Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Nov. 21 2014 2:30 PM

Ask a Homo: A Queen on Queens, Part 2!

Welcome back to Ask a Homo, a judgment-free zone where the gays of Outward answer questions about LGBTQ politics, culture, etiquette, language, and other queer conundrums. The week, we return for part two of our kiki with Miz Cracker about all things drag. Topics include: the cost of foundation, the fear of attack, and the curious division between the queen and king communities. If this segment piques your interest, be sure to check out (and tip!) a hard-working drag queen near you; all of Cracker's ongoing shows in New York City can be found at her website

If there are questions you’ve been dying to ask a member of the real rainbow coalition, this is your chance. Send your queries—for publication—to slateoutward@gmail.com, and please put “ASK A HOMO” in the subject line. Note that questions may be edited.

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Nov. 21 2014 1:52 PM

Foxcatcher's Gay Subtext Brings "Rough Trade" to the Movies

To understand the discomfort that many gay viewers are undoubtedly feeling in screenings of Foxcatcher—the dreary bit of Oscar bait just out from director Bennett Miller—you need to understand a few things about gay archetypes and how they have historically functioned. This is important, because I cannot think of another recent movie that so clearly relies on homo-anxious, dog-whistle shorthand for both its characterization and plot, and yet, save for Armond White’s scathing piece in OUT, the film’s largely positive reviews have avoided real examination of the issue.

To be fair, some critics have wondered aloud about the film’s “hints” at homoeroticism, but they have ultimately shied away from going further. They would likely suggest that Foxcatcher is “about” other issues: addiction, mental illness, the mentor-mentee relationship, the excesses of the 1 percent, and possibly some hazy Deep Truths about American culture. Those elements are probably in there somewhere, but it’s the gay subtext—in this case, the age-old story of a wealthy, effete fairy going after rough trade—that feels most central, most necessary for the movie to make whatever narrative sense it does.

Nov. 20 2014 5:37 PM

What Does Intersex Mean? 

Earlier this week, Taylor Lianne Chandler—a woman who claims to be Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ girlfriend—made headlines for coming out as intersex. This prompted hundreds of obnoxious headlines and social media posts ridiculing not only Chandler and Phelps but intersex individuals generally. There is clearly a lot of confusion about what makes a person intersex. Let’s clear things up.

An intersex individual is simply someone born with sex characteristics that do not allow them to be defined as distinctly male or female. It is a totally natural, not infrequently encountered medical condition. Studies have estimated that as many as 1 in 100 children will be born with bodies that “differ from standard male or female.” It is estimated that 1 or 2 in every 1,000 intersex individuals will undergo surgery to modify genital appearance.

 

Nov. 19 2014 4:07 PM

The National Organization for Marriage Has Collapsed Into Debt

On Wednesday, the viciously anti-gay National Organization for Marriage finally released its 2013 tax filings—two days late, in direct violation of federal law. The results are nothing short of brutal. NOM raised $5.1 million last year—a 50 percent drop-off from its 2012 earnings. Two donors accounted for more than half of that money. And the group’s “Education Fund,” which churns out anti-gay propaganda and homophobic calumny, raised less than $1.7 million, a 70 percent decline from 2012. NOM closed out the year more than $2.5 million in debt.

How did this collapse occur so quickly? I have three theories. The first is that casual donors grew weary of NOM’s execrably hateful campaigns and craven refusal to face public censure. In 2013, the group’s anti-gay rhetoric sounded barbaric and, at a fundamental level, simply impolite. Even if you didn’t like gay people, you probably didn’t want to associate with such a rabid crowd.

Nov. 19 2014 12:56 PM

Drag Shows, Weddings, and Pole Dancing: Inside the L.A. Jail’s Gay Wing

On Tuesday, L.A. Weekly released an astonishing story and accompanying video about a place that’s so miraculous its existence feels like a mirage: the gay wing of the L.A. men’s central jail. Before I spoil any of the fun, you should go ahead and watch the profoundly humane, often hilarious video.

How does this little sanctuary exist? As L.A. Weekly explains, the wing was set up as a result of a 1985 ACLU lawsuit aimed at shielding gay inmates from the bias-motivated violence they experience at startlingly high rates among the general population. But over nearly three decades, the wing has blossomed into a community—or “family,” as many inmates describe it—of mutual support and love. (A number of inmates start relationships in the wing, and some stage weddings.) Prison clothes are re-sewn into gowns, skirts, chic underwear, and hot pants. Correctional officers take a laissez-faire attitude toward harmless rule-bending.

 

Nov. 18 2014 5:23 PM

The International Olympic Committee Comes Out Against Anti-Gay Discrimination

A few hours ago, I saw some news that literally made me jump for joy: At long last the International Olympic Committee will change the wording of the Olympic Charter to include protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

This development was part of 40 recommendations published today ahead of next month’s IOC meeting in Monaco, where IOC President Thomas Bach’s “Agenda 2020” process will conclude with significant changes to the bidding process for and organization of the Olympic Games.

