Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blogging Update

Blogging here will likely be a little sparse for the next week or so.

Just because this is Internet I'm going to go ahead and have all comments go directly to moderation until next week. I'll approve them when I get back and then reset the moderation filter to the regular setting. I know that most of you reading this either rarely comment or are civil, so this moderation approach is mostly to prevent sock puppets and major shitstorms from rolling in while I'm away and unable to fully participate.

Have a nice week, everyone!

New Anti-Equality "Primer" Published

And they say it's us with the agenda, LOL.

Nathan Hitchen, an alunmus of the conservative Christian John Jay Institute, has collaborated with Brian Brown to create a neat, very cool "new primer for the marriage debate." (PDF).

Here's how the document describes Brian Brown:
"With a background in political science and nonprofit management, Narrator principal and John Jay Institute alumnus Brian Brown has spent 10 years observing changes in the way people share information, approach social issues, and get involved. Brian founded Narrator in 2011 with other marketing and policy professionals to provide a communications consultancy that helps organizations take advantage of these changes."
This Brian Brown doesn't seem to be the same Brian Brown who's the President of the National Organization for [Heterosexual] Marriage (NOM).

Nonetheless, the purpose of this document seems to be give opponents of marriage equality (whom the document calls "marriage advocates"- see what they did there?) new ways to frame the national conversation so they can persuade more people to oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples. The primer also, for your reference, refers to same-sex marriage advocate as "marriage revisionists" (see what they did there, too?).

Key take-aways from this propaganda manual, er, "primer" include "elevat[ing] as spokesmen" gay people who oppose same-sex marriage, "telling bigger stories" that reverse who the victims and victimizers are, and subverting the "marriage equality" meme with "stickier" anti-equality memes. 

I guess these tactics are..... new for them?

After reading through this "primer," I'm reminded of why this national conversation is so tiresome and so polarizing. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that this document is publicly-available, what with it's up front, creepy discussion of the "exploitable narrative vulnerabilities" of Americans and so forth.  The document also includes a sample op-ed piece (see page 50) demonstrating how "one could implement some basic techniques" outlined in the document (funnily enough, it's largely illegible because of the giant brain graphic that's in the background, whooooops!).

It all seems like such an admission of the grave desperation of some anti-equality advocates. It seems they used to be more covert about these strategies.

These tactics it outlines, after all, are of course not new.

Even since Prop 8, in 2008, anti-gay groups have been promoting so-called "gays against gay marriage," like David Benkof, who eventually dropped out of publicly advocating against same-sex marriage roughly that same year, although he did submit a strange amicus brief with other purported gays against gay marriage, Robert Oscar Lopez and Doug Mainwaring, in the pending US Supreme Court Prop 8 case in January 2013 (PDF). And, recently, Jeremy Hooper of G-A-Y noted that NOM has been buying domain names around the theme of "gays against gay marriage."

And, when this new "primer" suggests finding gay people opposed to gay marriage to be elevated as "spokesmen," I'm reminded of NOM's revealed agenda to, their words, "drive a wedge between gays and blacks."

So, that's fun.

Then, on the theme of switching who the victims and victimizers are, after Prop 8 passed, all of these, ahem, allegedly "grassroots" blogs called the "Digital Network Army" (DNA) sprung up from the aether. After noticing that these bloggers often seemed to be posting articles that were incredibly similar to each other's articles, I got myself on the "DNA" email list and saw that these bloggers were largely being fed content from mysterious "Team Captains." #seemslegit

While these "DNA" bloggers were pretty active for a year or so after claiming to be totally outraged by how mean gay people were to them post-Prop 8, nearly all of these blogs petered out when these Totally Outraged Straight People seemed to get bored talking amongst themselves (while banning actual gay people from their conversations) once they realized marriage equality actually has no real effect on their lives. This scenario suggested to me that the "DNA" blog ring was likely actually coordinated by at least one anti-gay organization, and that the key narrative the organization was interested in pushing was, "OMG the Normal People are being oppressed by the gay mobs!"

The Heritage Foundation even put a Very Official Report out about how mean gay people are to people who oppose same-sex marriage. The whole narrative, of course, has nothing to do with the substantive merits of same-sex marriage, but getting people to think they are being persecuted by a minority group is a historically key strategy in helping a privileged majority feel justified about oppressing a minority group.

I'm also reminded of NOM defector Louis Marinelli's claim that NOM's Brian Brown sought "crazy pictures" of pro-equality advocates, pictures that would discredit the pro-equality movement and frame us as unhinged, angry, and totally mean.

So, that's all fun too.

Although, what I'm most struck by in this "primer" is its utter lack of concern for its effect on same-sex couples and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. It's as though our lives, relationships, and aspirations for equal rights and dignity are little political footballs to be deflated and stomped upon. As though our lived experiences are stories that need to be reversed, and written over, to make heterosexuals feel okay about opposing our rights.

A snippet:
"Marriage revisionists also tell stories implying  that mothers and fathers together offer nothing  unique—marriages built on sexual difference  are not special and homosexual parents are just  as good as heterosexual parents (i.e. Creativity  plots)—or that homosexuals couples are not as  abnormal as people think (i.e., Connection plots)....
 ...The best response for advocates of conjugal marriage  is to  tell better, bigger stories that subvert who the  “protagonist victim” is and reposition who the heroes  are. Advocates could make children—and specific children—the protagonist victims of Challenge plot  stories, mothers and fathers the heroes, and identify  their villains as the mindsets and public policies that  obstruct their path to important goals."
Maybe someone needs to tell Nathan Hitchen that the whole "Save Our Children" gimmick isn't actually a new thing.

Anyway, I will likely post more on this new "primer" later, especially as I see anti-gay groups conitnue using the methods this document describes, but I wanted to give readers a heads up to be on the lookout for shifting tactics and narratives in the anti-marriage-equality movement.

Oh, and "kudos" to this Nathan Hitchen dude.  What a great career move for him! Sounds like he learned some really neat things at that John Jay Institute.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Conversion Therapy Group Exodus International "Sorry"

Exodus International, "the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality, issued an apology to the gay community for years of undue suffering and judgment at the hands of the organization and the Church as a whole."

