Tag Archives: queer

New femme group, Leeds, UK

11 Mar

Are you interested in setting up a femme social/creative/support group in Leeds, UK? I totes am. Let me know if you are, too. This group could take any form, really, depending on what everyone involved fancies doing. I just want to create a space in which femmes are not only accepted but actively celebrated. I want to talk about the queerness of our identities and put on makeup together and hang out looking FIERCE and talk about our femme inspirations. I also want to just spend time with more people whose identities are similar to mine!

‘Nobody’ means ‘nobody’

28 Nov

Obviously I was APPALLED by what happened in last week’s Glee (spoiler alerts for those of you who are ridiculous and aren’t up to date with it). Finn OUTED SANTANA during a corridor slanging match (which he was totally losing, of course) and my mouth literally hung open. For one, Santana is all that is good in the world: you don’t fuck with her. For another, what the fuck. What the FUCK. Because nobody deserves to be outed.

A lot of other people felt this way but, unfortunately, my Tumblr feed seems to be full of people who have responded to this saying, ‘nobody deserves to be outed … except these people with whom I take issue.’ It’s fucking everywhere and, you guessed it, it pisses me off.

The argument runs that, if you’re in a position of power and you use this power to promote anti-queer behaviour and rhetoric and you also happen to be pretty into queer behaviour in your private life, then the basic rules of respect and space that we fight for every other queer person to have access to no longer apply to you. You’ve opted out – or, to put it more accurately, a buttload of other people have decided that you’ve opted out. Apparently, under these circumstances, it is not only reasonable but NECESSARY for others to out you, to shut you up, to put you in your place. It is, it seems, necessary for queers to become tyrants in order to deal with you.

Except I think it fucking isn’t. I am not saying I don’t understand: of course I understand the desire for retribution, the hunger for justice, the fury with hypocrisy, the urgency of our cause. These are things I feel pretty much every day. But part of undertaking a code of queer ethics (or, really, any ethics worth the time of day) involves not just doing shit because it satisfies a pretty basic whim then justifying it with some poorly thought-out ‘them and us’ bullshit. Are we aiming for queer liberation? Then we need to work towards everyone being on the same team. We need to stop seeing people who disagree with us and even oppress us as totally ‘other,’ because they’re not going anywhere: we need to see them as human beings with whom we hope to have things in common – like, y’know, respect for other people. And you can’t really encourage real respect by eschewing it in your own approach.

Furthermore, I’m sure I don’t need to repeat that old quote about what the master’s tools do to the master’s house – and disregarding others’ rights to privacy is totally one of the master’s tools. I don’t want that shit in my revolution (or slow-burning period of change). I don’t want to presume to decide who “deserves” rights and who does not – I think that’s actually really fascist, and so I’m not doing it, and I’m not okay with other people doing it, either. In fact, I’d go as far to suggest that outing someone is an act of homophobia: it totally disregards their right to have a non-normative sexuality and functions as an action with the intent of making a spectacle out of the person’s sexual difference. Even if you leave aside how problematic that is in itself, within the context of a queer liberation movement it becomes even worse. It’s idealistic, but I genuinely believe that the movement promoting sexual inclusion is *right* and we don’t need any extraneous tyrannical bullshit to prove it. It’s a long battle, but I want to do it honourably, without ripostes that essentially amount to ad hominem arguments. I really think we’re better than that.

A short blog about how I feel about nouns

18 Nov

I don’t know that I want to use identity signifiers any more. I feel like saying things like ‘I am queer,’ ‘I am a feminist,’ ‘I am a vegan,’ ‘I am polyamorous’ functions as a get-out – like, if I say I am these things then it’s as though I believe I don’t have to back that up with actually doing these things.

