Tag Archives: LGBT

Halfway to victory: The diminishing returns of activism (guess post on Zinnia Jones)

The other day as she was reading something online, Zinnia asked me my opinion on the question of why people seem to be more supportive of LGBT activism than feminism. At first I gave the simplest answer I could think of: A cis, straight person can support the rights of LGBT people and then never, or very rarely, be personally affected by that support. They may never knowingly encounter a trans person or be invited to a same-sex wedding ceremony. If they work for a smaller company, they may never encounter an LGBT person at work. They may have none in their family.

It’s not so simple to avoid women. To support equal treatment of women is to admit that you’re a part of a system that disadvantages your mothers, sisters, daughters, and possibly significant others. If you’re a woman, it’s to admit that your fathers, brothers, sons, and possibly significant others are benefiting from a system that gives to them at your expense, and that most of them are either willfully ignoring this fact or actively maintaining the status quo. Feminism means acknowledging harsh realities about people you love. LGBT activism may or may not do the same.

Naturally, Zinnia thought this would be an excellent topic for me to discuss on my monthly contribution to her channel as her videos about LGBT activism, however abrasive, are significantly more liked than anything either she or I can say about feminism, so I spent a lot more time thinking about it. I realized my original thoughts were correct, but incomplete. While the current incarnations of feminism are regarded as either angry fringe movements, or overplayed songs of the past, it certainly had its day in the sun.

The Nineteenth Amendment, passed in 1919 guaranteeing women the right to vote, was the beginning of a century of notable advancement for women. In 1969, president Lyndon B. Johnson signed Executive Order 11375 banning discrimination based on sex in federal workforce hiring decisions. 1972 brought us Title IX which entitled women to equal educational opportunities and finally ended the tyranny of enforced sex discrimination in education, and 1973 brought us the infamous Roe v. Wade, which entitled women to medical and reproductive privacy. These things did not happen with the support of only a few. These things happened with the support of a majority. Yes, at one point, the majority of the United States was identifying and voting feminist.

Currently, LGBT activism is in its heyday. Friends, we just eliminated Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Countries all over the world are legalizing gay marriage. States all over the union are… they’re… trying. President Obama is the first president of the United States to endorse gay marriage. For the first time in history, polls are showing overwhelming support for LGBT rights. The standard of care for trans people is improving with many countries in the world providing full and free access to medical transition, and even in the United States it is getting easier. Progress is being made, but we’re nowhere near done.

Employment nondiscrimination for all gender and sexual minorities needs to be enforced on the federal level. DOMA – the Defense of Marriage Act which makes it so that same-sex marriages, even in states where they are legal, are considered invalid outside of the state and are ineligible for federal benefits – is probably next on the chopping block, but it’s still there. Access to medical transition needs to be as guaranteed as access to any other valid and necessary treatment guaranteed by American health insurance companies. Laws governing the ability to change one’s legal gender status are being liberalized in many states but have fallen backwards in others. Our battle for legal equality is in full force and we’re on the winning team. Of course it’s easy to support it.

Since the civil rights movements in the 1960s, it would seem that, at least for the United States, legal equality is nearly a solved problem. Precedence has been set in the Supreme Court time and again. All we need are the right lawyers, and time. For Americans, this is a point of pride, and the majority, however slim, is happy to join us.

But what happens to equal rights movements when their battles are won? When the privileged majority declares the problem sorted and moves on to another cause du jour? When, instead of cookies and claps on the back, cis straight white men still have to hear about how people of color are overwhelmingly impoverished and imprisoned, women still can’t make a buck in spite of eager and overwhelming academic achievement, are getting raped left and right, and are slowly losing their reproductive rights, or that gender and sexual minorities are still forced into conversion therapy or homelessness?

It’s an inevitable aspect of the human condition that we cheer for the winning teams, donate to the popular charities, save the cuter animals. Legal equality is a popular fight and a solved problem, but social equality is what Americans do worst. In time, like feminism, black power, and any number of fights for real equality, LGBT activism will peter out. The work will be left to those of us affected the most, and ignored by those affected the least. We’ll scowl over statistics that show our disadvantages while the majority ignores us and wonder when it ever got to be so uncool to be LGBT.