This news broke last week, but I wanted the apology to marinate a bit in my head before writing about it.  See, as I'm sure most of you know, not all apologies are created equal.

I'm a lesbian who, when I was first coming out many years ago, considered suicide, going so far as to contemplate actual ways I could have done it. When anti-gay folks have harassed me on the Internet, they have sometimes played on the notion that the world would be better of without gay people, by giving me explicit directions on how I could and should kill myself.

I had suicidal thoughts even though I was almost always okay with being gay and knew for much of my life that I was. It was greatly problematic to me that other people, pervasively powerful other people at that- like the most dominant religion in the US, who seemed to be not okay with me, or anyone else, being gay.

So, that's my filter, my personal background, when I read Alan Chambers', Exodus President, apology.  And, that's my filter, quite frankly, when I read any person's apology or purported change of heart for their prior anti-gay, anti-equality advocacy.

These apologies, retractions, and changes of opinion, I think, are going to perhaps become more frequent as Opposing Everything Gay becomes more of a political liability. The extent to which people own their harmful advocacy, even if they did not intend to harm people, is something that I, at least, will notice. The extent to which the apology looks like a sincere, thoughtful change of heart, as opposed to a politically calculated "harumph!" sort-of resignation to the reality that homosexuality and same-sex marriage are increasingly accepted in our society, is also something I notice. The extent to which formerly anti-gay folks go on to engage in dialogue and understanding with members of the communities they previously hurt, is also something I notice. And, the extent to which these publicized announcements, which are purportedly about apologizing to a harmed community, also serve as ways to self-promote New Projects and New Fundraising Appeals is also something I will note.

Accordingly, Chambers writes, in part:
"Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this.....

....Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.....
 ....I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself."
Exodus International is closing down and is beginning a separate ministry with the purported goal to "reduce fear."

I can graciously accept the apology of Exodus. However, I do so with extreme caution, perhaps as a defense mechanism from years of this organization hurting people. For, the harm Exodus inflicted may have been unintentional, but Chambers does admit that harm was happening and that it was harm that Exodus was responsible for. What leadership and moral authority in this arena do these people think they still have? Maybe slow down before starting and publicizing another big project, yeah?

For, from my reading of Chambers' apology, I believe that Chambers and Exodus also still hold, and may still spread, problematic views that can still contribute to the marginalization of LGBT people and same-sex relationships.

I'm certainly not looking for a softer bigotry of "love the sinner, hate the sin." I don't see a great need in the world for a ministry that teaches people how to continue opposing homosexuality and same-sex marriage while also knowing the right words to parse so as to "not appear" bigoted or hateful.

I don't want gay people's forgiveness of Chambers and Exodus to embolden them to think of new ways to continue to, even if unintentionally, hurt us. Maybe we've heard enough of the Exodus folks for now, and it's time for them to really listen and understand better where they went wrong.

So, time will tell in what direction this new ministry goes.


Not a Christian, But
To Forgive Without Apology
What Would You Do If You Witnessed Bigotry?
SPLC Sues Conversion Therapy Provider
An Open Letter to Exodus International's Super-Remorseful Alan Chambers

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Tolerance Trap

Awwwwww, anti-gay folks have a sad that their viewpoint is purportedly being "censored" in the media.

Brent Bozell cites, but doesn't link to, a Pew report (presumably this one) that looked at 500 articles between March 18 - May 9, 2013 and found that they contained more statements in support of same-sex marriage than opposed to it. Bozell goes on to, ahem, stoically, state:
"In many corners of the liberal media, the space for a social conservative to argue against 'marriage equality' is vanishing before our eyes. It becomes twice as difficult the more and more anchors and reporters come out and declare themselves gay, and then the gay lobby expects those journalists to perform with perfect obedience to their agenda."
Wow, he sure makes "the gay lobby" sound so .... villainous. He continues:
"In recent years, the promotion of homosexuality has gone beyond the 'news' programs and became heavily entrenched in network entertainment shows, with entire programs devoted to gay characters and their struggle to overcome the alleged ignorance and oppression of religious villains."
Ha ha ha, perfect- "alleged" ignorance and oppression. On a more serious note, I'm also curious, in particular, which shows Bozell is referring to here. Like, specifically, which shows.

The entire article is so fear-mongering and, ahem, problematic, that, to me, it's a pretty good example of why I find the so-called culture wars surrounding same-sex marriage to be so exhausting and infuriating.

Support of and opposition to same-sex marriage are not, in my opinion, morally equal positions in which people on all sides deserve 100% equal air time. I oppose actual real-life government censorship of viewpoints, but I don't think the media is obligated to hand people the mic and give equal air time to people who want to parrot their various definitely-not-bigoted-or-anything iterations of why my partner and I don't deserve equal marriage rights.

I'm also not opposed to conversing personally with even extreme bigots, and I often have during the course of running this blog. Indeed, when some same-sex marriage opponents speak for themselves, frankly and uncensored, they actually do a fine job themselves of acting like religious villains - a fact that speaks to how tolerance, as a stand-alone context-free virtue, is not a virtual at all.

I too often see the word tolerance appropriated by those with anti-equality and bigoted positions and wielded as a "gotcha" against progressives: You don't tolerate my religious belief in traditional marriage? Tut! That's not very tolerant of you! and What do you mean you raised your eyebrows at that Catholic wedding when your cousin promised to "obey" her husband? Tsk tsk! How intolerant!

Yes, newsflash. Progressive feminists are not tolerant of all things all the time. That's.... kind of the point.

Indeed, as a lesbian, I've been repeatedly demanded by family members, friends, and many members of society to tolerate, in the name of tolerance, viewpoints that deem me unhealthy, immoral, unequal, undignified, and less-than others on the mere basis of my sexual orientation. Wellll, they scold, just as your uncle tolerates you, you have to tolerate his opinion of you and his belief that you don't deserve equal rights.

What? Excuse me?

