Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Radical History

14 Apr


Source: http://openclipart.org/detail/168935/fist-by-rapperklimov

When I was in college, I wrote my thesis on the first Rainbow Coalition, militant namesake of Jesse Jackson’s current organization. Theirs is a lost history of radical empowerment – part of the struggle of writing about it was simply trying to find any sources at all. Many of the websites that put me on the trail of the coalition’s history are gone now. The primary sources I have access to at the moment I can pretty much count on my fingers. James Tracy, who was himself one of Uptown’s organizers in the 1960s and 1970s, is pretty much the only person to have written a book on the subject.

The Rainbow Coalition arose from the least mainstream end of many minority communities in Chicago; the Black Panthers, the Young Patriots, the Young Lords, I Kor Wen, and more. The Panthers, neglected in civil rights history as they are, are easily the most well-known of these groups. Some sources for the history of the Young Patriots do exist, mostly in the form of films and documents obscure except among extreme left organizers. The invention of portable video cameras was the first information revolution – and the activists of 1960s and 1970s Chicago kept their history alive and accessible through film.

One of the biggest problems I had getting my thesis idea approved was in answering that most fundamental of academic questions, why does this matter? Why is this group influential? How does this fit into the literature? I managed to answer these questions well enough to convince my advisor to give me the go-ahead, but with distance I can tell you that my answers were pretty thin. An activist can say, these people mattered because of what they tried to do, not how well they succeeded. The fact that you don’t know about them is in itself a reason to write about them. But that’s not a very academic response. In retrospect, I view that paper as a failure not just because it wasn’t terribly good, but because it split the different between academia and activism. I tried much too hard to bring aloof intellectualism to the history of a group that was meaningful because it wasn’t run by aloof intellectuals.

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The Marriage Post

1 Apr

Night of The Living Brides.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wedding_dress_princess_seams.jpg

Given the recent cases before the Supreme Court, I figured now is as good a time as any for the marriage post. I’ve been trying to edit it up to my satisfaction for the last day or two and I’m officially giving up and just posting it before the moment’s past and I’m eaten by camp nanowrimo anyway. This post is pretty near and dear to my heart, so I may try to do a revised version of it one day. Or it may just stay here in all its sprawly glory.

This decision of Squiddy’s and mine to get married has actually been rather controversial in our circles. Our friends in Altlandia have a variety of reasons for being uncomfortable with and suspicious of the institution of marriage. My mom isn’t crazy about it either; my parents got married by a judge (by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actually) almost a decade into their relationship, pretty much only because they were about to have a kid. Though my parents weren’t really Altlander parents per se, my mother is as marriage-skeptical as the best of them.


How married are my parents? So married. The marriedest.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg.jpg

So it seems reasonable for me to try and explain why Squiddy and I want to do this.

First off, I think there are two major kinds of marriage that get conflated – marriage (legal) and marriage (social). Squiddy and I want both, but I’m going to start with the one that I think is easiest to explain. I don’t think I need to tell you that marriage opens up a wonderful world of legal protections and connections between two people. Taxes, property ownership, medical decisions, child-rearing, you name it, marriage makes it easier and safer.

Let me get this out of the way right now and say that in my perfect world, marriage as it stands would not be the only way to get allthese legal rights and responsibilities with someone(s). I’m not even going to try to encapsulate all my problems with how our governmental bureaucracy categorizes people and relationships – in my utopian fantasy its role would be descriptive rather than prescriptive anyway. In my universe, when you came of age it would be de rigeur to march off to a lawyer and explicitly state who’s making your medical decisions if you’re incapacitated and who’s getting your money if you die. There would be a family registration form of some kind and it would be totally possible to register with whoever you liked. You could register with more than one person – poly families could have the same advantages as monogamous ones and sexual/romantic/familial relationships wouldn’t get automatically privileged over all others. Squiddy and I happen to be monogamous and romantic in a way that pretty much fits the current standard model, but it shouldn’t be everyone’s default.

Wow. I am...never googling rainbow unicorns again. I got some weird shit in results.

