Archive for the 'Sex & Sexuality' Category

Summer Reading Program

Gender, Pop Culture, Race, Sex & Sexuality 2 Comments »

Since it’s hotter than Hades in New England this summer, I have spent a majority of the season hidden in my one room with air conditioning–the bedroom.  We only have one television, in the living room, so I decided to dust off the “must read” list I kept during three years of grad school and visit my local library.

Wow, I forgot how much I love the library!  It’s like participating in the summer reading program all over again!  Although the Rhode Island library system is strong, I’m having a hard time finding some of the LGBT, feminist, and independent work I want to read (I’ve sent in suggestions!), but I’ve been lucky with newer novels, books about blogging, writing, and other pieces of nonfiction.  I finally realize that I do not need to own every book I fancy, especially fiction (since I rarely go back and reread it).  During the month of July, I read the following pieces of fiction that I want to share with you:

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb (B-)

Wally Lamb’s latest novel, a behemoth of 700+ pages, was sold as a story about the shootings at Columbine, but it’s not really a focal point.  Although there are some chapters about the event itself, Columbine is more of a catalyst for the main characters.  This is not Lamb’s strongest character work, but he does make smart and entertaining commentary about grief, trauma, the industry of American psychotherapy, substance abuse, the power of generational secrets, how we define family, redemption and faith.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (B)

Over the past year or so, I’d witnessed many conversations between co-workers, friends, and family that went a little something like this:

Person A: Did you read The Help?

Person B: (with big eyes) Oh yes! The best novel ________ (I’ve read this year/this decade/of all time)!

Person A: I agree…it was so good!

Besides all of this general excitement, I didn’t have any knowledge about the premise of The Help but I picked it up on the 7 day shelf at the library.  And I agree…I was entertained by the novel.  However, there were some pieces that didn’t sit well with me (in terms of the novel’s portrayal of race, gender, the author’s use of southern vernacular, etc.) and I plan to seek out some critical readings of The Help.  I may write more about this soon.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (A-)

I love and own all of Kingsolver’s work, so it pained me to wait this long to read The Lacuna (available about a year ago).  This historical fiction, set in the early to mid 20th century during the Mexican Revolution and the Communist scare in the United States, uses journal entries, letters, and press coverage to tell the story of the main character Harrison William Shepherd.  Harrison, a writer with dual Mexican and American citizenship, comes of age while working at the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.  He also befriends Leon Trotsky, during his exhile in Mexico, and is a witness to his assassination.  Kingsolver again develops engrossing characters (even the real ones like Kahlo and Trotsky) and detailed settings that transport the reader back in time.  After I finished the novel, I found myself researching and reading about the Mexican Revolution, Frida Kahlo, the Aztecs, McCarthyism, and Russian history.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (A+)

I purchased Middlesex shortly after it became popular in 2007 (althought it was published in 2002) and it sat patiently on my bookshelf until I devoured it a few weeks ago.  I truly loved this novel and I found myself having strong emotional reactions to Eugenides’ work; over the course of 544 pages, I laughed, I sobbed, I cringed.  Middlesex, a multigenerational story about a Greek family who emigrates and grows in the suburbs of Detroit, resonated with me personally because of my own eccentric Greek family.  (We too had a Yai Yai that insisted she was on death’s door and wore black after her husband’s death for 20+ years).  The coming of age story of the main character, Calliope/Cal, is further complicated by the discovery that he is intersex.  Eugenides tied so many interesting topics together (gender identity, incest, ethnicity, race relations, etc.) with complex characters that I would gladly read a sequel…please make this happen!

Male and Female Performance

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The fiance and I have moved into a new apartment–a beautiful, roomy two-bedroom place with a huge kitchen perfect for entertaining and cooking up gluten-free food.  The apartment is surrounded by woods, a river, a small village of shops and restaurants, the bay, and a farmers market every Saturday.  We couldn’t ask for a nicer place to call home.

Everything was perfect until, five days after moving in, I took a fall down the outside stairs and busted my leg.  A broken fibula, a fractured ankle, and a surgery later, I am facing another 3-6 weeks of bed rest before I can even start putting weight on my leg. 