It seems a weird- maybe abusive is a better word- thing when others expect me to "tolerate" opinions such as these at the risk of not being deemed a sufficiently "tolerant," and therefore "good," sort of person. I have learned that tolerance is all fine and dandy until we tolerate ourselves out of equality and into degradation. I think that's kind of the point when people use The Tolerance Trap.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

On Women Being "Better" Than Men

To riff off of yesterday's post, I want to highlight again that common sexist trope that "women are [morally] better than men."

Here, I was reminded of my post from a few months ago on benevolent sexism, in which I referenced a study finding that those who expressed benevolent sexism also often held explicit, hostile attitudes toward women. In that post, I wrote:
 "...people who express benevolently sexist ideas are acknowledging that they view men and women as discrete, fundamentally different (or 'opposite') creatures and that they, accordingly, treat men and women very differently.  When this type of thinking about gender is therefore moved from one context to another, their beliefs about gender will necessarily be expressed in different, oftentimes less 'friendly' ways."
In yesterday's case, although the trope sounds "friendly" to women, it was used in service of keeping women in line, by shaming a woman who flipped off a male athlete. The issue seemed less to be that she was engaging in vulgarity, but that she was engaging in vulgarity while being a woman. A woman was purportedly not living up to the Platonic ideal of the category "woman" and so something very threatening was happening.

And that, really, is a big reason why I find these simple, binary "Men are from Mars, women are from Venus" narratives so problematic. Not only are they dehumanizing, they simply aren't accurate ways to describe reality. Countless ways exist to be men and women. It doesn't even take a huge imagination to be able to understand that. In fact, it often takes willful effort to remain dedicated to believing that men and women are "opposites" or "complementary."

I'll also note that some men's rights activists take issue with the "women are [morally] better than men" thing.   They also seem to think that feminists single-handedly invented the stereotype, and that it's not at all a product of religious doctrine, gender traditionalist thinking, and essentialist thinking. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of shitstorms MRAs raise when non-feminists engage the trope (or engage in anything sexist toward men, actually).

Most MRAs seem too busy fixating on feminists and feminism as the root cause of all the suffering that happens to men ever. The disproportionate focus on feminism doesn't lend well to the image of the so-called "manosphere" as being anything other than a rabidly misogynistic venting space.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Reporter Shocked That Women Can Be Vulgar

Just as a refresher, it's currently the year 2013.  It's a year in which, when I was a kid, I was sure we would have shoes that tied themselves, hoverboards, and holographic movie theaters.

But alas, dudes are still getting paid to write articles like this in major publications.  In it, entitled "For second time, woman gives Chicago athlete one-finger salute," John Kass falls ass-over-heels onto his fainting couch because a woman's been photographed flipping off a man. In public.

His piece seems.... like he's half-joking? It's hard to tell, really, as this sort of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" stuff is so mainstream and bought-into that I never take for granted that people who don't think or write about gender regularly are joking when they start to opine about gender.

For, he writes:
"Like many American men, I've been trained — with the rat cage on my head and without — to believe with all my heart that women are better than men.

What's disturbing to me is that East Coast females may be sinking into a new public idealized vulgarity, sort of like those shrieking fishwives of the 18th century."
In addition to the use of "females" as a noun, often a telling word choice that, what I'm most struck by is Kass' apparent ignorance of women, as he admits that he unthinkingly thinks of women as being monolithically, categorically "better than men."  Better at what he doesn't specify, but the context suggests that he means morally rather than say, intellectually or athletically. It's a play on the notion that women are the tamers of society, existing to keep male wildebeests in line.

It also further entitles men to engage in aggression and vulgarity because, after all, women are just "better" than men so whuddaryagunnado about hockey players getting in actual fights during games and whatnot? I mean, does Kass ever get his boxers in a bunch over the many vulgar displays and, I don't know, sexual assaults that male athletes engage in, or is this - a woman flipping someone off - his big battle in life?

I'm currently reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman's novel Herland, about three men who stumble upon an all-female society. These men are indoctrinated with sexist teachings from their 1915 American society and, thus, have quite the culture clash in their every interaction with these women who are not defined by mainstream sexist tropes.

The readers see how, in fact, these men not only don't hold women in as high regard as they insist, but that these men actually don't know very much about women at all.

I guess that point is still relevant 100 years later.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Politician Opines on His "Man's Mind"

Via Echidne, we learn that the state's House Minority Leader and gender genius, Ken Fredette (R), made the following statement last week:

"As I listen to the debate today and earlier debate on this bill, I can’t help but think of a title of a book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus-
Wait! Imma let him finish, but people still actually, in serious, quote that Men Are From Mars book? No, I know they still do, of course. I know that. I also know that whenever someone quotes that book they're about to say something not super accurate about gender while also presenting their statement as a commonsensical self-evident truth that people just can't handle, and then when the inevitable shitstorm ensues proceeding to issue an "I'm sorry if people were offended" non-apology apology.

So, let's see what could possibly go wrong here:
"-And it’s a book about the fact that men sort of think one way in their own brain, in their own world. And women think another way in their own brain and in their own world. And it really talks about the way that men and women can do a better job at communicating. Because if you listen to the debate today, in my mind — a man’s mind — I hear two fundamental issues. From the other side of the aisle, I hear the conversation being about: free. ‘This is free, we need to take it, and it’s free. And we need to do it now.’ And that’s the fundamental message that my brain receives. Now, my brain, being a man’s brain, sort of thinks differently, because I say, well, it’s not — if it’s free, is it really free? Because I say, in my brain, there’s a cost to this."
Oh, how his statement is so fundamentally illogical. On the one hand, he uses this pop psychology book from 1992 to assert than men and women think differently, from a biological and essential standpoint, as men and women just have our "own brains" and our "own worlds."

Yet, he goes on to take it a step further by asserting that "the other side of the aisle," presumably Democrats and those who come down on a different side than him on this budget issue, thinks in this inferior, irrational, and essentially woman-brained way.

