I Was Wrong About Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

**this is a cross-post from hivster by ian finkenbinder**

Getting Fired, Giving Some Interviews, Taking Action

Before Occupy and all its myriad (and at times catastrophic) effects on my life, I was a one-trick pony of sorts. My focus in activism was a narrow one, born from personal experience and thrust onto the national stage.

In 2004, after one tour in Iraq and staring another one in the face, I made a decision to come out of the closet. I marched into my Commanding Officer’s office and delivered a carefully prepared statement (already vetted by a lawyer) to his desk declaring: “I will return to serve in Iraq but I will do so as an openly gay soldier.” Surprise (not really)! Ian is gay.

Predictably, I did not return to Iraq. I got drummed under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, and since my job was a mission-critical position (Arabic translator) it instantly became news.

After making the rounds in the Advocate, Instinct Magazine, Anderson Cooper and others, I got tired of refuting John McCain’s asinine comments about the dangers of perverts in the Armed Forces and retired from activism for a few years in order to do things like be 22, do massive amounts of drugs, and catch HIV. Let’s admit it. Talking to reporters is boring and the people who were excited to get my story in the public eye felt that the end-all and be-all of activism was press statements. Spending thousands on cocaine seemed a lot more fun.

Finally, in my late 20s, a certain troublemaker named Dan Choi popped up and I snapped out of my self-obsessed desire to destroy myself and realized that activism didn’t necessarily end at giving interviews to Wolf Blitzer. It could be about chaining yourself to things. It could be getting arrested! It could be exciting.

So then this happened:

On November 15th, 2010, I handcuffed myself with Dan Choi and 11 other friends to the White House fence in protest of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. A month later, it was repealed.

While that landmark legislation was the result of years of hard work on the part of legislators, advocates, and other pissed off people, I like to think that my participation in that protest brought enough focus on the issue that it was thrust into the limelight and acted on quickly. For a couple years, I have been proud of the fact that the direct action that put my face in Newsweek might have changed the country for the better.

Here’s the thing: I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done it.                                                 Continue reading

What to the Slave is the 4th of July?

“…What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: …mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages…”

**i try to read this every year around this time, as it’s not only a piece of oratory genius, but a necessary validation of the crushing irony of the united state’s independence day celebration. apparently in 1852, the leading citizens of rochester, NY thought it was a good idea to ask a former slave to speak at their 4th of july festivities. escaped slave frederick douglass accepted, and on July 5th, 1852 (11 years before the emancipation proclamation), proceeded to deliver a thoroughly scathing critique of a nation celebrating its own liberty while holding nearly four million of its inhabitants in bondage. Douglass began:**

“Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us? …I am not that man.

“…I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?  Continue reading

intermission, episode IV: a new… bunch of stuff

heyy interwebz. it’s that time again. the one where i just talk about random shit and share links i like? you know the drill. i have been gone for a while, its true. not only was i taking a bit of a blogging hiatus after the mrs. fiasco (and because i sorta naturally cycle in and out of attachment to the outside/online world), but i also had a job for a bit! actually doing what i studied in college, actually doing exactly what i want to do!  i got paid to teach lessons on gender diversity and trans issues to two 6th grade health classes. let me say that one more time, just so the right can hear me (and cause it makes me feel good ;) 


ah. that did feel good. too bad the unit only lasted two weeks and i’m unemployed again. on the other er, same hand, i’ve been sick for over a fucking month on and off (mostly on) which, given my previous interwebz-lite phase, has meant a chance to really explore my new found love of buffy the vampire slayer, which i somehow missed out on in the 90s (sexism and some internalized homophobia probably had a lot to do with that), as well some good ol fashion books and video games. btw, everyone should read octavia butler. seriously. she’s the shit. (i recommend starting with kindred or parable of the sower).