I’ve long felt disinclined to identify as a lesbian, or as a woman: these are not things that I am. Neither, now, are the things I listed above, even though by contrast I feel entirely committed to them as ideologies. But that’s the point: they are ideologies, and they affect how I behave, and that’s how you tell that I’m into them. It’s not that I am queer; it’s that I do queer: I advocate for it, I consider it, I use it as a filter through which I encounter the world and decide how to interact with others. I think, particularly with an identity word as inherently unstable as ‘queer,’ it would actually be quite inappropriate for me to use language that implies that I embody it over an extended and potentially infinite space of time. At the moment, writing this, I am doing queer. Just now, when I ate tomato soup with a piece of bread for tea and intentionally consumed no animal products, I was doing veganism. Later on, when I invariably have a go at someone on the internet for using problematic language, I will be doing feminism. But to say I am these things could mean that I might not have to do these things, and I don’t ever want to be lazy enough to allow myself a way out.

What’s Kim Kardashian got to do with it?

2 Nov

Okay, so. I am very new to Kim Kardashian. Obviously I knew she existed, and I could have probably picked her out in a line-up but, until very recently, she was completely irrelevant to me. In fact, I am about to argue that she remains completely irrelevant to me; her only and very temporary relevance is that I now feel compelled to speak out against other people’s inference that her life and choices have anything to do with mine.

In the last few days, my Twitter feed has been full of people saying the exact same thing. (Well – most people I follow are white, middle-class, artsy, feminist, queer or queer-friendly, and educated to university standard, so this isn’t really very far out of the ordinary. But, anyway.) In the wake of Kim Kardashian’s now notorious seventy-two day marriage, pretty much everyone has been going, ‘AND YET GAYS COMPROMISE THE SANCITITY OF MARRIAGE.’ And I have been getting fucked off with every single one of them.

For one thing, it’s a logically defunct argument that, because Kim Kardashian is alleged to have had a brief heteronormative marriage for publicity and money-making reasons – an accusation of whose evidence I know little but feel is quite unfair given that divorce and relationship breakdown are usually actually really upsetting, so maybe she’s actually really upset – this means that non-heteronormative couples ought to be able to get married. Before we even get onto my feelings about “gay marriage,” this is wildly problematic, because it still positions marriage between people perceived to be of the “same” gender as something of a deviancy. The argument tacitly runs, ‘because Kim Kardashian can do this supposedly fucked up thing with the institution of marriage, so should people in non-heteronormative relationships,’ which does nothing to challenge the view that marriage between people in non-heteronormative relationships is deviant. Way to promote your cause. (It reminds me a lot of this awesome article about justification of abortion – TRIGGER WARNING.)

For another, taunts about ‘Kim Kardashian’s seventy-two day marriage’ carry the implicit assumption that marriages are not authentic unless they last a certain amount of time. I was particularly interested to note in the last month or so that Mexico is considering offering finite marriage contracts to its citizens which, of course, has also prompted some to complain about the ways in which this might threaten the “sanctity of marriage.” Personally, I feel that, if marriage has to be institutionalised – which I think it does at least in the short term – check-in points during marriages are a great fucking idea, because the idea that anyone would feel anything forever, let alone love someone, is one that I tend to find, in hypothesis, highly idealistic.

I would like to point out here that I do not believe all marriages to be doomed, or all those who choose to get married to be foolish. However, my reason tells me that such a promise would be far better framed as ‘I will always endeavour to be committed to you,’ although I am aware that not all marriage ceremonies involve this promise, and I am also aware that, just because someone promises they will always try to maintain commitment to whatever relationship you have agreed upon, this does not mean that they will actually always do that. I understand that my experiences of being the child of a desperately unhappy marriage and ensuing divorce probably have some sway over the way I feel about this, but I do not think that my approach is solely emotional: I couldn’t, in right conscience, however besotted I was with someone, tell them that I would always love them. I just couldn’t. Because human beings change all the time, and our feelings change all the time, and obviously some people will be more constant than I am, but to promise to be consistently constant? I’m afraid I don’t buy it.

There is also the issue of non-heteronormative couplings by marriage and queer assimilation. I don’t take the view that queer people oughtn’t get married because they’re copying straight people, although I do recognise the potential for oppression that homonormativity carries with it, although I think this potential lies more in those who would seek to oppress non-normative others anyway rather than those who choose to marry their “same-sex” partners. However, I worry about any degree of submission to an institution – and there will be some degree if you are legally married, however you choose to phrase your vows and maintain your relationship – whose history is steeped in oppression. Of course, just because marriage began as the facilitator of possession of women does not mean that it still necessarily does that; this isn’t even really a valid point to raise with many non-heteronormative married couples. But marriage can still function to facilitate oppression, whomever you are marrying – it can compromise recognition of equally important polyamorous relationships, it can compromise the idea of the significance of the non-biological family, and it can impose a hierarchy of importance upon others’ relationships.