Which is weird, because a perusal of the Women in State Legislatures site informs us that only 29% of Maine's legislators are women and that, in fact, 67 out of 108 Democratic legislators are men. Which means that even as Fredette claims that men and women think differently because men and women have different brains, his essentialist argument only "works" if lots of men in the Maine legislature somehow have these faulty women's brains. Which would be impossible, given his "biology-based" premise.

I'd actually be surprised if he were even aware that his argument doesn't make much sense.

Most gender essentialists I run into on Internet are all, "Men and women are inherently different, man!", even as they sometimes concede, "welllll, I guess some exceptions exist." For some reason, though, the existence of gradation in gender and all of the exceptions to their binary rules often seems to only reinforce their Men are From Mars thinking. Seems to be an essential feature of the bigot brain.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage, Feminism, and Women

Over at The Feminist Librarian, Anna ran a live-blog series on David Blankenhorn's book The Future of Marriage, in which he laid out his case against same-sex marriage (before he changed his mind, obvs).

Her whole series is a great analysis of the book, and I wanted to especially highlight Anna's postscript in which she examines Blankenhorn's treatment of male versus female scholars he disagrees with on the same-sex marriage issue. She provides a side-by-side comparison of the words and phrases Blankenhorn used to describe his male opponents compared to his female opponents.

As a few examples, he describes Evan Wolfson as "my friend," says that Jonathan Rauch "argues convincingly," calls history professor Stephanie Coontz "a prominent activist" with "Marxist" views who "rarely bothers with detail," and kinda mocks Judith Stacey:
 "...[Stacey is] formerly the Barbra Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies at the University of Southern California -- I'm not making that up -- Stacey is an activist as well as an intellectual. Her main project is to combine socialism with women's liberation."
It's perhaps difficult to tease out whether Blankenhorn was chiefly uncomfortable with his female opponents' gender, their leanings toward feminism, or their purported Marxist and socialist ways. Possibly it's all of these. Possibly it's none.

Nonetheless, regardless of Blankenhorn's intent, when I read his book I too noticed the dismissive, disparate way he treated the two female scholars compared to his relatively tame treatment of the male scholars, as he expressed near pain at having to disagree with the men at all, claiming of Rauch, "How I wish he were right!"

I find that many same-sex marriage opponents, especially men, don't deal especially well with progressive feminists, especially female ones. There seems to be a taking for granted of the "fact" that feminists, and feminist arguments, are irrational and thus not worth fairly addressing. Earlier this week, I noted Mark Regnerus' treatment of progressive (especially) female scholars in his same-sex-couple-smearing opinion piece over at The Witherspoon Institute's Public Discourse forum.

The approach to "dealing with" progressive feminist-leaning scholars, among some same-sex marriage opponents, seems to be to emphasize their real or imagined "socialist" leanings so as to passive-aggressively red-bait and discredit the entirety of their work, respond to caricatures of their arguments, mock their scholarship and titles of their works and seminars, and suggest that they are activists and therefore that their scholarship is suspect.  Unlike, I suppose, the work of Evan Wolfson. You know, the attorney and founder of Freedom to Marry, that organization that campaigns for the legal right to same-sex marriage. 

As same-sex marriage becomes more of a winning cause in US politics, and as more conservatives ally themselves with the cause, I think it's going to be important for feminists to remain vigilant about the potential non-feminism and anti-feminism of these new allies - allies who are often themselves threatened by feminist critiques of marriage's history of inequality and female subordination. Being a new supporter of same-sex marriage, indeed being gay, doesn't mean that one will also be a supporter of, or even receptive to, feminism.

The most prominent national conversations about same-sex marriage are, with the exception of Maggie Gallagher, largely also same-sex conversations among (white) men often talking to other (white) men, but sometimes also to the American public, about the topic.  Jonathan Rauch. David Blankenhorn. Brian Brown. Evan Wolfson. Dale Carpenter. John Corvino. Robert George. Andrew Sullivan. Dan Savage. Peter LaBarbera.

I know that many people are doing important advocacy work in less prominent ways that don't get them attention, recognition, and credit. Yet, it's problematic to me that I can think of no feminist progressive women of the prominence and platforms of any of these men, even though what, like 96% of feminist progressive women likely support same-sex marriage?

I'm also personally appreciative of Elizabeth Marquardt, of Blankenhorn's Institute for American Values (IAV), invitation to me to blog at the IAV's Family Scholars Blog (FSB) about a year ago.  The issues I raise in this post are also largely why the IAV's decision to abruptly close the blog with little explanation or engagement with its invited guest bloggers has, quite honestly, stung.

Not I only do I feel I'm missing some backstory there, it's a rare thing for progressive feminists, especially queer ones who support LGBT rights, to have the opportunity to engage with a somewhat conservative, largely non-feminist audience whose exposure to feminism is largely filtered through non-feminist, often-conservative interpretations, such as Regnerus' and Blankenhorn's treatments of feminist scholarship. Indeed, I often felt that some of the most contentious conversations I was involved in at FSB were feminist ones, rather than pro-gay ones, as I found myself even arguing against  other gay people and those who were otherwise supportive of same-sex marriage.

The voices of progressive feminist women remain marginalized, appropriated, and often mocked in the national discourse, even within conversations about a purportedly liberal/progressive issue like same-sex marriage.

At the same time, my support of same-sex marriage is deeply tied to my feminism. Even as I critique the history of marriage for what it often meant to women, my position is certainly more nuanced and thoughtful than to be hand-waived away as irrational or dismissed as "socialist" or "radical" without its merits being addressed. I think that's true for many feminists.

And, I further think the same-sex marriage movement is indebted to many other movements, including feminist scholarship, the civil rights movement, and queer/gender studies.  Many in the movement do not seem aware of that as they assume a non-intersectional, gay-centric approach to the issue. Many do not understand complementarist arguments against same-sex marriage. They don't always understand why some people believe all children need a male and female parent. The movement, on the outspoken pro-gay non-feminist side, often seems bizarrely, simultaneously all about gender while also being nothing at all about gender.

