Why Facebook’s Quest for Gender Sensitivity Is Doomed
On Thursday, Facebook announced a new policy designed to resolve the perpetually vexed issue of online gender identification: Starting soon, users will be permitted to write in their own gender identity, unconstrained by a prepopulated list. This change arrives about a year after Facebook added more than 50 custom gender options for users to choose from. Under the new policy, users can maintain the identity they chose from that list—but they’ll also be permitted to get creative.
Facebook’s quest to permanently solve the gender problem is admirable. It is also doomed. By creating a slew of choices and adding a fill-in-the-blank option, the company wants users to know that it’s OK with gender nonconformity and sensitive to the struggles of those who don’t fit into the gender binary. But it has done nothing to fix the problem that launched all these attempted solutions. That problem, of course, is that Facebook still demands to know your gender. And until the company lets go of the desire to sort users this way, they’ll continue to be tortured by the gender question.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Aaron Schock
Aaron Schock, Illinois Republican congressman and self-proclaimed fitness guru, is in the news again, this time for flying on donors’ private planes in possible contravention of ethics rules. The charge is serious, but the reaction is anything but. Cue the snickers and dog whistles: Have you heard that Schock decorated his office with Downton Abbey themed décor, then tried to hide it? What about the time he went shopping in London’s “posh clothing stores” with Shea Ledford, his “longtime friend”? Have you met his personal photographer, Jonathon?Have you seen his teal belt, which he later burned? What about those Instagram photos of him working out with his buff gym pals?
If you missed these stories—all heavily covered by popular gay blogs—you surely saw New York magazine’s wink at the New York Times’ wink that Schock “said that he is not gay,” despite an Instagram page filled with preening shirtless shots. Or CNN’s interview with Schockabout his abs. Or Schock’s Men’s Health cover photo and photo spread, titled “The Ripped Representative,” which featured Schock’s pearls of fitness wisdom interspersed with shots of Schock posing to display his bulging brawn. And if you somehow missed Schock peeping out at you from the newsstands, you surely caught the reaction, summed up by Mario Cantone on ABC’s The View: “He’s in the closet. Come on, look at him!”
Arkansas Passed Rabidly Anti-Gay Legislation. So What!
It’s terrible! The Arkansas Senate has passed a bill that would prohibit towns and municipalities from making laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. If this law is allowed to stand, it will have consequences far beyond the protections, or lack thereof, for queers in certain towns and cities that seek to shield them from being fired from their jobs or otherwise discriminated against—it would strike a blow at their very ability to organize and to participate in the democratic process.
That’s why the Supreme Court made such laws unconstitutional nearly 20 years ago, in Romer v. Evans, which ruled that Colorado couldn’t prevent municipalities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances to protect gays in their borders. There is no reasonable reading of the current legal climate that suggests the Romer decision will be revisited, much less that it could possibly be overturned. While it’s true that the Arkansas legislature drafted its law in a way that differs superficially from the law the court struck down in Romer (by banning municipalities from protecting classes that state law has not protected), the results are identical (because gays are the only class this would apply to). That means the overwhelming likelihood is that the law would not withstand a legal challenge. The Arkansas law is functionally DOA. The only question is how much time will pass before it’s found to be unconstitutional, and how many gay Arkansans, if any, it will negatively impact before that happens. While this may be a temporary worry for that community, the fact is that this law’s ability to harm gays is severely limited by both time and geography.
The Queen Diva Reigns Supreme in Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce
As the third season of Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce begins, Freedia’s New Orleans-based dance crew is about to embark on a national tour. It’s a big opportunity for the group, a chance to take their unique style of “bounce” hip-hop music and dancing—defined by fast, percussive hooks and highly athletic, twerk-centric choreography—to cities and audiences far beyond the form’s Southern roots. But they are also on a mission of reclamation: As the tour designer points out early in the first episode, a number of more famous artists (many of them Miley Cyrus-white) have begun to appropriate bounce’s signature elements without giving credit to the primarily black, hard-scrabble milieu from which it emerged. For Freedia and her team, the series of concerts that this season of the Fuse reality show will follow is about more than just performing or getting paid—it’s about getting the respect they deserve.
