant colors to symbolize stories and legends from Sicilian towns.
Right, so the fact that these earrings specifically turn Black women into a  racist caricature is acceptable because they are of a Sicilian origin.  Look, just because something has been historically acceptable, does not mean that it is acceptable in the modern world.  Culture constantly shifts and grows and this means the context that counts is the modern one. Even more importantly, nostalgia 
belongs to the privileged because it constantly harkens back to a time when they had more power than they did today. It quite specifically romanticizes the most brutal of oppressions.

When I look at that earring, what I see is the long suffering mammy, up in the big house cooking masters food.  I see her working on swollen feet, with no ownership of her body.  Images like this were readily deemed acceptable for years.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Stop Asking About Our Genitals

Mike is an 19 year female to male transman. He is currently studying psychology at The Evergreen State College between making quilts. He someday aspires to be a social worker, and in the mean time, he wants to fix the fact that not everyone is born with an inherent right to be themselves.

I want a t-shirt with a pop-up feature. When people who don’t know me approach and try to start a conversation, a little alert window would show up. It would say CONGRATULATIONS, you are interacting with a transgender person. In order to continue this conversation you must read and agree to the terms and conditions. I want this t-shirt because everywhere I go, including most queer safe spaces, I have to educate people about trans* issues and etiquette. I am tired of having to educate absolutely everyone that interacts with me. Especially since most of the stuff that I am asking people not to do is part of basic courtesy. Most people don’t tend to ask total strangers about their genitals. Apparently, exceptions are made for those who are particularly curious. And for a while, didn’t mind and saw it as my duty, to educate people about the trans* community and to be something of a diplomat or an ambassador; a wonderful and extraordinarily naive attempt to better the world.

    But now I am tired. I am tired of educating the ladies in my quilt guild about gender roles and the transition process. I am tired of fielding questions about my genitals from everyone, as if that was the only thing that mattered about my transition. I am more than tired of educating medical professional after medical professional about what it means to be trans* and having to fight the system in order to get basic health care. I’m tired of being told how to be a man, as if I needed help or tips or training to understand how to be who I already am. I’m tired of having to educate people about how crappy the system is for a trans* person and hearing their surprise at my lack of rights. They don’t understand the realities of the way that I live my life, because they don’t need to. I want to rest, to get away from people who don’t know better and who need to be educated.

    I can’t. My entire existence is a process of educating people about trans* issues and the gender binary, because people have never been exposed to trans* issues. Most of the media is sensationalized, focused on titillating the audience. There are so many opportunities to educate people about respecting the lives and privacy of trans* people, but they are botched or screwed up in an attempt to entertain. I am more often than not, the first interaction with the trans* community people will experience. People thus assume that I can somehow represent the whole of my tiny (0.3% of the population) and marginalized community. It makes me feel like some sort of circus animal, forced to parade around for people holding whips, kept alive only by their benevolence. It makes me mad, that mainstream culture and the people in it are so unwilling to educate themselves. Instead, they ask me invasive questions.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Straight folks are thinking far more about gay sex, than we ever could

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

Sex, sex, sex, sex, let’s talk about it, because we all know the straight folk want to. Oh I know we hear over and over again from straight folks, “I don’t care what they do behind closed doors” or “I wish they wouldn’t flaunt it,” but honestly, just a glance at the haters will tell you that straight folks are thinking far more about gay sex than we ever could.

I’m sometimes amazed by this obsession. The number of hate groups who go out of their way to search for gay porn, to try and find the fetish that they find the most horrifying. I can’t imagine spending hours of my life trawling the internet for porn I find most unappealing, I can’t comprehend what would make people do this. Some of them even attend gay sex clubs and fetish meetings, so they can find things to be horrified about.

Honestly? If you have to go to this much effort to find things about us you think will horrify people, then you’re just proving the point of how ridiculous it is to object to our presence so much.

But it goes beyond that – there are so many straight people who feel a desperate need to poke their nose into our sex lives. I’ve lost count of the number of truly inappropriate questions I’ve been asked over the years – some are blatant fetishism, some to convince themselves “I don’t do that” (whatever that is) and some who seem to be trying to freak themselves out. Seriously, if you’re that desperate to know what 2 men do in bed, go hit google but I honestly can’t imagine why you’d care.

And straight people need to seriously shut up about Grindr (yes that certainly includes Paris Hilton) or gaydar, or the many dozen other places, aps and websites out there. Yes it’s a nifty little tool that gay men use to meet each other. As such, it is so completely and utterly NOT YOUR BUSINESS straighties, it really isn’t. What would make you think your opinion is wanted or remotely valid?