So, when I think about how progressive feminist women are implicitly and, oftentimes, explicitly treated as less authoritative and credible than male advocates on the issue, I have to admit that these new shifting alliances, these new friendships between former opponents of same-sex marriage and prominent gay men, give me pause.

For, "if your revolution doesn't implicitly and explicitly include a rejection of misogyny and other intersectional marginalizations, then you're not staging a revolution: You're staging a change in management."

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Brushes With Civility

"'The stroke is executed by cutting back, then down,' is the teaching given in an ancient scroll, 'followed by a swift, slight rise to the right like the movement of striking with a whip.'

Another scroll, almost equally antique, contains poetic, if enigmatic advice about the practitioner's state of mind, likening it to a 'flower scattering, falling without sound on moss, a flower scattering to be heard through the depths of mountains.'

Only those unacquainted with the paradoxes of art in Japanese culture would be surprised to learn that the first commentary is concerned with the gentle skills of calligraphy, the second devoted to the perfection of warriorship with the sword." -Dave Lowry, Sword and Brush: The Spirit of the Martial Arts

In the West, it is sometimes said that the pen is purportedly mightier than the sword. Yet, in medieval Japan, some warriors saw both calligraphy and marital training as arts that were not only a demonstration of character but also ways to center the mind and body.  And, in these ways, form and content were inseparable. The dedicated practice of each, Lowry concludes, could potentially result in reality being "reduced to a single unique encounter of perfect clarity."

Notable is the focus on clarity. Not winning, not defeat, not killing, and not demolishing one's opponent, but clarity.
Reflecting upon these concepts as they relate to blogging and debate, I believe that some of my most rewarding experiences in the blogosphere over the years have come from instances where I feel I've either expressed an argument with clarity or, due to a debating partner's clear expression, have finally come to understand someone else's position better. In debate, these moments are rare. 
For one, I think that a debating rule in which people have to clearly articulate their opponent's argument to their opponent's satisfaction prior to trying to rebut it could minimize many misunderstanding before things get to the "OMG you are the worst person EVAR!" stage of conversation.

And two, when I've been involved in experiments, so to speak, of civil debate in Internet forums, I've often picked up on frustration when the topic of civility is mentioned. Many people believe that civility is a means to "censor" people from telling certain truths, purportedly "politically incorrect" truths that need to be said no matter how brutal they are - even as some of these same folks readily admit that intimidating people out of conversations is the end goal of promoting "anything goes" policies in Internet forums.

I question the line of thinking that posits that truth is the enemy of civility. Form and content are, I think, often inseparable. 

If we think of the tone of a statement as its form, and the the meaning of the message as its content, oftentimes, for instance, a comment that is racist is called racist not only because it is hurtful (form) but because it is also inaccurate (content). It is the inaccuracy of prejudiced statements is what causes the sting, not the truth of them. And, the hurtful nature of such statements is amplified precisely because they are inaccurate yet also marketed by its utterer as a "politically incorrect truth that needs to be said."
Labels and the words we use can, and often do, actually distract from reality rather than describe it. 
I'm reminded of that upon reading an article in The New Yorker entitled "The Power of Names":
"...words carry hidden baggage that may play at least some role in shaping thought. What’s surprising, perhaps, is how profoundly a single word can shape material outcomes over time.

...What ancient mapmakers did unwittingly for north and south, lawyers do intentionally when they describe accident scenes. The defense might call a car accident 'contact'; the plaintiff might say one car 'smashed' the other. These labels really matter, as Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer showed in a classic experiment. After a group of students watched the same series of traffic accidents, they were asked how fast the cars were going when the accident occurred. When the cars were described as having 'contacted' one another, the students estimated their speed to be thirty-two miles an hour, whereas another group estimated that the cars were travelling at forty miles an hour when they were described as having 'smashed' one another."
I've long believed that the words we choose are reflective of the way we think. Word choice can be a way to articulate our thoughts, enhance or deflate our egos, as well as a way to maintain, or break, civility.

For instance, is someone on Internet calling a political opponents' article a "rant"? Sometimes the word is apt, but often it's used to deliberately and passive-aggressively dismiss a rational argument as being unhinged.

Does someone use the word "homosexual," the clinical, outdated term that references the historical baggage of homosexuality formerly being a DSM mental illness?

Does someone set the stage for debate by suggesting that their online Internet opponent might physically "clobber" them for sharing their opinion, or "half-jokingly" say they're going to "run away" after posting an opinion rather than deal with the purportedly-sure-to-come aggressive reaction?

Does someone refer to all human beings as "he," insisting that male pronouns are also oxymoronic "gender neutral" pronouns?

What is the consequence, in terms of implicitly reinforcing male privilege, of living in a society in which "God" is continually described with masculine pronouns?

How do all of these word choices reinforce and sustain a false reality?

Indeed, for all the poo-pooing that goes on about our alleged "PC Gone Awry" culture, I think many folks are protesting too much. I think that many people are very well aware of the implications of their language choice and so choose the words they use precisely to marginalize. That is why attempts to make even minor changes to improve clarity and accuracy, such as making statute language gender neutral, are often met with such resistance.

I also think that word choice can marginalize even if that is not the intent of the speaker.

Civility and truth are not diametrically opposed. Communications that some people proudly call "un-PC" are often failings not only because they are usually "bombs instead of scalpels," but because they also distract from reality rather than describe it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Regnerus: Same-Sex Marriage Will Change Hetero Marriage

Fresh off his speaking gig at the anti-equality Ruth Institute, Mark Regnerus has written a bizarre opinion piece over at The Witherspoon Institute's online Public Discourse forum.

Just as a reminder, The Witherspoon Institute is the conservative think tank that opposes same-sex marriage and recruited and funded Regnerus to run the notorious New Family Structures Study, which purports to study "gay and lesbian families." (Spoiler alert: sketchiness ensued).

In his recent Public Discourse piece, Regnerus begins:
"Will same-sex marriage cause harm to opposite-sex marriage? It’s one of the most enduring questions surrounding state and national legal decisions about marriage."
Now here it's good to remember that Regnerus is a relative New Guy when it comes to writing publicly about same-sex marriage, having only become somewhat of a household name after publishing his widely-critiqued study a little over a year ago.