Freedia—who identifies as a gay man, revels in a wonderfully gender-fluid sense of style, and accepts the pronouns he, she, or diva—is one of the apostles of bounce, and watching the show, you can’t help but join with her in beaming at the recognition from crowds at large events in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. But the stunning performances are really only a small part of Queen of Bounce’s appeal. I’m someone who believes that even the trashiest of reality shows can have a certain creepy charm, but this show is genuinely charming, truly the sweetest 22 minutes on television.
Is It “Weird” to Be Gay? What Graham Moore’s Speech Really Means.
When Graham Moore won the Oscar last night for Best Adapted Screenplay for his writing work on The Imitation Game, he tried—to his credit—to make a socially conscious and heartfelt acceptance speech. My Outward colleague June Thomas parsed Moore’s words quickly thereafter, praising his attempt to use the platform to say something meaningful about difference and acceptance, but raising a note of concern about the writer’s conflation of Alan Turing’s experience as a homosexual man in the mid-20th century with the more generalized plight of people society deems “weird.” During his speech, Moore—who confirmed to BuzzFeed early Monday morning that despite widespread assumption to the contrary, he does not identify as gay—revealed that his own vague adolescent weirdness and concomitant difficulties led him to the precipice of suicide when he was 16, and he offered his success as a sort of “It Gets Better” case study for teens who might feel like outsiders themselves.
Obviously, Moore’s general sentiment is a fine one—nobody is debating that—and any criticism of his delivery must of course be tempered by an allowance for the craziness of speaking from the Oscar stage. But those who are expressing discomfort with the speech are not wrong to find fault with Graham’s implied comparison between the experience of being gay in a still largely homophobic society (liberal Hollywood award shows notwithstanding) and standard teenage disaffection. Moreover, the number and intensity of incredulous dismissals of that response (see the comments on June’s post for a bracing sample) suggest that a lot of people don’t understand or reject the difference entirely. And so, without harping on Moore’s flustered speech too much, it’s worth taking a moment to explain the trouble with that equivalence more generally and to think about why gay people might be so sensitive to it—especially coming as it did from the straight writer of a film that desperately marketed itself to audiences and Academy voters as a gay political statement.
Graham Moore’s Oscars Acceptance Speech Was Stirring but Confusing
In a night of Oscar speeches that were both personal and political, Graham Moore’s Best Adapted Screenplay acceptance was one of the most emotional and blurty—in other words, the kind that is remembered longest. After awkwardly thanking the Academy and Oprah, who announced his win, and showering “love and kisses” on the cast and crew of The Imitation Game, Moore pivoted to a hard-to-parse observation about the film’s subject, mathematician Alan Turing. Turing, Moore said, “never got to stand on a stage like this and look out at all of these disconcertingly attractive faces, and I do, and that’s the most unfair thing, I think, I’ve ever heard.” Sorry, why would a mathematician be at the Oscars? Eh, given the excitement Moore was clearly feeling, we can allow for a certain amount of imprecision. That said, the rest of his speech was more problematic.
Moore went on to share with the millions of telecast viewers that at the age of 16, he tried to kill himself “because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt that I did not belong. And now I’m standing here, and I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. … Stay different, and then when it’s your turn, and you’re standing on this stage, please pass the message to the next person that comes along.”
I wish that Moore had drawn a clearer line between his comments about Turing—a man who was persecuted and prosecuted for his homosexuality—and his “it gets better” message to teens who are merely weird and different. For one thing, overemphasizing the connection between queer teens and suicide can be dangerous. But it’s also important to note that being gay simply isn’t the same as being a “geek.” Moore may see them as comparable (and, though he has identified himself as straight, his affect may have opened him up to homophobic bullying), but the truth of the matter is that the social force behind anti-gay prejudice is far stronger and more pernicious than the animus against social outcasts. Moore’s heart was surely in the right place, but I wish he hadn't conflated these identities.
Hey, Gay Men! Try the Sexy New Celibacy Challenge.
The Food and Drug Administration is currently revising its policies to end the unscientific and discriminatory ban on gay blood donation. This is good news. Under the new rules, however, gay men will only be permitted to donate blood if they have been celibate for a full year. This is bad news. But in a new PSA for GLAAD, Alan Cumming of The Good Wife fame encourages the gay community to make the best of it by taking the fun, sexy celibacy challenge.