How Much Support Do Marginalised Artists Deserve?

This weekend I read Wild Seed by Octavia Butler for a blog tour, which Sparky and I are participating in for Fangs for the Fantasy.  When I was done, I went on twitter to announce that I have absolutely no intention of reading another book by Butler.  This is when the shock ensued.  How could  I have a problem with Butler?

Wild Seed marks my third book by Octavia Butler and having not enjoyed any of them, I decided I was done with her.  I kept trying to read Butler because so many told me how good her work was and out of a desire to support Black art.  Marginalized authors quite simply don't get the support they deserve, and this is particularly true, if their book has a historically marginalized protagonist. Because I am so well aware of the gakekeeping that goes on in media, I know how important it is to support the efforts of marginalized people to tell their story.

The problem of course comes with the pressure to then praise and support the work, even in cases when the work itself is not good. I think it's one thing to investigate the work of marginalized people first, before moving onto the privileged, but it is another thing to be pressured to like the work. Butler is an important figure in science fiction, because historically there have not been a lot WOC working successfully in the genre; however, the fact that she is Black and female, is not enough for me to publicly claim to like books that did not interest me and at times offended me - particularly Fledgling and its pedophilia.

The three books that I have read by Butler are Fledgling, Kindred and Wild Seed.  In each book, it felt as though she lost track of her own plot and didn't know how to end her story.  I find her writing style to be meandering and she doesn't so much tell a story, but relate events from her protagonists life. This means that we are introduced to characters unnecessarily, because they have no role in plot advancement and this helps to weigh the story down.  These criticisms are not race related and in fact are all about writing style. Having Black characters and a Black protagonist, doesn't mean that the work itself is good, or that the writing style is conducive to the creation of a forward moving plot.  Still yet the pressure exists for me to declare her work excellent, or at the very least shut up about my complaints.

Butler isn't the only author of colour which I have problems with.  For the life of me, I don't understand the near universal love of L.A. Banks.  I understand that she was one of the first, if not the first to write solely characters of colour in the urban fantasy genre.  This representation is important and it of course encouraged more people to include marginalized characters in their work, but is that reason enough to declare her books great?  Minion begins with a fight scene before  readers know anything about the characters, which means the reader has no reason to invest in the battle. All I ever learned about Big Mike, is that his name is Mike and he's big.  There's also the little issue of the psychic chastity belt (umm yeah, no thanks). Sure, it's great to see a novel in which a Black woman is the chosen one for a change, but does that somehow invalidate the many instances of  bad characterization, plot development and rambling that occurs in Minion?

At some point, we have to decide that it is okay to be critical of art created in our communities.  Giving them a blind pass means that it will become stagnant and how does this benefit marginalized art?  I not only want to consume art created by people of colour, I want it to be good and enjoyable. I don't want to be pressured, if I don't like a book, movie, song etc,.  I specifically reject the idea that I am supposed to enjoy and promote this work if I find it problematic, or quite simply don't like it. At some point, we have to decide that though racism, gatekeeping and exclusion are negative factors in the media, that this is no way means we have to support something we don't like, or fear that criticism means that other marginalized artists won't get the break they need, if we decide not to embrace it.  The fact that we are pressured to like art we don't like or find problematic is because of the oppression marginalized people face everyday, but it is not a good justification for the pressure to embrace that which makes us uncomfortable or that we dislike.

Another issue but related to the idea of supporting marginalized authors, is the pressure to support the work of privileged allies, when they include historically marginalized people in their work. Last night I watched the first episode of Partners.  I chose to watch it because it is about the interaction between 2 straight people and 2 gay men. Holy Will and Grace batman.  It was obvious to me that the two gay male gay characters were a straight up stereotype. Both were highly effeminate with a sassy personality.  Are there gay men out there like this? Absolutely.  The problem is that this is the only representation of gay men that we see in the media. It made think of conversations that I have had with friends, where they talk about how it has been deemed unacceptable to criticise the work of any ally, because their intentions are good. There is also the pressure to squee every time they see themselves represented in media, even in cases where they find the representation to be problematic or stereotypical.  Sometimes, they say that the pressure is worse, because they get it from both the community itself and from the people who support the community.  This is silencing behaviour and without doubt, is a form of oppression.

