Stonewall

This weekend is Pride Weekend in New York City, and in many places around the world. We’re looking forward to marching, to standing under a sweltering sun and watching the revelers pass by. We’re looking forward to the inevitably steeply discounted prices on booze in post-pride happy hours in bars both gay and straight. We’re looking forward to celebrating the victory that is probably the most monumental in our lifetime, marriage equality. All of that will undoubtedly happen. All of us will certainly eat, drink, and be merry. We’ll be decked out in our rainbows, pride flags, drag.

The Supreme Court of the United States has legalized same-gender marriage throughout the United States. There will be many who believe and express the view that the struggle for queer rights officially ended on that fateful Friday in June, two days before the 46th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. They are wrong. The two have nothing to do with one another.

The Stonewall Riots are often lauded as the birth of the gay liberation movement. The Stonewall Inn is a bar on Christopher Street in New York City. During the late 60s, it was one of the very few bars that allowed—let alone catered to—the LGBT community. During this period, there were several laws on the books that criminalized queer behavior (the most famous of these laws dictated that an individual must wear at least three pieces of clothing “befitting” their assigned sex); many urban police departments deployed moral squads to enforce them.

The owners of The Stonewall—there are rumors it was owned by the mob, but that’s disputed—were required to pay off the extremely corrupt New York City Police Department. As long as the owners paid up, the cops left the place alone. This particular fateful weekend, the owners of the bar did not pay the police.

NYPD stormed the bar, roughing up transwomen, drag queens, butch lesbians, and gay men. Usually, our community would take it and be carted off to jail with minimal fight. Not this time. The queer patrons of the Stonewall Inn had had enough. They fought back. They forced the police out of the bar, ripped up parking meters as weapons, used the liquor to make Molotov cocktails, and fought with all their might. The riots went on for three nights.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the riots at Stonewall were not the first of their kind. There had been several, smaller riots in California in the years leading up to Stonewall. Of these, the Compton Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco in 1966 and the Cooper’s Donuts Riot in Los Angeles in 1959 are the most famous.

At the time of Stonewall, same-gender marriage was only a secondary blip on the participants’ collective radar. The big push for same-gender marriage would come some fifteen to twenty years later, during the AIDS epidemic. What the rioters at Stonewall wanted, more than anything, was to be free. Homosexuality, transvestitism, and transgenderism were all considered mental illnesses by the American Psychiatric Association. The police routinely committed acts of brutality—often sexual brutality—against queer people. Queer people were ghettoized, refused decent housing, employment, and health care. Violence, homelessness, and true inequality were rampant.

Leading the charge at Stonewall were trans women, drag queens, butch lesbians, and gay men of all races and social classes. Unlike the LGBT movement of today, it wasn’t driven solely by white, cis, homonormative gay men. We can get back to that. You will have to educate those who say LGBTQ rights are over. You will be discouraged. We will eventually prevail.

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MARRIAGE EQUALITY!

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that same-gender marriage is not only legal in every state in the US but a Constitutional right.

Read the decision here.

This is not the end of LGBTQ rights. We must continue the fight. Celebrate today, but continue the fight.

God bless America.

Clarifying the Non-Monosexual Terms

Bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, omnisexual, oh my! There are quite a few different terms to describe sexual attraction to members of more than one gender. If you don’t have your finger on the pulse of the queer community twenty-four hours a day, it is, inevitably, difficult to keep track of all the blasted terms used to describe those who practice non-monosexuality.

Which brings us to the first and perhaps most important of the many terms, monosexuality. Monosexuality is a word that is used to describe individuals who are only sexually attracted to members of one gender (i.e. straight people, gay men, and lesbians). Non-monosexuals are those who are not monosexual, and are attracted to more than one gender. This term is used very often in queer theory, sexuality studies, and other academic pursuits. I’ve only ever seen in it popular usage on Tumblr. Even though some immature individuals on the internet will use neutral and benign words like monosexual like an insult, which is far from its original intention. The word is only a benign moniker to describe those who experience sexual attraction to more than one gender.

The most commonly known of all terms describing non-monosexuals is ‘bisexual.’ The ‘B’ in LGBT stands for bisexual, as much as people will joke that it does not. There is something of a controversy surrounding the term bisexual, as it comes from the Greek word meaning ‘two.’ However, many bisexuals affirm that their sexual attraction is not limited to only two genders, regardless of what the word means etymologically, as language—like sexuality—is fluid. The term bisexual has been in academic use since the nineteenth century, and it was coined in the same academic setting as ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual.’ It has been in common usage since the mid-twentieth century. The bisexual pride flag, consisting of pink, blue, and purple horizontal stripes, was designed in 1999.

The only other term with the same historical reach in an academic space is ‘omnisexual.’ Superstar sexologist Alfred Kinsey used this term to describe the sexual desire that focuses on pleasure above anything else. Kinsey wrote extensively about how humans were born with sexuality pre-installed. He had observed that even small babies, who would be incapable of engaging in sexual activity, still masturbated, seeking pleasure. He concluded that humans, upon birth, are omnisexual, sexually desiring pleasure, and can remain that way into adulthood. Kinsey also theorized that our omnisexual desire for pleasure may make us naturally bisexual, seeking pleasure rather than a specific sexual partner. This is consistent with the socially constructed nature of sexual orientation.