So, first note the phrase "opposite-sex marriage." The phrases "different-sex marriage" or "other-sex marriage" seem to be more accurate and therefore apt than "opposite-sex marriage," as men and women as a whole aren't actually categorical, essential opposites.

That topic is beyond the scope of what I want to talk about today, so my point here is that throwing around the phrase "opposite-sex marriage" often suggests to me that maybe a person hasn't thought super critically about gender issues, that they're unthinkingly parroting a common phrase, and/or that they believe in often- religiously-based "gender complementarism" and that "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" sort of mythology.

Secondly, he goes on to immediately claim, of his question:
"But the question itself is empirically unanswerable any time soon."
Of course, he then goes on to immediately "hypothesize" an answer to this purported unanswerable question.

Indeed, the very title of his piece (which he may or may not have been responsible for), is "Yes, Marriage Will Change - And Here's How."  Ker-pow! As though, wow, no one's ever predicted that, hey, you know what? That whole same-sex marriage thing? It will likely change "opposite-sex" marriage for the worse.

Third, he proceeds to, for some reason, support his conclusion by (a) citing statistics that he claims show that lesbian relationships break up more frequently than gay male and heterosexual ones (by citing a non-random sample, one lesbian's anecdote, and referencing a couple of reports he doesn't link to), (b) to reference purported "lesbian bed death" and then gay male non-monogamy, and (c) to claim that acceptance and popularization of same-sex marriage has put men in charge of the marriage and sex markets... um.... somehow? (Instead of "same-sex marriage" giving men power in sex and relationships, maybe Regnerus actually meant "rape culture, patriarchy, and sexism"? Damn you, autocorrect?)

Alas, he ends:
"This, I predict, will be same-sex marriage’s signature effect on the institution—the institutionalization of [gay male] monogamish as an acceptable marital trait. No, gay men can’t cause straight men to cheat. Instead, the legitimacy newly accorded their marital unions spells opportunity for men everywhere to bend the boundaries."
Um.... again.... somehow? He doesn't really spell out how the relationship agreements that a relatively small percentage of the overall population engage in will have more of an effect on the majority than vice versa.  He says some stuff about how men these days are pressuring women into anal sex, because gay men have made the practice popular. So, um. There's that, I guess?

The overall piece, and Regnerus' arguments within it, are disjointed and somewhat desperate-seeming. It's a "throw scary-looking opinions and numbers at people and see what sticks" approach to making the legalization of same-sex marriage look like a Really Bad Idea. But, well, I like to make predictions too, and I predict that it's going to be funny as hell to read pieces like this in about 20 years. Have fun staying on the anti-equality bandwagon, bro!

On the "disjointed" and "desperate" point, while Regnerus partially fixes his gaze on lesbian relationships, which is different than the usual anti-gay approach of fixating solely on gay men, it's not clear what his purpose even is in talking about lesbians at all, given gay men's supposed disproportionately powerful influence on sexual norms than lesbians'.

In fact, as an actual lesbian, and a civil union'ed one at that, it is extremely odd to me to be talked about in a context of the forum of a conservative, anti-equality "think tank" for kind of no reason at all other than to list Bad Things About Lesbians, rather than having our ideas and arguments engaged with in a more fair, representative manner.

For, when talking about lesbian relationships, Regnerus takes the approach of citing a handful of more radical queer scholars and thinkers, like Judith Stacey, making statements that might sound scary to a conservative, reactionary crowd. His citations, therefore, read to me mostly as cheap point-scoring "gotchas." For instance, he describes Stacey:
"The elevated breakup rate among lesbian couples has been an open secret for a long while. Even NYU sociologist Judith Stacey—no fan of marriage in general—noted it back in 2000 in small, nonrandom studies of upper-middle-class, educated white lesbian parents, demographic factors historically associated with stability rather than dissolution."
Oooooh, an "open secret"! Wow, a link to the Heritage Foundation citing one-liners from a Judith Stacey talk! And ahhhhhhh, Stacey is "no fan of marriage in general" (which has to do with what now? Oh right, we are to presume she's a Very Bad Person now!)

Regnerus' approach does not seem especially targeted to a skeptical, progressive, pro-equality, or LGBT audience.  I'm to believe Mark Regnerus has his finger on the pulse of lesbian relationships better than, say, actual lesbians do? Sure.

Yet, with the phrase "open secret," Regnerus frames himself as an anthropologist of sorts, as though he's super "in the know" about what lesbian relationships are really like, as he assumes a mansplaining air of merely translating this information to a largely ignorant audience that, unlike him, doesn't yet know the "open secrets" of lesbian couples or indeed the entire set of real goals of the Queer Agenda.

Further, Regnerus' main point is that it's the alleged Great Power of gay male relationship- and not lesbian ones- that, in the end, are going to change heterosexual people's marriage and sex norms. So including lesbians in his article only to list the purported shortcomings of lesbian relationships seems to be a distracting sneer, and fodder for the anti-gay audience who already believes in the supremacy of heterosexual relationships.  It's like, hey, here's this bad thing about lesbians, and this thing too. And pssst, did you guys know this, as well? 

Besides, if Regnerus understood the relevant legal issues involved, he'd know that from a legal standpoint, the fact that some lesbians break up and don't have sex as much as some other couples is not a legitimate reason to deny all lesbian couples marriage rights.  

One final note. Within the article, Regnerus claims:
"Sex is a common 'love language' for men, pop psychologists are quick to assert. It should be noted, too, that egalitarian couples tend to report less frequent sex—and women report lower sexual satisfaction—than couples who exhibit 'more traditional household arrangements.' Perhaps sameness and fairness, however represented, have their unintended consequences."
The file he tries to link to which purports to be evidence for this claim, unfortunately, "cannot be found" (whoooops). Nonetheless, it's a telling Traditional Marriage admission.