Wow. I am…never googling rainbow unicorns again. I got some truly weird shit in results.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HappLand!.jpg

However, that’s not the world we’re living in and in these matters I’m rabidly pragmatic. I’ve had a lot of experience with the intersection of law, medicine, and family. I am viscerally aware of what it means for you and your loved ones to have a medical power of attorney and a written will when shit hits the fan. Even ignoring my qualms about marriage in general, the marriage Squiddy and I will be having doesn’t come with the full suite of legal protections yet. The legal security blanket of gay marriage is pretty thin. But does the inadequacy of those advantages mean we shouldn’t go get them anyway? Really no. The perfect, in this case, is the enemy of the good. Squiddy and I whatever chunk of security we can get for each other and practicality trumps everything in that area for us.

Practicality! Safety! Worrying about sad things! Real romantic. So why haven’t we moved somewhere gay marriage is legal, tied the knot in a judge’s office, and called it a day already? I think the explanation for why we want a legal marriage is pretty clear-cut, but why do we want a wedding?

This part’s more complicated.

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The Case For Gay Marriage

26 Mar

Supreme Court

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robcrawley/3114271990/

Well, today’s a big day. I can’t be back in my hometown on the courthouse steps, but I’ll be following along on the net as the Supreme Court hears arguments on Prop 8 today and arguments on DOMA Wednesday. From what I’ve heard, we can expect to hear rulings on the fate of gay marriage some time in late June.

Here’s hoping.


Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fb/Rainbow_flag_breeze.jpg

In which closets are exited

19 Mar

Only my mother would try to make her daughter’s lesbian relationship easier for the Christian missionary branch of the family to process via the old ‘It’s not that strange; it’s like how my friend is trans’ gambit.

Go big or go home I guess?

I’m skeptical, but if this is somehow successful I think I have to bake everyone involved cookies.

Sister Act

16 Mar

Public domain, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/69/Dolly_Sisters.jpg

This article by Annika Penelope is good and you should read it – even if you’re not trans, it will give you a better idea of how much crap transpeople have to grapple with while they’re transitioning and while I know it’s not the main point of her article, I also feel like it says some revealing things about what being female is like in general. However, when I read number 4 on her list, I knew I needed to talk about that really narrow part of it right now (welcome to that spiritually capslocked post on the sister thing that I promised you).

I’ll reproduce it here, emphasis mine:

I grew up in a mostly white, conservative suburb where my family was considered “middle-class” because we didn’t have a house on the water or a yacht. In other words, I lived in such a privileged bubble that I had never even heard of microaggressions until I started experiencing them after coming out. If, like me, you were presenting as a heternormative white boy before transitioning, these can seem a little jarring at first, but it’s something that nearly everyone but straight, white cis men have to deal with on a regular basis. So what are microaggressions, exactly? In my case, it’s every time a well-intentioned friend posts an article about a trans* person on my wall or remarks on my physical changes since the last time they saw me, or every time someone asks if my girlfriend and I are sisters (even if we’re holding hands). It’s the little interactions that happen every day that remind you that you are “different” in some way.

"Hey, mister, she's my sister."

“Hey, mister, she’s my sister.”

Photo by Nao Ha am Amanha and used under a Creative Commons license

First off, this article is actually the first time I ever heard the word microagressions, and it was one of those cloud-parting, thank you jargon! moments for me. Because wow, yes, that is a phenomenon, isn’t it.

Also, when I read the part in bold I can’t tell you how relieved I was that this happens to someone else.

People don’t just ask Squiddy and me if we’re sisters – often they ask if we’re twins. This happens constantly. We don’t just hear this from strangers when we go to the store, but from people who see us all the time. We’re a really physical couple, as anyone who knows us can attest. We hold hands, cuddle, generally toe the line of how much PDA-sap is bearable for other human beings. Yet one of the security guards in our building, where we have lived for 1.5 years, recently asked me if we were twins and told me he used to mistake us for each other. For a while, he didn’t even realize we were separate people. That last part is definitely a new one and weird, but he’s at least the 3rd guard in our building to ask us the twins question. I really, fundamentally don’t understand.

Annika and her partner look more dissimilar than Squiddy and I do, admittedly. If you read our descriptions on paper, maybe you’d be forgiven for getting us confused – we both have brown hair and eyes, are caucasian-y, wear glasses (different kinds of glasses!) and are similar heights. But we have different facial structures and body types and, I cannot stress this enough, are pretty physically intimate in public. Not to unpleasant-for-people levels or anything, but we tend to cuddle a lot and kiss each other goodbye every morning on our way out of the building.