Nov. 18 2014 3:11 PM

Leslie Feinberg: Author, Political Activist, Transgender Pioneer

Leslie Feinberg, who died Nov. 15 at the age of 65, did more than any other individual to transform the way that lesbian and bisexual feminists thought and talked about butch and femme identities and transsexual issues. Before the novel Stone Butch Blues appeared in 1993—at least in the communities I was part of in Washington, D.C., and Seattle—butch and femme were usually treated as outmoded holdovers from the unenlightened era before the women’s liberation movement. Stone Butch Blues changed that by telling the story of an unapologetically political butch/passing/trans character and by blowing apart stereotypical ideas about role-based romantic relationships. The fierce, “finally, I’m not alone” way that some readers connected with the novel was striking. On the rare occasions when people have unironically handed me a book and declared that it changed, or perhaps even saved, their life, it has almost always been a dog-eared copy of Stone Butch Blues.

Feinberg was a committed political activist, specifically a Marxist, union organizer, member of the Workers World Party. In the obituary she wrote for theAdvocate, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Feinberg’s partner of 22 years and a wonderful poet and nonfiction writer herself, stresses that legacy, reporting that Feinberg’s final words were, “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”

Nov. 17 2014 3:57 PM

Why Did Andrew Caldwell’s Ex-Gay Video Go Viral?

It’s been an interesting few weeks in the world of “gay” viral videos. First we met 15-year-old Brendan Jordan, whose refreshing, unapologetic queerness (and local news video dance-bombing) earned him Internet fame and a spin on the daytime talk show circuit. And now we are dealing with Andrew Caldwell, a 21-year-old man whose exuberant declaration of having been cured of homosexuality was met with much jubilation by attendees of the Church of God in Christ’s 107th Holy Convocation … and much chuckling by the gay blogosphere.

While the figures in these videos are very different—Jordan openly and happily identifies as gay, while Caldwell continues to assert he is ex-gay—I can’t help but consider them together in terms of the response they’ve generated. In both cases, bloggers and commenters have exhibited a striking tendency to refrain from really addressing what, exactly, is so appealing about the clip: The reason for the video’s virality feels as if it lies just beyond the frame. I previously argued that Jordan’s allure lay in the trouble he caused for contemporary ideas about “respectable” gay behavior; he combines the sweet of entertainment with the salty bite of transgression. But what about Caldwell? His virality stems from an altogether more knotted mess of cultural issues, and the ways we’ve tip-toed around that mess reveal how our modern theology of outness and visibility may not be as simple as advertised. 

Nov. 17 2014 10:28 AM

Who Has It Easier, Butch Lesbians or Femmes?

Is life simpler for a lesbian whose appearance conforms to the expectations that society has for females? Or, do women who cut their hair short and wear men’s clothing have it easier? While at first it might seem that masculine-appearing women would have the harder time (something that is certainly true of effeminate gay men as compared with their butch counterparts), the full picture is far more complicated. Butch or masculine-of-center lesbians may experience more homophobia, but femmes are far more vulnerable to simple sexism. In the end, it’s hard to say who has it tougher in a culture that can be both sexist and homophobic.

If there’s one thing that distinguishes LGBTQ people from other marginalized minorities, it’s our ability to pass as straight, and thereby shield ourselves from prejudice based on outward appearances. But some of us pass more easily than others, and in the case of queer women, the ones who read the gayest are those who fit the stereotype of the mannish lesbian. Although butches are often misunderstood as “trying” to look and act like men, most will tell you that the thing that’s always felt impossible to them is looking and acting like other women. Being unable to pass makes butch women targets for the slurs, dirty looks, and disapproval of strangers. Getting a haircut in a new town is fraught with worry, as is shopping for clothing and, for some, using the ladies’ room. Most of the butch women I know have a story about having faced prejudice at work or in a job interview. (I have one, about the supervisor at my first post-college job.) Within the lesbian community, I’ve often heard feminine women proudly proclaim that they “like girls who look like girls,” a statement that goes beyond personal preference in it’s implicit endorsement of the idea that women are supposed to look one way and one way only. It’s bad enough to hear that sort of thing from homophobes.

Nov. 14 2014 12:55 PM

Gay Men May Soon Be Able to Donate Blood—if They’re Celibate

On Thursday, the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability voted 16–2 to alter the current ban on gay blood donation. Currently, any man who has ever had sexual contact with another man—“even once”—is barred for life from donating blood. Under the committee’s new proposal, men would be permitted to donate blood as long as they haven’t had sex with another man for at least one year. The Food and Drug Administration, which officially sets donation guidelines, isn’t required to adopt the committee’s proposals, but it’s considered likely to do so.

The committee is touting the proposed rule as a huge improvement over the old guidelines. It’s not. It’s an embarrassment. In the era of fast, precise HIV tests, the gay blood ban is fundamentally unscientific and counterproductive—just ask the American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, and the American Association of Blood Banks, all of which oppose it. (So does the American Medical Association, which describes it as “discriminatory and not based on sound science.”) The ban arose in 1983, when scientists were still exploring the rudiments of HIV testing; today, when HIV can be detected within days or weeks at most, it’s perpetuated only by animus and paranoia.

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