but those video games. what a wonderful way to ignore the sick and constant bullshit of the real world and just slash some generic baddies, find some gems, and… experience homophobia and transphobia! escape my ass… for the uninitiated, i was playing fable, a role playing game for the original xbox set in a fantastical, medieval-esque world. the game’s signature gimmick is that it allows players a relatively large amount of freedom to do what they want with their character (the notable exception being, of course, that you have to play as a white dude). you basically run around electrocutin’ goblins and collecting shit, but then you have some sims like options such as getting other characters to like you –i mean, like like you. and here’s where it gets fun (by which i mean obnoxious). This is what the official fable guide tells you about finding a partner:

isn’t that interesting?! two men — whudda thunk it?? and  if you choose to flirt with and marry women, more often than not they’ll directly ask you to “go to bed,” with them, whereas if you ply the men with smiles and gifts (yeah, that’s the “process”), you just “have a nice lie down.” following either dialogue, it cuts to black and you just get audio. all the speech and sound fx are pretty over the top, so all the women’s moans sound a bit comical (your character remains oddly silent), but they’re nothing compared to the abrasive, jerky yelps that the dudes uniformly let out. it seems the developers went out of their way to make gay male sex seem as absurd as possible.

now, it’s not like this is altogether surprising given the straight male dominated world of gaming. as a group they are definitely not known for their “tolerance,” but the next tip did really throw me. if you aren’t gender-conforming, there will be actual in-game negative consequences. you’re fucked if you equip that dress or those silk gloves instead of that leather tunic. they actually wrote transphobia into the game —transmisogyny, to be specific. it’s that feminine article of clothing that marks your character as “revolting” —revolting! even the language is unabashedly reflective of the way male-assigned expressions of femininity are regarded in our culture: disgusting, perverse, the ultimate deal breaker. hell, i don’t need to play a video game for that experience.

in any case, while we’re on games (never really thought i’d be blogging about gaming…), jay smooth offers some harsh rebuke to the virulently misogynist dude gamers who fucking POUNCED on feminist frequency’s anita sarkeesian for daring to launch a kickstarter campaign to fund a (much needed) study on female representation in games entitled, “tropes vs women in video games.” see her own roundup of the sexist shitshow here. (oh and ps, that shit got funded like mad! #fuckyeahfeministgamers :)


anyway. enough about games. there’s so much more to share! like this incisive piece by jos at feministing:        Continue reading

Regarding intent vs. impact, accountability, and intersecting identities

So… wow. i knew when i posted something in an “open letter” type format — especially with social networking — there would be ripples, but i had no idea shit was gonna blow up the way it did, for myself or the Mrs. folks (and i know a lot of readers are probably saying “well no shit!” right now, but this has been a learning experience for me on multiple levels).

i wanted to take an opportunity to clarify where i was coming from and address some of the common comments and concerns that i’ve heard, both in person and a great deal on facebook and other blogs. so much of this seems to be related to the gulf that can exist between the intention behind an action or statement, and the impact it has on an individual or community.

i would like to start by addressing what i see as some conflation happening in a couple different areas with regard to my initial writing. there seems to be an underlying assumption that by publicly sharing an experience at Mrs. where i perceived trans-misogyny to be operating, i was trying to bash or otherwise take down Mrs. or the folks who run it. my intentions were far from that — as i tried to make clear in my concluding paragraph — but i nonetheless want to offer my apologies if my language contributed to this perception. i’ll touch more on this later.

another misunderstanding i would like to speak to is the equivocation of me saying that i had an interaction with some individuals where i perceived trans-misogyny to be operating, with me outright calling those individuals trans-misogynists. as jay smooth so eloquently reminded us a few years back, the “this is what i heard you say” conversation is very different from the “this is what i think you are” conversation. the latter is never something i intended to have –or would even feel qualified having. i don’t know these individuals; only our interaction and my experience of it. and i know that no matter what your identity is, who your friends are, or what you consciously believe in, we are all steeped in dominant culture, and as such, are all still capable of — intentionally or not — supporting and perpetuating oppressive systems, even those that target us. that doesn’t mean we’re bad people; it means we’re humans living under multiple, often intersecting oppressions and we’re all working on our own shit, and we’re all bound to fuck up sometimes.