I’m out of work for this whole time and am running out of ways to entertain myself.  Daytime television is driving me insane–did you know that The Jerry Springer Show is alive and well?  I think I’ve read the entire contents of the Internet and I am almost finished watching the lengthy list of silly 80s movies I’ve never viewed in our collection.  Erik the Viking = thumbs up; Iron Eagle = thumbs way down! 

But it’s not all doom and gloom and synthesized music.  I started reading Eat, Pray, Love (a book that really speaks to me so far…I love the author’s voice) and finally taught myself how to use Twitter.  Since finishing my pain meds, I have found stretches of time and mental clarity to work on my thesis. 

And now it is time to breathe some life into my writing–my favorite past time/vocation but the first thing I dump in case of emergency or times of stress.

While wasting my day away on the Internet, I stumbled upon this frame-by-frame parody of Shakira’s “She-Wolf” video:

This video led me to watch the original version by Shakira, which of course featured very different audience responses than the parody featuring a male.  Comments on YouTube for Shakira’s version included calling the singer slutty, sexy, hot, flexible enough for great sex, and a terrible dancer that has a nice body.  And those are the tame comments.  Almost none of the comments mentioned the song, the beat, the singing, etc.

I appreciate the parody, created by Washington State sophomore Andrew Foster, because it opens up the possibility of a dialogue about male versus female performance.  Also, if enough people create and/or consume these types of parodies I think it weakens the effects of the original message.  While Shakira’s dance moves and poses are a tad ridiculous, they contain many of the stereotypically “sexy” moves used by female performers–dancing in a cage or near a pole, sucking on their fingers, shaking their hips, women of color as animals, etc. 

However, viewers seem to find these moves not sexy and down right hysterical when performed by a man.  Most of the YouTube comments are either commending Andrew for creating a funny video or condemning him for acting “so gay!” 

As a culture, this is a stark example of our rigid gender roles–particularly around what is sexuality and sex appeal.  Frankly I find both performances to be awkward and unappealing (you have flexible shoulders–I want to sex you!  huh?), but I am clearly in the minority. 

What do you think?

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Review of Queer Youth Cultures

Liveblogging WAM!: Queer Teen Filmmakers

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Wow!  I was totally blown away by the session “Queer Teen Filmmakers: Eradicating Homophobia Across the U.S. Reel by Real.”  With the help of moderator Indrig Hu Dahl, three incredible young queer women screened their short films and then opened it up for Q & A.  The presenters were really surprised to find 60+ people who wanted to hear about their work.  We had to switch rooms to accommodate more attendees, but some people still had to sit on the floor. 

Chicago native Zaida Sanabia showed her film A Fish (Almost) Eaten by a Shark , a documentary originally intended to give other teens a step-by-step guide on how to build a Gay-Straight Alliance in school.  When Zaida encounters homophobia from teachers and the principal, administrators try to confiscate her film.  Beyondmedia assisted her with the process of bringing the film to distribution.  We didn’t get to watch the entire documentary, but the piece that we watched was really powerful. 

Next was Genne Scott, originally from Los Angeles, who made Black Widow–a spoke word piece, set to visual images and video, about black men who can’t come out as queer because of the confines of black masculinity.  This video was produced during Genne’s time at REACH LA.  Although really short, maybe three or four minutes in length, Black Widow really effected me.  During Q & A, Genne spoke about her personal experiences of not fitting in.  It was difficult for her to come out, she experienced bullying from other black queer youth who saw her butch identity as too white, and her father kicked her out of the house.  Genne is only in her early 20s, but her advice and answers were well beyond her years.  I think we’ll see great things from her in the future. 

Finally we screened Coming Out, created by Seattle native Kali Snowden with the help of Reel Grrls.  I can’t give away too much about the plot, but this short comedy appeared like a really fun way to present issues of homophobia to youth.  Kali and Reel Grrls have created a discussion guide for the film and have screened it in schools throughout the country. 