Inequality is hot! Sexy! Especially for the ladies! (I guess we'll just take this dude's word for it. After all, it is a man speaking). Here I'll just end by noting that the traditional marriage crowd tends to skew toward opposing, and indeed greatly disapproving of, consensual sexual activities in which participants engage in roles that portray and suggest inequality.  In which case, some of them try to suddenly act all pseudo-feminist and What About the Wimmenz (See also when Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann is attacked, and anti-feminists are opportunistic feminists for like 3 seconds).

I'm thinking of the recent hubub in which a group of conservative men essentially had a convo amongst themselves about purported "uncivilized" and "degrading" S/M sexual activities that a woman chose to engage in.  Seems lots of guys can handle gender inequality in their religions, marriages, society, families, and politics because Men Are From Mars And Women Are From Venus, but when a woman explicitly chooses to portray it in her sex life, "inequality" suddenly gets very threatening to them.

Related: My Thoughts on the New Conversation

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Tribute to HIV and Politics

I've watched probably every documentary or movie about HIV/AIDS that exists.

I was a kid when Ryan White was a kid, and a teenager when Pedro Zamora was one of the most public HIV advocates in the US, thanks to MTV. After he died, I read Randy Shilts' book And the Band Played On trying to understand the history of the disease that Zamora devoted his short life to educating others about. Later, I watched the movie adaptation and, most recently, watched the documentary How to Survive a Plague.

When I read this New York Times piece on HIV and aging, I reflected upon what has drawn me to historical narratives of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A quote, from the article:
"Mr. Park, director of the H.I.V. planning council at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, lost 80 friends to the disease but moved on with his own life, getting a graduate degree and moving up the ladder at his job."
80 friends.

I try to imagine what it would be like to lose 80 friends in my lifetime within a relatively short span of time. I try to see myself moving on from that. I can't. The Times article centers around the health aspects of aging with a chronic disease, but in the subtext, too, emerges a story of resilience among those who have continued living with the weight of losses of such great magnitude.

For many bigots, HIV/AIDS represents a proof of sorts that homosexuality is a moral wrong. For others, the prospect of HIV/AIDS is a reason to criminalize homosexuality, oppose same-sex marriage, marginalize gay people, and/or promote "ex-gay" "therapy."

What also draws me to historical accounts of HIV/AIDS in the US is watching the dance between more edgy HIV advocacy groups and individuals, and those who were more moderate. The group ACT UP, for instance, regularly engaged in demonstrations, such as a mass "die-in" at St. Patrick's Cathedral, that would have many of today's LGBT rights' opponents falling ass-over-heels onto their fainting couches whilst simultaneously crying. "religious persecution" (which is kind of what they did back then too, I guess).

It seems that these edgier, non-violent demonstrations were necessary to get attention from a mainstream and a Reagan Administration that appeared oblivious about a disease that was disproportionately eliminating purported social undesirables, including "homosexuals," Haitian immigrants, and IV drug users.

Once attention was gained, it seemed that moderate advocates were needed to convince those in power that those who had the disease were respectable, fully human, Just Like Everyone Else, and worthy of government resources.

Although, it is still notable that when the most comprehensive US law dedicating medical and social resources to those with HIV/AIDS was passed in 1990, it was named after Ryan White, the white, hemophiliac teenager who contracted HIV/AIDS through contaminated blood supply. I say that not to diminish his struggle, courage, and efforts - which were indeed admirable - but to note that naming the law after him, one who acquired the disease not through his "lifestyle," was likely necessary to make such a law more palatable to a largely-hostile public.

From a historical standpoint, it's perhaps too early to draw parallels between today's LGBT rights movement and HIV/AIDS advocacy in the 1980s, so I'm not going to even as the two (if they can be called two) movements are inextricably linked. Each year, I do an AIDS run. At the end of the race are pieces of the AIDS quilt delicately spread on the sidewalk, inscribed with messages of love to those who are gone.

I try to imagine what it would be like, the LGBT movement, if they were here today. I try to remember to be forgiving of political allies, those who are more radical and those who are moderate than myself, when I don't agree with their approaches, their rhetoric, or their tactics. I try to remain grateful, but not complacent, with where the movement is now, compared to where it once was.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Some More Neat Advice for Lady Workers

Actual title of article: "Ladies, Want That Promotion? Then Quit Your Cheerful Demeanor"

From the article itself:
"In the experiments, researchers portrayed fictional scenarios in which men and women were described as either cheerful, prideful or showing no emotion, and then asked study subjects to rank each as leaders.
Among the hypothetical candidates, cheerful women were ranked the least likely to lead."
Pop interpretations of studies suggesting ways for women to get ahead in the workplace are, to me, much like pop interpretations of health studies (eg- my running posts on ScArY hEaLtH NeWs) - superficial, simplistic, full of often unwarranted mandates for behavior change, and not helpful.

For instance, want to avoid having a stroke? Don't drink coffee, have sex, blow your nose, or get angry ever.

Concerned about your headaches? Well, just so you know, many people with brain tumors don't even have headaches. Although, if you do have headaches it (or might not be) a brain tumor. So maybe you should be concerned if you don't have headaches, as well. Welp, have a good day!

And so it goes with Women In The Workplace articles.

Want a raise? The problem, you see, is that women just don't ask for higher salaries. But watch out ladies, women who ask for higher salaries are seen as bitchy.

Want to get that promotion, gals? Just don't ever smile or laugh again at work. (Although, beware, because women who show anger in the workplace are viewed as "out of control" and "incompetent.") It's probably best to affect a flat monotone, then?

I guess my point here is that this advice, although perhaps well-intentioned (?), is not actually helpful, since women are given this sort of advice all the time. I'm actually more interested in studies that examine which kinds of people are more likely to rely on stereotypes and false assumptions about who is and isn't incompetent in the world, and then seeing articles published giving those people advice on how to be more mindful of their perceptions about others. After all, the problem isn't with women who are cheerful in the workplace, the problem is with those who believe that cheerful women can't be leaders. So, how can we change that attitude?