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Why Anderson Cooper couldn’t come out.

Today, Anderson Cooper came out of the closet to the surprise of absolutely nobody.  Many wondered why he hid it and of course the fact that he hid it has led to years of unabashed speculation as to whether this means he is proud of it or comfortable with himself and so forth.  Graceful as always, Anderson Cooper is nonplussed. He feeds the media gentle cookie cutter lines about privacy and bullied kids.  The meat of his justification for being in the closet lays hidden beneath these gentle layers, easily glossed over:

 For my safety and the safety of those I work with, I try to blend in as much as possible, and prefer to stick to my job of telling other people’s stories, and not my own. I have found that sometimes the less an interview subject knows about me, the better I can safely and effectively do my job as a journalist.

I’ve always loved traveling.  I’ve been all over most of western Europe.  I’d love to see the whole world.  Sometimes people ask me why, if that’s the case, I haven’t been adventurous enough to go farther than white, safe, western Europe.  Well, I’m a gay woman.  And I have a trans partner.

While Anderson Cooper now seems content to relegate his talents to talk shows and whatever else on CNN, he made a name for himself covering the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, where it is illegal to participate in gay acts, and Niger, where there are no protections no matter what anyone decides to do to Anderson Cooper’s gay self.

Even though there is plenty of blue on the map, don’t let it lull you into a sense of safety for your LGBT bretheren.  St. Petersburg, a pleasant light blue, has outlawed pride parades and discussing homosexuality around children.  Australia, a tempting darker blue, still can’t seem to get rid of the gay panic defense, a legal loophole that classifies murder as self-defense when the murdered party is a gay person who has made an unwanted advance.

Anderson Cooper is an upper class white gay man from the Vanderbilt family who knows that people really don’t like to be reminded of how much it sucks to be in a marginalized class.  So he did the vast majority of his fans a gracious favor by wandering around closeted for his last decade and a half on television.  Then, when the world traveling was over, he came out quietly and sweetly, never one to go around reminding everyone that his job and life never would have gotten very far if he’d done it any differently.

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The Centre For Inquiry and the question of straight, cis people at pride parades

Yesterday, the Centre For Inquiry Ontario made quite a faux pas.  They invited their members to attend the local pride parade in drag in acknowledgement of unequal treatment of transgender people.  If you’re LGBTQ you probably already know what happened.  If not, stay a while.  Trans activists, including notable freethought blogger Natalie Reed, assigned themselves to the case, patiently and persistently pleading with representatives of CFI not to engage in this ignorant, offensive exercise.  Predictably, the straight cis people in charge did not like this much.  For full documentation of the entire series of events up to about 2 a.m. June 22 EST, see Zinnia Jones’ article here.  A brief rundown is as follows:

CFI posts the invitation with original wording, emphasis theirs:

This year we’re going to have a bit of fun- and show our support for the trans community BY DRESSING IN DRAG. Transphobia is an insidious and often overlooked problem which effects thousands of Canadians. Step out of your comfort zone for a few hours and into a pair of pumps- or sport a handsome handlebar mustache!

CFI amends their invitation thusly:

This year we’re going to have a bit of fun BY DRESSING IN DRAG. Step out of your comfort zone for a few hours and into a pair of pumps- or sport a handsome handlebar mustache!

Note the removal of any discussion of transphobia.

Jaimy Warner, apparent spokesperson for CFI then issues this explanation, quite unabashedly appealing to her own authority.  Emphasis mine.

In another environment I can certainly see how ‘dressing in drag’ could quickly degrade into mockery- but this is not a frat house kegger nor are we a collection of close minded bigots. We’re a science educational charity marching in a Gay Pride Parade (with a professional drag queen helping us prepare, I should add) demonstrating we’re open minded and accepting.