As Zaida explained, youth have an incredible amount of energy, talent, and desire to thrive; they just need someone who believes in them and who are willing to help them along the way.

Liveblogging WAM!: Gender, Non-Conformity & the Media

Gender, Media, Pop Culture, Race, Sex & Sexuality 1 Comment »

I just attended a really powerful breakout session called “In/Out of Focus, Broadening a Feminist Lens: Gender, Non-Conformity and the Media” which was moderated by Kate Bovitch and featured Jack Aponte, Miriam Zoila Perez, and Julia Serano.

Each panelist spent a few minutes talking about themselves and then started a discussion about how the feminist community can make room for gender variant people even if they do not identify with the word “woman.”  There was also quite a bit of discussion about the media and how it creates and perpetuates many of the transphobic assumptions found in our society. 

This session was so insighful and full of incredibly important questions about gender and feminism that I know I cannot do it justice here.  I took so many notes and know that I will be pondering these issues for quite a while.  However, there are some highlights I want to point out immediately:

  • I wish everyone in the world could be exposed to the brilliant insight of Julia Serano, the author of Whipping Girl (if you haven’t read it yet, you must…right now!).  As a transwoman, she has experienced misogyny two ways–when people see her as a woman and when people see her as a transgendered woman.  Transphobia and sexism are deeply rooted and related to each other, so much so that feminists should be concerned about transphobia and other trans issues. 
  • Gender variant people, like many other marginalized groups, are invisible in our society and media depictions help shape the way others see them.  Media and pop culture coverage of gender variant people often include objectification, exploitation of the body, intrusive questions, etc. 
  • To loosely quote Jack Aponte, some people feel strong kinship with the female community, but don’t want to squeeze into a gender binary for the cause of solidarity. 
  • There are many ways that transgender allies can show their support.  First, it’s important that if we’re writing about gender variant people, we do so without exploiting them or trying to come across as a trans expert.  As Julia pointed out, we need to educate ourselves and listen to the issues that the community raises–not the issues that people outside the community are interested in reading. 
  • We need to have a large discussion about gender and feminism, not just in the context of gender variance.  Everyone needs to question and study their own gender. 

Liveblogging WAM!

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Good Morning Everyone!

Synergy, my monster laptop, and I have safely arrived in Cambridge for the WAM! conference.  I am really happy to report (so far) that I have not encountered any technology issues, so I should be able to live blog today for the first time in three years!

First up is a presentation by Cynthia Lopez, the Vice President for American Documentary for P.O.V. –an award winning film company whose work is often featured on PBS.

Next, I will head to my first breakout session.  It was a really tough decision, but given the scope of my Capstone project I think I will be attending “In/Out of Focus, Broadening a Feminist Lens: Gender, Non-Conformity and the Media.”  Plus Julia Serano and Miriam Zoila Perez will be on the panel!

Happy Spring!

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I am fortunate to have a really fun and full schedule from now through the beginning of May.  Shall we?

  • Every Week: Beginner Yoga Class!  Last week was my first experience taking a yoga class in person, not just popping in a DVD.  I was referred to Breathing Time Yoga in Pawtucket and I had a phenomenal experience.  Please do not think, like I did for the past 5+ years, that a yoga DVD is anything like the real live experience…it is 1000x better. 
  • 3/28 and 3/29: WAM! for a third year in a row.  I am excited about the workshops lined up for this year and I have to admit that I am most excited about Saturday night’s speaker/presenter Sarah Haskins.  Seriously, if you haven’t witnessed the brilliance that is Sarah Haskins, please click here, here, and here. 
  • Sometime in April: For my Capstone project, I have an awesome opportunity to present a series of workshops to queer youth at an organization called Youth Pride.  My workshops will be focused on discussing queer pop culture and working with youth to create our own media.  I cannot wait to start!
  • 4/24-5/3: Best friend visiting from far, far away (yay!) and week-long vacation from work (double yay!). 
  • 4/25 and 4/26: Camping trip with friends.  This is the first time I will be using a sleeping bag in over 15 years and possibly my first experience sleeping in a tent, depending on if I chicken out and use the cabin.
  • 5/2: Dalai Lama at Gillette Stadium.  Whoa, so excited.  His Holiness will be presenting two lectures—“Introduction to Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths” and “The Path to Peace and Acceptance.”  At the home of the Patriots.  Pure bliss. 
  • 5/8: Turn in my LAST term paper, thus finishing my LAST class as a graduate student.  At this point, the only thing standing in the way of my degree is my Capstone project.