Anyway, I want to end by noting an irritating line from the "cheerful demeanor" article.
"But before we start pointing fingers, know this: women too are guilty of holding these stereotypical views about female peers."
"But before we start pointing fingers"? What a truly strange, inapt thing to say immediately prior to pointing fingers at "women too."

It's weird to me that people are surprised that "women too" can be sexist and that they therefore proceed to pre-emptively rebut "feminist arguments" that, supposedly, blame all sexism everywhere on men. Yes, newsflash, women too can be sexist. Even against other women.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

On Ignorant Anti-Feminists

E Lawrence, over at Women in Theology, on interacting with men who are not sympathetic to feminism while also being ignorant of it:
 "I suddenly find myself having to play the dual role not only of adversary but also of educator, all at the same time. It’s like being around somebody who wants you to hold his hand while he slaps you with the other. So I end up having to defend the legitimacy of feminist concerns and method to somebody who has never taken the time to learn these fundamentals and who perhaps asks questions from the baseless presupposition that feminist concerns are invalid and perhaps even dangerous."
Yes, I can relate, as I'm sure many feminist readers can as well.

In fact, some give-aways that I'm dealing with what I'll call the Ignorant Anti-Feminist include:
While it can be quite telling to actually press the Ignorant Anti-Feminist to share their actual "knowledge" and "familiarity" with feminism and hear *cricket cricket cricket* in response, it's actually one of my least fave Internet experiences to interact with men who expect me to coddle their ignorance as they simultaneously act hostile toward all of feminism, pretty much everything I say, and everything they think that I think.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Not a Christian, But (Part Two)

 [Content note: Anti-gay bigotry and violence]

Last year, I wrote this post on how Christianity's anti-gay teachings and reputation were among the top reasons that young people are turning away from the religion.

I can't imagine that actions like these will help that image, actions in which a Christian teaching that gay people deserve to die is cited in a Salvation Army training manual and then, in an interview, that belief is actually confirmed as legit by an organization spokesman.

Truth Wins Out actually published the above-linked story about a year ago as well, but I guess I missed it back then. I think it's worth highlighting again on Internet, for the historical record.

See, it's pretty popular among some prominent folks who oppose marriage equality today to claim that American society is too pro-gay and that Christians are too oppressed in the United States. But, no equivalent "opposite" pro-gay organization in the US exists, in the real world, that deems it acceptable to teach that Christians should be put to death, or that claim that "god" says Christians should be put to death.

I think sometimes that many of us, LGBT people and allies, get inured to rhetoric like this, because it's actually not all that unusual to come across someone hiding behind their religion as cover for their hatred and, specifically, citing religious beliefs that claim that gay people should die.

Oh har har, it's just someone being a bigoted ass on Internet.

But no, these beliefs are real. And, they are put in the mouth of "god," and repeated by followers of the most powerful and prominent religion in the US.

And, holy shit, when I think about it enough, it's like wow, these people actually think gay people should die.

They. actually. think. gay people. should. die.

I should die. Because I'm gay. You, perhaps, should die. If you're gay too. And what's-his-face from the Salvation Army wants to sit and parse the precise language and issue a non-apology apology about it and people in the comments want to bicker over whether or not being gay is a choice or genetic while completely losing sight of the fact that they. think. gay. people. should. die.

That is a big deal. A really big fucking deal.

So, back to my point about Christians leaving the religion because of its well-deserved reputation of being anti-gay. What are Christian opponents of LGBT rights who disagree with these beliefs doing to disassociate themselves from, and marginalize, these other Christian beliefs?

Your silence, your passivity, and your belief that your religion automatically makes you a good person, does not protect you.

And, it is not uncharitable to say that.

Indeed, given that the elimination of gay people seems to be an explicit or implicit Christian doctrine for many Christians, it is a profound act of self-defense to Not Just Assume that All True Christians disagree with the Salvation Army's text.

[Spoiler Alert: I won't be donating to Salvation Army anytime soon.]

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Regnerus Speaks at Ruth Institute Conference

Mark Regnerus, who authored a notorious study on what he referred to as "lesbian and gay families," recently spoke at The Ruth Institute's "It Takes a Family" conference this past weekend.

The Ruth Institute is a project of the anti-equality National Organization for Marriage. Its "About Ruth" web page for some reason is entitled, "Making Marriage Cool," even though, in my opinion, the Institute does precisely the opposite, for instance, by selling "one man one woman" "party kits" and "tote bags."

Also speaking at the conference was Ruth Institute founder and president Jennifer Roback Morse. In addition to being quite the proponent of inequality, Morse has also engaged in gaslighting against the LGBT community by suggesting that hatred of gay people does not actually exist in those who oppose marriage equality, has admitted that she opposes same-sex marriage because (her words) "anal sex is icky," and has invented absurd lingo to refer to her political opponents (eg- "the Life Style Left").

Others speaking were Robert Gagnon (whose opinions you can read all about here), the National Organization for Marriage's Thomas Peters, and Alana Newman (who wrote a controversial post calling "older or infertile women, and gay men," those who use surrogacy and egg donation, "the new sexual predators. And then wrote an awkward follow-up.)

So, what's the point of today's post?

Well, The American Independent has already obtained documents and emails from a public records request showing that the widely-critiqued Regnerus study was timed to influence "major decisions of the Supreme Court" and that, contrary to language in the study purporting otherwise, The Witherspoon Institute, which opposes same-sex marriage, may have played a larger role in the study than claimed.

Associating with the Ruth Institute and advocates who are notorious for uncivil-y opposing same-sex marriage is not a great way way to demonstrate that one is just a mere, impartial observer of the facts about "lesbian and gay families."

Neither does making statements like the following, which one conservative-leaning college news source cites Regnerus as saying at the conference:
“Sex doesn’t explain the world, religion does,” Regnerus said. “Sex will come up short.” 
Oh. Really. Sometimes I just have to laugh at the simple-minded way some conservative-leaning religious folks imagine that other people are like. I mean, are there even hoards of people out there claiming that sex is the big thing that explains the world? Is the battle for how people interpret reality really one of Religion v. Sex? Alrighty then.