in that vein, i would like to speak to the issue of my being a white queer who labeled a song by a queer person of color misogynistic. (as i learned this weekend just prior to the meeting on saturday, the song that was played was “Ima Read” by Zebra Katz –i believe a remix of it. i have since read up on the lyrics and their intended meaning, the context from which the song emerged, and interviews with the artist.) of course, since we don’t exist in a vacuum — but rather a white supremacist state — i approached the DJ in a culture where white people regularly asymmetrically level charges of sexism against music produced by artists of color while giving white artists a relative pass.

i would like to own my cultural ignorance on the Katz piece, and to extend my apologies to the DJ with whom i had that racially loaded interaction. i can see how a DJ of color who is trying to promote the work of other queer PoC being approached by a white person who immediately labels the song misogynistic — ignorant of its context — and says it’s something they don’t want to hear in that space could be is fucked up, and i can understand that individual’s dismissive attitude more. i’m not saying that i also didn’t still feel silenced in a gendered way based on his response to me –just that it seems both of us were having some real shit come up on the basis of our varied identities, and both are valid and worth unpacking.

and i want to make it clear to the folks who have a different relationship to traditionally misogynistic language and the Katz song, that i hear you. in that linked post, the author states that while i characterized hearing that song as a low point in my night, as a queer person of color in an overwhelmingly white space, hearing that song was a high point for them — the first time they were able to feel safe. and that shit’s real. and while personally, i am still triggered by hearing the repeated use of female slurs (whether by a mainstream white female pop singer or a black queer rapper), much of the feedback i have received regarding Katz and nearly everything i can find online about Ima Read has been enormously positive, and clearly it has particular significance among many queers of color. and that is not something i want to fuck with: had i known the context of Ima Read like i do now — while it doesn’t necessarily change my relationship to the language — it absolutely changes the way i view its presence in queer spaces and how i respond –or rather, how i wouldn’t have responded to the folks playing it.          Continue reading

On queer spaces and misogyny: when “safe” spaces aren’t

[UPDATED 4/18/12: please see the follow up post]

sometimes when i’m out dancing, surrounded by queers i love and queers i don’t know, appreciating how so many folks around me are as much of a gender-fucking mess as i am, i forget that a “safe” space is never a guarantee. it is an ideal. a code of conduct that we hope people adhere to. it is, at root, a goal–not a proclamation. not a guarantee. sometimes, i think we forget this.

“Shut up queen! shut up queen! shut up! queen queen queen queen queen!” i can still hear that last part. it does this kind of echo-loop in my head sometimes where the word runs together, like a CD skipping right before the “en” sound. “Quee-quee-quee-quee-quee–.” If i wasn’t so appalled i might be impressed by their ability to repeat the same word so goddamned fast.

i’ve had bits and pieces written on this since it happened around mid february, but haven’t gotten around to organizing them into something coherent until now. And since I realized it’s still something i’m thinking quite a bit about, and something which influences my relationship to portland’s queer scene, I should get it out.

it was my birthday celebration and a group of friends and i had decided to go to Mrs. together, a monthly queer dance party at mississippi studios. watching blow pony slip further and further into mainstream gaydom (straight onlookers in welcome tow) left me wanting for more explicitly trans and genderqueer friendly spaces. while i had never been personally, Mrs. was repeatedly billed to me as just that, and it sounded great.

and here’s the thing: for the most part, it really was. the theme was “let’s get physical,” so there was plenty of brightly colored spandex, hot pants, swimsuits, you name it –and it all looked pretty fabulous. plus the absurd workout videos from the last four decades they were projecting behind the stage didn’t hurt. i even saw this one hipster in full 80s workout gear (sweatband and all) walking around with a walkman and headphones. such commitment! sidebar: are all party themes automatically retro now? is that just like, default?