I don’t know if my beef with marriage is really reasonable on these grounds – perhaps it’s similar to my feelings of concern regarding that K-Y intense advert and how it might fuel bigoted ideologies. What do you think?

Happy Bi Visibility Day!

23 Sep

Today is, as several of my Facebook friends inform me, Bi Visibility Day. Hooray! I have identified as bisexual in the past and have had plenty of infuriating conversations with people, identifying as gay and identifying as straight, who didn’t take my sexuality seriously, or made assumptions that I was either straight or gay (depending on the kind of space in which they encountered me – and also depending upon their own sexual orientations). I was told more than once that my sexual identity “didn’t exist.” I’ve been told that I’m ‘either straight and trying to look cool, or gay and too scared to come out properly’ (by someone who, incidentally, identified as straight and decided that I was probably the former. Then I went out with another woman for two years. Not as a direct result, but, y’know. LOL). I’ve been told by people identifying as gay men, as an afterthought following a brief monologue about how great penises are, that, of course, I ‘don’t care for that kind of thing,’ except I totally did when they said it. I’ve found that, much like in many straight spaces, many people in LGBTQ spaces just assume that you’re the same end of the spectrum that they are – and that there’s a spectrum. In short, I was told a lot of bullshit about my bisexuality when I had it.

I haven’t identified as bisexual for a few years now – not, I hasten to add, because I “grew out of it;” at least, not in the stereotypical, offensive sense. While I don’t tend to find people whom I perceive to be men who are non-trans and/or non-queer attractive in the slightest, I don’t feel that this makes me a lesbian. I actually find terms like ‘straight,’ ‘gay,’ and ‘bisexual’ quite problematic because they imply a binary of gender, and ‘straight’ and ‘gay’ are particularly problematic for me because I feel they serve to define the subject as belonging to one of those oppositional genders. I’d like to point out here that this doesn’t mean at all that I have any beef with anyone who uses these words to describe themselves or their preferences: it is, of course, absolutely up to you how you identify and the words you use to identify yourself (to a point, since language is public property and publicly used, so I couldn’t, for instance, define as a black person, or an OAP. But you know what I mean). If you feel comfortable identifying as straight, gay, bisexual, a man, a woman, or whatever, then that’s awesome.

My point is that, for me, it isn’t that simple. I was identified female at birth, and I generally present as high femme, and lots of people take me to be a woman, which is a word that I don’t mind using as shorthand for my identity when in situations in which it isn’t really necessary to go into the ins and outs of it. However, I don’t actually identify my gender as being one end of a binary; for me, that binary is irrelevant. My gender, rather than ‘woman,’ is ‘femme’ – and, since feminine femaleness is no tautology, I feel justified in identifying outside what many call cis gender identity. (I actually think that ‘cis’ is a really problematic term, but I’ll not go into that right now for fear of going to far off-topic. I might write about it in another post, though!) As such, words like ‘straight’ and ‘bi’ and ‘gay’ have no real meaning for me, since I do not position myself on the gender binary, and also since my partners do not necessarily accept that binary either.

I understand that I walk through the world being afforded many of the privileges offered to “cis” women, because people who don’t know any differently identify me that way by looking at me. I also understand that, were I to be visibly trans, or visibly masculine, this would probably result in particularly uncomfortable and abusive experiences (although that isn’t to say that the routine denial of the sexualities of those perceived to be queer and women is unimportant, because it fucking sucks). But neither of these things detract from how shitty it is to have your sexuality decided for you by those who have not cultivated an understanding of sexuality, or of your sexuality.