"Sisters?""We're close."

“We’re close.”

Photo by Nao Ha am Amanha and used under a Creative Commons license

It has been incredibly embarrassing for us to have to deal with this. It’s certainly not the worst thing in the world – may these be our worries, I know – but it makes me feel kind of dirty and weird. How affectionate do people think sisters are? Do we really look so similar that it’s strange that we’re attracted to each other? It never occurred to me, before reading this article, that people asking us this wasn’t somehow a sign that there was something wrong with us.

So I have to ask, does this happen to other gay couples? Is this common? That would be one seriously bizarre form of standard straight-world microagression. This might make more sense to me if people asked the sisters/twins question in a way that seemed overtly hostile, but they almost never do.

My best guess as to why this happens is that the idea of not being straight genuinely doesn’t occur to the people who do this. It must be so far off their radar that when they see a close relationship between women, the only available boxes are BFFs and sisters. This would also serve as an explanation for the rarer-but-it-happens phenomena where we tell someone that we are together and they start misgendering one or both of us, even though neither of us said anything about gender or is dressed particularly butch.

This is part of why I try to make a point of continually coming out in casual conversations. If this post was about boxes! are they always good for us? I guess the conclusion here is that sometimes you really do need to give people a new box.

Public Service Announcement

15 Mar

I live in a building with a security desk. It’s a nice thing to have in my neighborhood, means you can receive packages more easily, and all the guards are very friendly. I try to say hi to them whenever I come by and maybe ask how they are, if I’m not in a hurry. I’d imagine it gets wearing to be constantly ignored by people you see every day; I’d want people to greet me now and again in their shoes.

One of the guards in my building recently asked me if I had a boyfriend. When I told him girlfriend, she’s the girl who lives here with me, he said, “Oh. Oh shit, I’ve been hitting on you this whole time. I thought you were sisters.” *

Now, he didn’t get particularly weird about both of us being female and he didn’t push it at all – I just told him it was fine that he asked, it wasn’t like he’d known, and he said that he had just thought I was attractive. Then we had a couple moments of normal conversation about how we both were that day and went on our merry ways.

I have two wildly bifurcating trains of thought on this interaction. The first one is that he was very polite about that. He didn’t instantly stop talking to me and walk away – the way a guy who hit on me last week did – and he didn’t keep pushing it the way many other people have either. I was glad I kept my act together enough to also be polite and make it clear that I appreciated the way he’d asked and responded to my answer. Go team human, everyone was decent here.

Okay, but here’s the other train of thought. He really hadn’t been flirting with me. This was literally the longest conversation we have ever had. I have a strange blind spot in my otherwise solid perceptiveness filter for flirting, so sometimes when people reveal that they were flirting with me the whole time (!!), I feel bad for missing it. Except that I know I didn’t miss anything this time.

This was the longest conversation we had ever had by far and it was maybe 6 to 8 lines long. In fact, he is one of the guards I’ve talked to the least. We have literally only said hi, have a good one, and waved for the 1.5 years I have lived here. That is not flirting. It’s just being polite.

It’s kind of fucked up, but after that conversation I thought, That seemed okay at the time, but maybe it isn’t actually cool. That wasn’t enough information to be sure. I smiled at him and said it was nice of him to call me pretty – what if he thinks that was flirting? I just didn’t want to be a jerk. What if he doesn’t take my relationship seriously because it’s with another woman and keeps hitting on me? ** I shouldn’t have encouraged him. Shit. He works security here; he has the key to our apartment. Oh shit. Did I do something to make life more dangerous for Squiddy and me?

I recognize that’s me thinking, not him doing anything wrong. Tentatively, I’m going to go ahead and assume the world isn’t awful and think well of him for that interaction. He’s Shroedinger’s crushing security guard though. I haven’t really collapsed the waveform on whether that was an exemplary interaction from both of us, hooray, or whether he is going to continue pushing this and make me feel unsafe where I live.

This is because the security guard, live cat or dead cat, believes that two people of the opposite sex smiling at and talking to each other constitutes an expression of sexual interest. I was supposed to know that every time we smiled and told each other, hey, have a good one – that was flirting.