Despite the cheekiness of Cumming’s PSA, the message here is an important one. The American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, the American Association of Blood Banks, and the American Medical Association all oppose identity-based donor discrimination in favor of individualized risk assessment. And, as the celibacy challenge illustrates, asking gay men to abstain from all sexual behavior for a year just to donate blood is silly, unrealistic, and more than a little insulting. By imposing unique and absurd standards on certain men based on their identity, the FDA is effectively telling gay men that they are little more than diseased liars.
Anti-Gay Doctor Refuses to Treat Lesbian Parents’ 6-Day-Old Baby
Last September, Krista and Jami Contreras of Detroit met with Dr. Vesna Roi for a prenatal checkup. Believing they had developed a strong rapport with the pediatrician, the couple returned shortly after the birth of their child for the newborn’s routine wellness appointment. When they arrived, another doctor informed them that, after praying on it, Roi had decided to refuse to treat the 6-day-old baby girl. The reason? Her mothers are lesbians.
Roi’s willingness to inflict collateral damage on an infant just to express her anti-gay animus obviously makes her a monstrously immoral person, as well as a terrible doctor. And her refusal to treat a gay couple’s child has already earned her a significant amount of warranted ire from the community. (Ire, by the way, is the sole remedy here: Under state and federal law, Roi’s actions were perfectly legal.) Even those conservatives who generally support legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people seem shocked by Roi’s decision. Who, after all, could have enough hate in their hearts to disadvantage a child just because of her parents’ identity?
This Is What Happens When You Elect a Lesbian to Lead Your Party
Brits don’t have to endure the kind of wall-to-wall political commercials that Americans are subjected to during election season. Political advertising is barred, in fact. The rough U.K. equivalent are “party political broadcasts,” short films produced by the parties that air, free of charge, on the terrestrial TV channels.
Today, the Scottish Conservative Party revealed a new spot, and it is fascinating. The film features party leader Ruth Davidson challenging “myths” about the Conservative Party. Davidson is a living challenge to Tory stereotypes—her parents both grew up in public housing in tough parts of Glasgow, and she went to a local school, which, she says, “was pretty close to the bottom” of the school rankings. Oh, yes, and she’s a lesbian. The spot shows her walking and talking with her girlfriend, Jen Wilson; the couple enjoying a drink together in the pub; and hiking and taking selfies with Davidson’s parents. Although Davidson doesn’t explicitly mention her girlfriend, she does appeal to voters who are “unashamed and unembarrassed to believe in family and country.”
The Conservative Party is as popular in Scotland as Republicans are on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. When discussing the party’s chances in the British general election scheduled for May 7, talk tends to focus on whether the Tories can hold onto their sole MP among Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats. Even in the Scottish Parliament, which is more friendly to minority parties, thanks to its use of proportional representation, the Conservatives control just 15 of the 129 seats. One broadcast can’t transform a party’s chances, but I confess, Ruth Davidson’s down-to-earth self-presentation has me charmed.
The Fosters Explores the Fear and Possibility of Queer Childhood
In the Feb. 9 episode of ABC Family’s The Fosters, 13-year-old Jude goes to the movies on a double date with Connor, his best friend, and Daria and Taylor, two girls from school. It seems Connor and Daria are there to make out, and they have brought Jude and Taylor along as cover. When Jude takes his seat, Connor pointedly lowers the armrest between them. But after the lights go down, their pinkies touch and then cross. The camera cuts back and forth between their flushed faces, their eyes wide with nervous excitement and surprise at the intensity, while Daria and Taylor absently watch the “chick flick” they’ve supposedly come to see. The scene is unexpectedly and palpably erotic—a feat that speaks to the richness and complexity with which the show has developed Jude’s storyline over its first two seasons. And yet it is clear that this touch will not provide a neat resolution to the questions about Jude and Connor’s relationship or sexuality, but, rather, will only deepen the exploration.
Jude is not the first queer teenager on television, but he is among the youngest—and he is the first to be raised by queer parents. The Fosters, which airs Mondays at 8 p.m., follows a modern family of a kind rarely seen on television—an interracial lesbian couple, Lena and Stef Adams-Foster, and their five racially diverse children: one biological; three adopted, including Jude; and one whose adoption has been repeatedly stalled—Jude’s sister Callie. It's a sentimental teen drama that manages at moments to show foster care and LGBTQ parenting with sensitivity and texture. But its most radical move may be in its depiction of Jude, played with thoughtful nuance by Hayden Byerly.