This is where I think my current sexual practices and gender identity/ies cross over with those of people who identify as bisexual – because people are still making assumptions about who I like to fuck – although, thankfully, not friends or people in my community (that I know of). I understand that ‘queer’ as a sexual identity confuses a lot of people, but I don’t think this is any excuse for intolerance, or assumptions, which I think can function as a form of control. Even though I don’t find the terminology useful, I wanted to write this post in solidarity with people that identify as bisexual. I don’t consider myself “under the bisexual umbrella,” but that doesn’t really matter: my sexuality, and my gender, are still invisible to a lot of people, and that’s fucked up and annoying. Of course, I don’t expect people to get it as soon as they see me, or struggle to pick up cues from my appearance. Visibility can be difficult because it is all too often contingent upon assumption, whether those assumptions are right or wrong. I think if we had more bi, pan, and queer visibility then that could function to do away with visibility as we know it now, because people would have more options and therefore less certainty with which to place others – which I think would be awesome.

Born This Way: a retrospective

12 Sep

I used to fucking hate Born This Way (the song; the album is fantastic). I remember feeling so let down when it was first released: the cheesy chord progressions, the all-too-obvious attempt at being an anthem, the outmoded and problematic gender politics, the even more problematic ethnic references. I thought it was patronising, hackneyed, and useless. I couldn’t understand how Gaga could have gone from Telephone to this.

But I have (almost) totally changed my mind, much like I did about Lady Gaga herself because, of course, it took me until The Fame Monster to shake the conviction that she was an attention-seeking dilettante with nothing meaningful to offer and certainly no pop sensibility (I am often wrong, but never in doubt). Make no mistake: I still think that the lyrics leave a lot to be desired, and I will never believe that ‘no matter black, white, or beige/chola or orient made’ is anything other than horribly misguided, imperialist guff that I would be surprised to hear coming from Boris Johnson and that should never, ever receive airplay; it is partly for this reason (and also because it’s far more musically interesting) that I wildly prefer the Jost & Naaf remix. I don’t want to prioritise a mode of liberation that is fundamentally geared against benefiting anyone who is not white, and I understand that a part of what makes me feel entitled to write this piece is my whiteness (and my middle classness).  That said, I believe that the way Lady Gaga has used her cultural capital to further acceptance of (some people’s) alternative sexual and gender identities is worth acknowledging, in the hope that it will pave the way for less problematic attempts in the future.

It’s been said before, but I genuinely believe that Lady Gaga has successfully pulled the wool over many people’s eyes. When she first emerged, there was little to distinguish her from the ten-a-penny Ke$ha types whom I also didn’t like (although Ke$ha didn’t release her first single until a year after The Fame was released I still think she works as a comparison. Needless to say, I also like Ke$ha now). The Paparazzi video was the first that caught my attention as being interesting and weird, but our induction into the fuller extent of Gaga’s uniqueness has been a slow, if not entirely steady, one. Sure, she appeared at the 2010 VMAs in a meat dress – but, to my mind, that is in no way as culturally challenging as spending the entire 2011 VMAs in character as her drag alter-ego, Jo Calderone.

I mean, come on. Who the fuck gets away with turning up at one of the most samey awards ceremonies I have ever seen dressed as “the opposite” gender? (Was it me or did literally every category feature exactly the same artists and pretty much exactly the same songs? Did every other segue into an introduction not suck ass for being entirely contrived and poorly performed? IT WAS LARGELY AWFUL. Anyway.) There’s a history of genderplay in pop music – Annie Lennox, Patti Smith, and David Bowie are only a few examples of this – but I know of no other musician who has gone beyond playing with androgyny and full-on committed to a differently-gendered persona (although if you know any please let me know, because this is right up my alley). I also know of nobody else getting away with taking to an internationally-watched stage and delivering the monologue that Gaga did not only at the VMAs but as its opener, which I strongly recommend you watch here if you haven’t already seen it; it should be the first video in the list on the right-hand side and it’s entitled ‘Lady Gaga’s Jo Calderone Monologue.’ If you don’t fancy doing that, here’s the monologue in full:

Hey. My name is Jo Calderone. And I was an asshole. Gaga? Yeah her – Lady Gaga. She left me. She said it always starts out good. And then the guys – being me, I’m one of the guys – they get crazy. I did, I got crazy. But she’s fuckin’ crazy too, right? I mean, she is FUCKING CRAZY. For example, she gets out of the bed, puts on the heels, she goes into the bathroom, I hear the water go on, she comes out of the bathroom dripping wet and she still got the heels on. And what’s with the hair? At first it was sexy but now I’m just confused. She said I’m just like the last one. I’M NOT LIKE THE LAST ONE. And I think it’s great, y’know, I think it’s really fucking great that she’s such a star. A big beautiful star in the sky. But how am I supposed to shine? I mean, I think I’d be okay with it, you know, if I felt like she was being herself with me. And maybe she is, I’m starting to think that’s just who she is, y’know? Maybe that’s just who she is. ‘Cause when she gets on that stage she holds nothing back. That spotlight, that big, round, deep, spotlight follows her wherever she goes. Sometimes I think it follows her home – I know it does…. I gotta get in there. When she comes, it’s like she covers her face ’cause she doesn’t want me to see that she can’t stand to have one honest moment when nobody’s watching. I want her to be real. But she says ‘Jo, I’m not real. I’m theatre. And you and I – this is just the rehearsal.’

I mean, where do I start. The bit that I liked the most, I think, when I first read it (it took me a few days before I was able to source the footage because MTV removed all the videos on YouTube of it due to copyright), was the bit about Gaga coming. It’s just so unexpected, and quite shocking, and obviously really hot but that’s not really the point of it at all. Getting on stage as a dude and committing entirely to that persona is one thing but then talking about Lady Gaga coming, exposing that intimate moment to an audience of by now millions, is just superb. It asserts Gaga (once again) as an autonomous sexual being. It positions her as a sexual being with power, since she is ultimately the one revealing this information – and it doesn’t matter whether it’s true that she covers her face when she has an orgasm; what matters is that she’s presenting an image of herself coming, in a culture in which much of the sexual imagery available focuses on masculine sexual pleasure. It also invites anyone watching, fan or otherwise, into a part of the Gaga mythology that makes them feel uncomfortable – even I felt a bit uncomfortable about it, which I think goes to serve as an indication that probably lots of other people felt that too, because I’m not exactly a prude.

Upon accepting the award for either Best Female Video or Best Video with a Message (both of which Born This Way won; I don’t know which this happened in because MTV doesn’t seem to have footage of either of these) Gaga as Calderone told the audience what Gaga would say if she were there: that she would thank her little monsters, and that it doesn’t matter if you’re straight, gay, bi, or transgendered: you were born this way. Although I still have issues with the idea of being ‘born this way’ as a justification for any sexual or gender “deviancy,” it kind of made me tremble when she said that, in the same way that I trembled when, in his acceptance speech, Obama mentioned gay Americans; it made me tremble because she was fucking mentioning a group of people that never get mentioned like that in such high-profile media spaces. Of course, I don’t want it to be really special when these things happen – I want liberation and wider acceptance for my queer peers – but that doesn’t change the fact that, for now, it *is* special, and we need to go through a period of it being special before we can reach a stage at which it isn’t.

The success of the publicity Gaga has brought to issues of sexuality and gender is particularly highlighted when you compare this speech with one made by Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys at the MTV Awards in 1999. This is, I feel, a fucking failure of pop activism. Ad-Rock does not engage the audience at all like Gaga did and, as far as I can tell, had not built up to this moment so as to prepare the ground for acceptance of what he was saying in the same way that I think Gaga did with her high-profile involvement in the campaigns to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and legalise gay marriage in New York. Unlike Gaga, Ad-Rock wasn’t being specific about what needed to be done about “his” issue, the safety of women from rape and sexual assault at gigs; he was just saying ‘we artists need to do something,’ which I think is horribly lazy. This might seem unfair, but I get the impression from the way he was talking and the way he presented the issue that he thought that, as a popular musician, he was therefore an Important Person who was entitled to use his time on stage to talk about something he cared about because of who he was rather than because he genuinely wanted to change things. By contrast, I see Gaga as actively cultivating her status as someone to whom others will listen by publicly involving herself in campaigns and doing it properly by doing some ground work. She knows she can’t just rock up somewhere and be like, so, homophobia and transphobia are shit and we really should do something about that – she knows that that wouldn’t be effective. It might seem churlish of me, but I actively resent attempts as unsuccessful as Ad-Rock’s – I feel that he actually, intentionally or otherwise, appropriated the traumas caused primarily to women because of rape culture(s), because all he really succeeded in doing for me was alerting the public to the fact that he cared about the issue, which just amounted to making the issue something that was about him. I feel that, if he really cared about it, he would have taken the time to prepare something far more engaging. Gaga manages to associate herself with issues of queer and trans and gay and bi liberation without doing this, because she actually affects change. Even though there are still plenty of criticisms to make about it, Born This Way is way closer to ‘how you do it’ than what Ad-Rock did.