Anyway, for the most part, the music was really enjoyable too. i remember one song — a sign of things to come, though we didn’t know it yet — that came on which made my friends and i stop our bodies to talk. i don’t even remember what song it was anymore, but the point it brought up was why, at queer dance parties, do we consistently listen–and dance–to super misogynistic music?? is it somehow ironic? is it okay because ‘hey, we’re all in the know and feminist and stuff, so we can just enjoy it?’ what, exactly, makes it okay?

Continue reading

White jesus! er, happy easter!

i’d thought i’d take this eater sunday opportunity to talk a little bit about the whitening of jesus christ. the above image on the left is what the best of modern forensic and anthropological science estimates a male born at the time and place of jesus of nazareth would look like, while the right-hand picture is of a 1940 painting by warner sallman which serves as a prime example of the thoroughly whitened image of jesus ubiquitous in the contemporary West. (wait, maybe he was murdered looking like the image on the left, but came back looking like the one on the right! case. fucking. cracked.)

certainly, many christians are not surprised by the news that the supposed son of god didn’t look anything like the image on the right, but nonetheless have no trouble looking to that image. because, as evidenced recently and quite visibly by the high profile killing of trayvon martin (among other less publicized killings), as well as the backlash against fictional characters of color, under white supremacy, non-whiteness cannot possibly be ascribed to the epitome of purity and goodness that is the popular image of jesus christ. as savior, as martyr, jesus must be white, because white is all that is good. white=light, after all, and light “drives out the darkness.”

all this, despite the fact that historically speaking, jesus could not possible have been “white” (or at least what we would call “white” today, since white as a racial categorization didn’t even exist til about 1650 years after jesus’ birth). white jesus simply defies logic. as hari kondabolu has put it, “two brown people cannot make a Swedish fucking tennis player… Any child or racist can tell you that.”

(go to 2:21 for white jesus specifically, though it’s all great.)

and while we’re on the subject of historical revisionism and christian fantasy, what the fuck do chocolate eggs and bunnies have to do with christ’s resurrection? eddie izzard offers his thoughts:


anyway. happy white(ned) savior resurrection day, dear reader.

‘The Walking Dead’ and the Real Diversity Problem On (Some) Ambitious Dramas

**it’s true, i’m a a little lot bit of a zombie fanatic, and i was originally gonna include my own post on the walking dead (twd) and race here, but i found this one to be as illuminating as anything i could say. anyway, twd/contemporary zombie mania and gender is its own post anyway, so maybe i’ll get to that myself in the future. in the meantime, here’s to a *hopefully* rad 3rd season of twd (and check out the original comics that inspired the series here).**

This is a cross-post from Televisual, by Aymar Jean Christian

UPDATE: The arrival of a new character signals a possible shift in season three.

It’s an old and uninteresting complaint: black characters on TV — and horror movies — get killed or written off too early. Clearly, that is what’s been happening on The Walking Dead with T-Dog. (For a good rant, head to Clutch).

I’m going to try to push the debate further, past “isn’t it a shame characters of color get short shrift.” The truth is the T-Dog Problem signals broader problems with The Walking Dead and some other prominent dramas. It’s a symptom of an ailment the writers might actually care to remedy, beyond appeasing black viewers.

First, the basics. Earlier this season T-Dog told Dale he was concerned about being black and a weak link in the group. This was an insightful moment from the writers, foregrounding the idea that being different after the apocalypse might be a problem — after all, in times of stress, people stick to their own — and an interesting meta-commentary on the fragility of being a black character on TV — T-Dog was a great candidate for a quick kill. Then T-Dog disappeared. I literally forgot all about him until last week, when he had one line that was almost comically interrupted. This week T-Dog was similarly marginal, leading Vulture‘s recapper to state: “By this point, the casual dismissal of one of two minority characters…on this show is feeling extremely suspect. The only thing saving it from being full on offensive is that the same treatment is being given to Hershel’s entire white family.”

The problem isn’t only about a tired debate over representation.

The real problem with T-Dog’s absence is it undermines the point of the whole show. Let me explain.          Continue reading