Finally, Jaimy Warner issues an apology and says that CFI will not march in drag, adding that some LGBT people had signed off on it so it totally wasn’t their fault.

You’re right. My initial response was not an apology but a selfish attempt to explain the stance of my organization and our perspective. At the start of the planning phase for this event I spoke to a number of people in the LGBT community who thought this was a good idea-I thought it was a good idea- so it was easy for me to disregard the first negative responses I received here today.

This morning, CFI has their PR guy, who also hilariously happens to be a Mens Rights Activist (where do they GET these people?) issue a longer statement.  In the statement, he toots CFI’s horn repeatedly about how awesome they are about LGBT people, why they even hired the son of a homophobe to speak for us!  How could we possibly disagree with that?

 As a vital component of the latter we have a long history of support of both the LGBTQ and transgender communities. (Heather’s note: Hey guys!  Transgender is separate from LGBTQ did you know?)  This is not just talk, but tangible. It includes for example our history of vocal support for Bill C279 and Bill 33, the federal and provincial legislation to amend our Human Rights laws with respect to gender identity and gender expression…  Perhaps most interestingly, we also hired Nate Phelps, the estranged son of the notorious patriarch of the vehemently homophobic Westboro Baptist Church, to run our Calgary branch. Nate speaks for both CFI issues and LGBTQ issues.

I don’t even…

CFI Ontario’s major mistake was that they forgot that straight, cis people attending pride parades should be there in a strictly supportive capacity.  Pride parades are neither for nor about straight, cis people.  They’re our show.  This is the difference between a church, business, or political group that shows up with a bunch of their LGBT members and employees riding on their float and the group who shows up in drag, or starts handing out pamphlets about the virtues of their organization.  CFI Ontario assumed that, because they’re on our side politically, that the pride parade was about them as well.  They assert that this faux pas is excusable because they’re in support of the right bills, they’re a science organization (whatever THAT has to do with anything), and they employed Nate Phelps (Again…), but they forgot to acknowledge that pride isn’t about them at all.  You see, it doesn’t matter how many friends you have that are queer, or how many bills you support, or how you vote when it comes to pride day, because we’re not there to celebrate you.  We’re there for ourselves.  We’re there for no other reason than to celebrate how far we’ve come and how awesome it is to assert ourselves in spite of you.  And maybe for beads from the Smirnoff float.

Does that offend you?  Were you hoping there was going to be a public event honoring you, the person who voted in favor of queer people being people?   Well, I’ll tell you what.  The day those bills pass is the day you get your cookies, but not on pride.  That’s ours.  And you will earn no sympathy from us when you try to make it about what awesome allies you are.  Oh, and atheist groups?  You especially won’t earn our sympathy when you’re there to win the hearts and minds of LGBT people in your self-asserted war against religion.  Being a gender/sexual minority has nothing to do with your agenda.  Leave your fucking pamphlets at home.  However tempting it may be to pit LGBT people against religion, you must resist.  We are not pawns in your game.  Same goes for you, Marin Foundation and your “we’re sorry” bullshit.  Apologies for the actions of others are ineffective and disingenuous and will not reconcile LGBT people with Christianity in general to the express financial benefit of your church.  So if you intended to go to pride to yank LGBT people a few inches to your side in your bullshit game of religion v. atheist tug of war, get fucked.  Stay home.  Don’t come.

If you’ve got a paternalistic feeling and you’re certain you know what’s best for queer people and how best the future of queer politics will play out, you are demeaning us.  It’s dehumanizing.  It’s wrong.  If you were intending to show up at pride parades to tell us how best to continue our fight, be that in the arena of fighting religion or fighting for progress in whatever religious organization you’re a part of, then that’s you.  Make no mistake of it.  You are assuming a position of leadership rather than support; you’re not qualified, and you’re not welcome.

“But Heather,” you may be thinking, “I don’t want to do any of that, I just want to show up.  How can I be sure that I won’t accidentally wear something that will offend you?  It seems like that’s all CFI Ontario was doing!”