That’s not a notion he pulled out of nowhere. That idea, in weaker or stronger forms, is part and parcel of the common notion that ‘men and women can’t be friends’, ‘men are from mars and women are from venus’, whatever. Men and women are too different to relate without sex. It’s an incredibly dangerous idea. It makes men who are probably decent men with good intentions frighten women anyway. The idea itself corrodes the ability to be friends – now how can I smile as widely at him and the other men who guard the security desk? What if they take it the wrong way?

You know what I wish? That there was a hanky code for going about your day in public. That you had a handkerchief color for ‘totally enthusiastic about flirts, not that it’s a guarantee I will accept you’, ‘I wouldn’t mind flirts if you’re into it, but I’m not looking actively’, and ‘I really would prefer no flirts under any circumstances, thanks’.

It would obviate so many problems! Maybe it could be super granular and if it’s flirty colored and paisley you’re into male-identified people whereas if it’s striped you’re into female-identified folks! There could even be a signal for if you’re in a monogamous relationship already! Wait, we already have one of those (though it obviously doesn’t work for everybody), in the Engagement Ring! Which Squiddy and I wear, albeit on a chain around our necks so maybe it’s confusing, every day. Blast. Maybe people should just be better at talking to each other.


 * This sisters thing is, like, a whole other, entirely capslocked post going whywhywhy. There was an incident with another security guard right after this one with the sister thing, again. That story can be part deaux.

**This happens. Squiddy and I have had a random guy on the street come up to us, ask if we were together, and then when we said yes, start propositioning us.

Jargon and Infinity

14 Mar

I have a conflicted relationship with jargon. In academia and the workplace, it’s easy to hate on. It raises the access threshold to many topics significantly and often ends up obscuring the ideas it’s trying to convey to anyone who hasn’t spent five years painstakingly learning the field. People learn to despise it or be intimidated by it – or conversely to deploy it wantonly for reasons more related to ego than intellectual need.

A good friend and mathematician, who has asked to be referred to as Recursion Goat, eventually showed me the value of jargon. A large swath of the population doesn’t like math, in large part because it’s incredibly poorly taught. Most people are never introduced to higher math and end up thinking it’s all about algebra and moving numbers around, which is a shame. Even if they are introduced to higher math, the jargon scares them away.

Recursion Goat is a bit of a mathematical evangelist. He makes a point of explaining big, jargon-y concepts in accessible terms to anyone who will hold still long enough. He eventually got me to revise my lifelong antipathy to math by making me realize that I didn’t understand what math actually was.

Now, R-Goat does a kind of math that is truly, mind-bogglingly self-referential. He essentially does math to the notion of doing math — examining what kinds of problems are too complex to be solved by computers, extrapolating backwards from proofs to premises, using entirely different logical frameworks to think about thinking. Good stuff. He has helped me understand a lot of truly arcane concepts, without even making me feel particularly handicapped by my ‘well, you passed’ grade in calculus.

But I eventually realized a lot of the work he does actually depends incredibly heavily on jargon. Jargon lets you make huge things – complicated ideas – small enough to manipulate. Once you have the concept of what a poset  is (a notion that itself assumes the whole idea of a set), you can use them in forcing to answer questions that quite frankly would be too complex to even state if you had to build them from the ground up every time. A basic forcing proof would be the size of the encyclopedia britannica if it had to define every single word fully. Knowledge condenses to produce more knowledge.

This is cool because techniques like these let mathematicians make statements about how logic works with rigor. There is an answer to the why-question for a lot of mathematics – every time a teacher said just-because, they lied. There is totally a way to answer why addition is true (okay, actually that’s a complicated question, but it’s interesting), why first order logic is the easiest to work with, what happens if you decide you don’t want to accept all the premises they taught you in school and want to do math differently. Math can totally use a different set of assumptions than the ones you know. If you want, you can abandon the notion that things are either true or false! It’s difficult, but you can work with it. The only way to do that through is jargon.

It’s common, when trying to do math to infinite things the way R-Goat often does, to talk about local similarities. Does the infinite thing have an internally repeating pattern? Is something that’s true of this chunk in the middle of it true for all of it, or most of it? Jargon is sometimes like that;slicing the infinite in ways that lose some of the truth of the thing, but make it possible for us to interact with it at all.