As marginalized people, we need to band together against that which oppresses us, but somewhere within all of this, there has to be room for diversity of ideas, because  though we may have one or two characteristics in common, we are individuals.  We don't operate as a hive mind and such thinking fails to recognise that even within a community, dissent will occur because many people operate with more than one marginalization and this effects the way they see the world. For example, I am Black woman who is also disabled and this creates a unique point of view which others in my various communities may not see or understand, because their identity is not as diversified as mine.  Does this somehow make my opinion on racial issues, gender issues, or disability issues irrelevant?  When we silence dissent and command conformity within our communities, not only are we limiting conversation and stalling growth, we are actively policing.  I think we all deserve better than that.  Within our communities, which are supposedly safe spaces, we need to leave room for a diverse set of opinions. No one person alone can eliminate discrimination, but one person can introduce ideas which could be the genesis for change, if they are allowed to speak. Silencing and policing only works to stall the project of emancipation from oppression.

Monday, September 24, 2012

An All White Emmys Again

'Emmy Award' photo (c) 2006, itupictures - license:

I tuned in last night to watch the Emmy's, and to root for some of my favourite actors and actresses.  Despite the idea that the media is so incredibly left leaning, and progressive, last night's award show was yet another stunning display of privilege - everyone who picked up a golden statue was White. Surprise, surprise, surprise. With only Idris Elba, Don Cheadle, Loretta Devine, Maya Rudolph and Giancarlo Esposito nominated for awards, there were few actors of colour nominated to begin with, but to see not a single one of them recognized for their work, was quite simply put exclusionary racism in action.  Oh they'll invite you to the party, but then watch you like a hawk to make sure you don't run off with the good silver.

Just to make sure that we knew our place, Tracy Morgan spent a good deal of time, lying down on the stage pretending to be hurt, in a gag meant to set twitter speculating that he might be ill.  Yes, I get that this is a play on the fact that Twitter regularly kills people off, forcing celebrities to release a statement declaring themselves to be alive, but this read as reductive. If that were not enough, Morgan also did a bit with Kimmel and he called for his cousin Kool Aid to join him. I am not at all surprised that it was Morgan who agreed to take part in this act. Just because you manage to get a Black person to participate, does not mean that it isn't racist.

The life of an actor of colour is very difficult because though there are a plethora of roles available, far too often, they are cast into stereotypical roles, while the best jobs go to White men and women. In our supposed post racial world, it is still socially understood that an actor of colour is supposedly a risk because White audiences are understood to have difficulty identifying with them.  The entire idea of modern media is to provide an escape from the real world and engage in flights of fantasy, but somehow, an actor of colour ruins the fantasy, thus reducing the level of enjoyment.

I was in absolute shock when Esposito didn't win the award.  I watched the last season of Breaking Bad sure in the belief that his brilliant work would be acknowledged. No one else could have played Gustavo 'Gus' Fring better. Even Aaron Paul, also from Breaking Bad, who won Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, took the time to acknowledge his excellent work.  There is no doubt that Paul gave great performances, but it was not even in the same league as Esposito. If a performance such as this can be overlooked, it suggests that they never had any intention of being inclusive on who was rewarded. Nominating actors of colour feels more like an attempt to appear race neutral, than an effort to acknowledge and praise their work.

Whiteness Assigned Gender (WAG)

Biyuti is a bakla Filipina living on stolen Algonquin land. He works to sustain and increase the biyuti of the world through decolonization and through her explorations of the intersections of race with queerness/gender. She also blogs at The Biyuti Collective and you can find her on Twitter: @JustBiyuti 

I was trying to talk about colonialism and its impact on gender a little while ago when I came up with this way of conceptualizing it: the gender I was assigned at birth is my whiteness assigned gender (of course, I do want to say that I’m neither the first nor the only person to deploy such a concept, I’m merely detailing my path to it).

It is almost unavoidable that, if you discuss gender stuff long enough, the terms like dfab/dmab or some other equivalent will be used. And I do get why it is occasionally necessary. Kinda. In part because while talking about trans women makes it clear who you are speaking about, it is a little murkier beyond the binary. And since transmisogyny is real and important, it is important to understand the differences of experiences between those who are dmab and those who are dfab. Fine.

But. More relevant for me is discussing the ways that being assigned a *white* binary gender has impacted my life. Thus, whiteness assigned gender. And, if further specification is needed to say which whiteness assigned gender, something like WAMAB or WAFAB is suitable. This is important because it highlights the intersection between the violence of being assigned any gender, but also the colonial violence of being assigned a *white* gender.