CFI Ontario messed up when they made their half-assed self-promoting apologies.  They asserted that they’re truly our allies and they know this because they know what constitutes an ally, regardless of whatever we may tell them.  But if you want a tip on dress code, I’m happy to help.

Rainbows are fine.  A shirt that says “I totally dig gay people” is fine.  It’s silly, and you’ll get stared at, but it’s fine.  If you find yourself wondering what the hell to wear and you’re not 100% sure if it’s offensive, come in a your (clean) underwear and buy clothes from the booths at the parade.  Don’t worry.  Lots of people will be in their underwear (or less depending on local statutes!).  They also usually have face painting, jewelry, flags, ribbons, capes, tutus, and all sorts of really fun stuff to wear.  Don’t dress in drag.  Drag is a complicated thing and the question of what constitutes offensive and inoffensive is currently in a state of flux.  If you are cis and straight and not a regular drag performer, there is almost no chance you have any idea what you’re doing.  So don’t.

Otherwise, come!  Buy flags.  Get free HRC  or “Straight but not narrow” stickers to put on your car.  Get beads.  Get drunk.  Have a great time.  Don’t try to lead us.  Support us.



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What Do You Do When Your Boy Wants a Barbie? Get Famous! (Originally Posted February 2011)

I don’t often like to admit I made a mistake. The problem is, I have this compulsion where if I do make a mistake and then I learn about it later, I absolutely must make sure everyone knows that I have learned and I know the real right answer now. In this way, I always get to be right. It’s irritating, I know. Thanks for putting up with me.