So clearly, I have accepted jargon in STEM things. It’s in Altlandia that jargon sometimes concerns me. *

On the one hand, it’s so hard to talk about things you lack a vocabulary for. The phrases enthusiastic consent or microaggression collapse a set of two or three paragraphs into a word, so that you can talk about how these ideas affect the culture in a persuasive, adroit way and use them to create yet more complicated ideas. It’s mighty difficult to examine a phenomenon when you can’t speak its name.

On the other, labels are very popular in Altlandia in a way that I don’t think is entirely positive. Many Altlanders hit their jargon development all at once and in the rush of realizing that these things they’ve thought and felt are 1) real 2) only the first step in developing new ways of interfacing with the world, turn into those math guys who use jargon wantonly without stopping to think – is this necessary here? Is this adding clarity and/or enabling previously-impossible thoughts?

Lots of people start eagerly checking boxes: cis/trans/genderqueer, gay/straight/bi, romantic/aromantic, sexual/ace, kinky/vanilla – the list is long and I won’t embarrass myself by trying to be comprehensive and missing something. All of these things are real, important things that have been woefully underexplored and disregarded until the jargon moment. The existence and use of these words is good.

But I think we Altlanders could sometimes benefit from looking at ourselves and our relationships and wondering if the closest-approximation jargon is accurate enough – or if we are best-served by collapsing these things into one word instead of giving them their three paragraphs. For an example, bisexual is one of my words. This jargon fits me and I don’t have any qualifications to make to it. I might pick a number on the Kinsey scale for lols, but really I feel like my sexual preferences are locally isomorphic. Which here means they are the same everywhere, no matter where you slice them. Bisexual isn’t disguising any complications for me.

On the other hand, cis doesn’t feel quite like mine. Nor does trans, or even really genderqueer, genderfluid, or any of the other many bits of jargon we’ve come up with to describe the places where gender identity doesn’t behave in a straightforward way. I am uncomfortable with gender. My feelings on it are a complicated three (or three dozen) paragraphs and I don’t think they are well-served by being collapsed into genderquestioning or some sort of catch-all word for unsure.

As R-Goat would say (about totally unrelated math-things), sometimes you want to blackbox the complexity in order to get the proof done, but sometimes you really need to write out every step.

Also, some things are true about me that still don’t constitute a major part of my identity. Which isn’t to say they can’t or shouldn’t for someone else, but sometimes I just don’t want a fact about me to be part of my tagline.

The obvious answer to that seems to be ‘so don’t make it part of the tagline, silly, no one’s playing identity twenty questions with you’. But that can lead to problems. [Tag] might not be a major part of my identity, but sometimes I will want to talk about it. In the world of pervasive jargon-taglines, it can be hard for someone who does not regularly say they are a [tag] to still join the conversation about [tag] as a person with a valid, non-outsider point of view. Jargon constructs insides and outsides and even if they make conversations more manageable, they can exclude a lot.

Saying that you can be X or you can be Y is a huge step forward. It’s so much better than being told, ‘You can only be X. X is all there is.’ But that shouldn’t obscure the fact that you can also be XY, or 22% X and 78% Y, or Z, or POTATO. There’s someone in the world for every box, and that’s awesome. You can’t name them all – nor should you. **

In my gender example from above; I can’t join a conversation about being trans, cis, or genderfluid as an insider and definitely shouldn’t try. I would be appropriating experiences I don’t share. But I would like to be able to approach a conversation about gender as someone who is none of those things, yet still isn’t automatically other-than-you. I would like to talk in a non-labelled space about the whole infinite subjectivity that is happening there.

The rationalist’s urge, which I totally share, is to see something that’s not named and say, well name it! Problem solved! But I think that obscures the deeper problem – some concepts fall through the cracks in labeltown and no matter how many labels you have, some things will still always fall through the cracks. It’s turtles all the way down. Jargon is really useful as a practical tool. But it’s a tool. Taxonomy is not truth; it’s a way of grappling with infinity.


* I am ignoring the fact that it is funny in this context that I have just invented a word for the broad community of people who are kinky, poly, gender not-normative, ace, feminist, anarchist, or are otherwise living and defining themselves in opposition to The Mainstream Cultural Narrative.

** This paragraph courtesy your friendly neighborhood RoboSquid 🙂

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