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Masculinity, Psychoanalysis, Straight Queer Theory: Essays on Abjection in Literature, Mass Culture, and Film

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queersexlife: Autobiographical Notes on Sexuality, Gender and Identity

Burst Your Bubble: Bitch Needs Our Help!

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As a hardcore Bitch groupie and lover of independent media in general, I am absolutely devastated after watching this video. 

 

I first picked up an issue of Bitch in 2000 during a visit to the Borders at Providence Place Mall.  I was browsing what I call the “outcast” section of magazines—independent publications for GLBT readers, writers, left-leaning politicos, artists, photographers, and women who don’t want to read Cosmo.  I admit that the name of the magazine caught my eye, but it was the tag line that had me really excited—“Feminist Response to Pop Culture.”  At the time I was a sophomore in college studying media theory and women’s studies.  I was beginning to identify myself as a feminist and starting to question the misogynistic messages I was finding on television, in movies and music.  I devoured my first issue, page by page, and I haven’t stopped in over 8 years. 

 

As a magazine junkie, I can easily blow through a publication and place it in the recycling bin before you can bat an eye.  But Bitch is different.  I have honestly enjoyed reading (and re-reading) every article.  Even the advertisements make me think.  I have recycled hundreds, possibly thousands, of magazines over the years but I have never discarded an issue of Bitch.  I can’t imagine ever finding a more suitable publication for me, unless there’s a magazine out there for gluten-free feminist freelance writers from New England who love artichoke hearts and higher education…anyone?  Bueller? 

 

Bitch has opened up an entire world to me, fully of like-minded people who have smart things to say about our culture.  Although the magazine is a quarterly publication, their articles are often timely and provide me with media analysis about pop culture trends I have missed.  I first learned about the Center for New Words and their fabulous annual conference through Bitch.  I even had the chance to meet the co-founders at a Center for New Words event.  I have discovered dozens of my favorite musicians (Girlyman!), authors (Liza Featherstone!) and products through Bitch.  Most importantly, Bitch confirmed to me that it is possible to create an entire career out of studying popular culture and its messages in regards to class, gender, race, and sexuality…and that this work is important and valuable.  I started my Masters Degree in 2006 in Gender/Cultural Studies and made a point to take courses and writer papers exclusively about these issues.  My writing has the same focus. 

 

My first professionally published work, about the thankfully short-lived imaginary girlfriends trend, appeared in Bitch’s Fall 2004 Fake Issue.  When I received my acceptance e-mail from Andi Zeisler, the Editorial Director and Bitch Co-Founder, I danced around my apartment a la Risky Business (but with my pants on).  I called everyone I knew with the good news, and fielded many uneasy questions from my family (“is Bitch some sort of sex magazine?!”).  As the publication date grew nearer, I scoured every corner of Rhode Island in search of the Fake Issue until I found it at a Newbury Comics in Massachusetts.  Then I bought every copy they had in stock…whoops.  As a gift, my partner had the article professionally framed and mounted above my desk.  During times of extreme writers block or lack of schoolwork motivation, I look at the article and it puts me back on track.

 

Two years later, after more of my writing was published in other media, I wrote another Love It/Shove It article for Bitch and you know what?  It felt just as uplifting as the first time.  There is an enormous difference between writing for a publication for the purpose of getting paid and writing for a publication because you truly believe in the mission.

 

I beg all of you to please visit Bitch online to donate towards their goal of raising $40,000.  Please don’t let yet another independent publication go under.  Please don’t let our culture continue down the path of conglomeration to the point where only a few companies control the message across all media.  Please support this vibrant, intelligent voice that stands a head above 99% of the magazines on the market.