So, here’s my mistake: I never should have written the post about my gender conforming kids in response to the posts about the gender nonconforming kids. When I read about the mom whose boy wore the Daphne costume and the other mom whose boy wore nail polish and Dr. Phil being an asshole, I felt compelled to weigh in. I thought it was probably kind of a different sort of thing for these parents to be talking about and I saw a weird thing or two in the blogs that I had to address. I found it awkward that they kept insisting that this phase was transient and didn’t mean anything. I was a little taken a back by their avid interest in their sons’ sexual orientations and their fixations on how all the other moms and kids were “dealing with it.” What was with that? So I felt it couldn’t hurt to offer my perspective on the matter. I wrote about how gender performance, while a good predictor of sexual orientation, isn’t 100% reliable and I wrote about how it’s silly to try to brush it off as no big deal. Frankly, it reeks of protesting too much. What I know now is that I had no idea of the scope and scale of this my-son-acts-girly blogging phenomenon and just how truly offensive it is. I’m embarrassed to have taken any part in it.
As it turns out, there are a lot of blogs like this. Like, a lot. That in itself isn’t surprising. What did surprise me is just how much they all had in common. (I’m not going to include nerdyapplebottom with the son who dressed like Daphne here because her blog appears to have other content and is predominantly unrelated to her son’s gender performance.) Here’s a sampling:
  • Accepting Dad Son who acts feminine, now 12 but started blogging 5 years ago when he was 7. He is apparently a member of several support groups for parents of gender nonconforming children and has written a book about it.
  • Labels Are For Jars Son who acts feminine, current age not easy to find but on the about page, she says he’s 5. Avid defender of gay rights.
  • Sarah Hoffman on parenting a boy who is different Son who acts feminine, is apparently older than 6 and has grown out of it.
  • BoyGir: A mother’s journey Son who acts feminine, age 7. He has come out to his mother as gay and genderqueer because apparently he has a deep understanding of these concepts.
  • Raising My Rainbow Son who acts feminine, age 4. This blog is picked up by Queerty and she’s done some interviews.
They write fake sounding stories about abnormally chatty moms with negative opinions “on the playground” and some give their sons eyerollingly ridiculous labels like “pink boys.” These things are everywhere. I don’t want to pull an “I could go on all day” but I really could. Just go on any of those blogs and start clicking on the links in their sidebars. You can see for yourself. They all have 2 things in common: they’re all about boys who act feminine, and the boys are all prepubescent and in some cases barely emerging from toddlerhood. Nobody’s concerned with girls who like boy things even though some of them could be gay, too (gasp) and anyone with a copy of What To Expect the Toddler Years ought to know better than to start a career writing about gender nonconformity in a child who is too young even to have any real solid idea of how to be gender conforming.
Girls aren’t an issue because girls acting like boys are considered to be expanding their horizons and even promoting themselves. Femininity in women isn’t assumed to be innate, but learned behavior (see: charm schools, every womens’ magazine ever). Therefore, masculinity in women is not assumed to be innate but as contrived as femininity and possibly semi-rebellious behavior that will probably get her far in life if cripple her chances of getting a husband. Boys acting like girls, however, are immediately assumed to be acting on innate feminine impulses that are probably connected to them wanting to date other boys. Mens’ genders are real, womens’ genders are faked. This is a ridiculous double standard which I have neither the knowledge nor the time to explore at great length, but the application of this double standard by the parents onto these boys and the unfortunate readers of these blogs serves to demonstrate a very poor stereotype-based understanding of homosexuality. The color pink is not inherently feminine. Nor are dolls, kitchens, or even makeup. Nowhere along the evolutionary timeline did any of these things establish themselves in the female members of the human race. Society has coded them feminine for purposes of separating men and women and, let’s be honest, enabling oppression and dominance. Just as your four year old boy has no idea that the garbage man is coded lower class (unless you’ve told him) and may sometimes enjoy pretending to be the garbage man, your four year old probably has very little idea that pink things are coded off-limits to him. Maybe one day he’ll learn that and then he’ll come to understand why his mother or father is spending so much time in PFLAG meetings. My son is going through a phase where he talks back. This may last well into his 30s. I’m not looking up law schools because this would be ridiculous for the same reason that writing these blogs is ridiculous. Similarly, as I’ve mentioned before, my sons are gender conforming but that doesn’t mean I’m planning mother-daughter-in-law outings or saving my wedding dress in case one of their fiancées wants it. While there’s nothing more wrong with assuming your child is gay than assuming your child is straight, the problem with this is that they’re assuming anything at all. There’s no need to assume anything about a child’s sexual orientation and if anything there’s a need not to obsess over it. Planning this far into a child’s future simply does not make sense.
However, these parents insist they’re not planning this far into their boys’ futures. They insist and insist and insist on it. Oh, the insisting. They go on about how they know this is not a guarantee of a gay son. They have links all over the sidebar about GLBT causes and titles like “Raising My Rainbow” but don’t you dare forget, they know that this probably doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gay except in BoyGir’s case, where it necessarily definitely means he’s gay and genderqueer. They insist they do not care about whether their sons are gay or transgender. There are really only two conclusions I can think to draw here. Either these parents are struggling with their homophobia and overcompensating for their negative feelings toward their own sons in the same way you might buy an extra special gift for the in-law you hate to prove you don’t hate them, or they just really love the attention, Münchhausen’s style.
Whatever the motivation, the result is a massive network of disingenuous parents who simultaneously flaunt and pretend they don’t notice their sons’ differences where they can all congratulate each other on being accepting of their gay sons, assure us it’s not even an issue, and cross their fingers for book deals and spots on Good Morning America. They have turned their child’s assumed sexual orientations into spectacles, sideshows from which they can collect attention for their trendiness and enlightenment in the face of overblown or imagined resistance.
Whatever are they to do if their sons grow out of it and/or they’re straight and cisgendered? Certainly some of these kids will get past puberty and have to come out as straight to their parents. It will be hysterical and I wish I could be there but certainly it’s no more harmful to have to come out straight than to come out gay, so that’s not really a tragedy. If, however, the sons don’t grow out of it and/or it was a predictor of some sort, and they hit age 15 and want to start dating boys or go on hormone replacement therapy and the questions get harder and have a lot less to do with princess costumes, then it will cease to be cute. I assume this is why there aren’t a lot of these about kids over the age of 13. The public doesn’t want to read books about that. Controversy is only fun in small, non-threatening, glittery doses. We don’t want to get too real here, after all.


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