Boo or hoorah? BOO OR HOORAH?!

5 Sep

Today, I saw a tumblr post reporting the emergence of an advert for K-Y Intense featuring a couple consisting of women, which is due to be first aired today:

On the one hand, I think it’s really rad that, as the original Jezebel post says, a couple consisting of women is being represented for reasons other than the fact that they are a couple consisting of women (obviously I have a bit of beef with the Jezebel post for presuming – and the Deviant Femme post for not questioning the presumption – that they identify as lesbians but, since this niggle isn’t to do with the advert itself, I’ll leave it to one side for now.) The idea of living in a media culture in which more positive depictions of non-heteronormative couples (or groupings) are more frequent is a very pleasant one, and I would really like to think that this advert might pave the way for that kind of environment: I have, after all, never seen an advert involving a couple consisting of women before.

That said, I have a fair few questions and issues with this representation. Following a Facebook comment from a friend of mine, I’ve been thinking about how it is going to be appearing on television (I presume that it will be appearing on television since it has an airing date). How many channels will it be appearing on, and which channels will include it in their advertising breaks? Which programmes will it be shown next to? Is it aimed at an audience of queers/queer women/queer people who have connections with the labels ‘woman’ or ‘female’ (which seems odd since it’s such a comparatively small group and no company ever seems to have done this before), or is it also hoped to function as a tool for promoting further inclusiveness and tolerance (which seems wildly unlikely, although that might just be because I am very cynical about business)? Will it have to adhere to a watershed? I wish I had the means I could find this stuff out myself, although bloggers in a position to might yield this information in time. The answers to these questions make quite a big difference to how positive I feel this advert is, or can be – that it would be on television is, obviously, awesome, but there are lots of degrees of awesome and I don’t want to feel like it’s making-out-with-Lady-Gaga-awesome when it’s actually finding-a-pound-in-your-sofa-when-you-previously-had-38p-to-live-on awesome.

I also have some concerns regarding the way in which women who have or are in relationships with other women are being represented here. I really like the conversational tone and feel it adds to a sense of validity – these characters are clearly very close – as does the friction between the characters when one of them produces the K-Y jelly and derails the other’s serious monologue about the ways in which their relationship is “successful.” I wish very much that there were direct references to orgasm rather than the use of euphemism to shroud it; although it might seem a little “too much” to expect from an advert, this is the first thing that made me feel tense about the representation of positive sexuality without masculine involvement. The second thing that made me feel tense about this was one member of the couple’s use of the phrase ‘like nothing we’ve ever felt before,’ and the reason that these things make me feel tense is because I worry that, for some bigoted viewers, this will support the myth that sex between women can’t be as fulfilling as (specifically penetrative) sex between a heteronormative couple.

Personally, I do not think that the inclusion of lube, sex toys, role play, or any other “marital aids” (lol) in sex compromises the quality of that sex, providing, of course, that those involved are using these tools because that is what they want to do. I don’t think that anyone watching this advert should have the right to use it to bolster their own prejudices about what women “need” in bed, and neither do I think that this advert should be used as “evidence” for the belief that, for a woman, sex with another woman will be inherently less fulfilling than penetrative sex with a man. But just because I believe that the advert should not be used for those purposes doesn’t mean that it won’t be.

I understand that you can’t encapsulate the nuances of any gender politics in something as brief as an advert. I also understand that there is a revolutionary aspect of including a couple consisting of women in an advert without linking their relationship with a heteronormative man. I think what I’m trying to figure out here is whether it is worth the risk. Or, in saying this, am I just pandering to the offensive and oppressive attitudes that I am seeking to minimise? What do you think?

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