Other terms to describe non-monosexuality are much more recent inventions. Perhaps the best known newer terms, ‘pansexual’ broke out onto the scene in the mid-to-late 2000s. The creators of the term argued that bisexuality, as a term, was limiting and reinforcing of the gender binary. They used the same basic model that the word bisexual employs, swapping bi (Greek for two) with pan (Greek for all). There has been a fair bit of controversy between the bi and pan communities, surrounding literal translations of familiar words, which I will write about in another post. Pansexuals, to draw distinction from poly- and bisexuals, often say that they experience sexual attraction regardless of gender; gender plays no role in sexual orientation.

Largely born out of the strife between bisexuals and pansexuals, polysexuals continued to interpret the words literally (rather than, I don’t know, listening to actual bisexuals). Essentially, polysexuality, which is another sexual orientation of entirely twenty-first century creation, is the sexual attraction to more than two, but less than all, genders. As someone who isn’t polysexual, it seems that polysexuality is a bit too specific for my taste.

Unfortunately—at least for the sake of clarity—there is another word in the realm of sexuality that begins with the prefix poly-. Polyamory differs from polysexuality (even though they are sometimes used interchangeably to mean polyamory) in that instead of being representative of being attracted to multiple genders, it is the proclivity to being in sexual and/or romantic relationships with multiple people at one time. Open relationships and multiple romantic partner relationships are both types of polyamory.

So, there you have it. A short primer on all things non-monosexual. I hope this helps cut through the confusion with the various terms that exist and often sound as if they mean almost the same thing. Because they do. Almost.

What You Can Do

Since my graduation at the end of last month, I’ve been scrambling to find work. I haven’t been able to find any yet, and I’m growing more than a little disheartened. The work I’ve applied for has not yet been what I’m looking for. I want, more than anything, to be able to help my community thrive. Helping others, preventing others from sabotaging or injuring themselves, building up their confidence in a way that very few people ever did for me, makes me feel extremely fulfilled. It does not seem as if I’ll be able to land a job like that, at least not yet.

I was determined to find a way to continue helping people, even while working in a job I may not love yet. During college, I was lucky enough to have been elected to the presidency of an LGBTQ organization, which, while being very challenging, was extremely fulfilling. The lack of that fulfillment has been very difficult for me.

In the interim, I’ve joined a site called 7 Cups of Tea as an active listener. During the two or more hours I commit to the site every week, people come to me for help. Because my profile is obviously very queer, many come to ask me about being transgender, accidental gay encounters, and how to deal with the crippling pain of parental rejection. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s all anonymous too, which is both really great and sort of disappointing, considering I’d like to know where the people I help are from, how wide my impact has been. At the same time, I’ve been down that stalker road before.

7 Cups chats take place on the site’s instant messaging feature. The person seeking help, referred to as the “Member,” has a randomly generated username. They are instructed to refrain from giving out personal information, though many will use their first names. “Listeners” are allowed to break our anonymity at any time, we just cannot ask a Member to do the same. Listeners over the age of eighteen automatically only listen to others over the age of 18. Teens who sign up to be listeners only listen to teens. Different accreditation can be gained on the site to listen to everyone, but I feel most comfortable speaking only with adults. There are forums on the site for Listeners to discuss their feelings after particularly traumatic chat. There all kinds of really great mental health resource guides.

If you have a few extra hours a week to devote to listen to the problems of needy people online, I urge you to give 7Cups a try.

What Makes Identity?

This post is going to serve, at least for now, for several of the Pride Month blogs. I have written, rewritten, unwritten, and rewritten this post over and over. I have been searching for the reason that this incredibly disturbing story crossed my desk, and I have been searching for the words to describe how I feel about it. I’ve been forced to simmer in my feelings of this, and it feels as if there are monumental updates every day. Here are my views on it as of now.

The internet and the collective consciousness of the United States has been in a tizzy all weekend thanks to the president of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Well, really, her parents. If you somehow read this blog but have no other interaction with the internet, this NAACP president is a woman by the name of Rachel Dolezal. Ms. Dolezal separated herself from her family and moved to Spokane almost a decade ago. When she got there, she decided to change her identity. She began identifying as a black woman: she darkened her skin, wore wigs, constructed an entirely different personal history for herself, and faked very public acts of racial discrimination.

Admittedly, the United States has a very complicated concept of and rhetoric surrounding race. Our history with race is long and extremely complicated, especially when looking in from the outside. We participated, like many of our European cousins, in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We were one of the last nations to outlaw such heinousness as slavery and the trafficking of humans. We did not simply outlaw it, though. We had to fight a war to end slavery. Millions of our own people killed each other for the “right” to own other humans to do the work they could have done themselves. Those African-Americans who did not flee north during Reconstruction faced discrimination and violence on a truly appalling scale. Lynchings, legal discrimination, unemployment, rapes, murders, police who would refuse to investigate crimes against the black community existed all over this country. While African Americans were technically given the right to vote in the 1870s, states and local voting precincts placed undue burdens on African-Americans with the express purpose of disenfranchising them.

Dolezal’s outing sent the internet into a tizzy. People were smearing her, defending her, and, most disturbingly, comparing her story of racial deception to the lived experiences of trans people. The hash tag #transracial was created in support of Ms. Dolezal’s alleged predicament.

Ms. Dolezal has recently resigned from her post as local NAACP president and done interviews with Matt Lauer and Melissa Harris-Perry on NBC and MSNBC, respectively. In these interviews, she has neglected to apologize for the controversy she has created, even to the well-respected and long-standing organization her behavior has now damaged. She has adopted the label of trans-racial for herself and asks that it be accepted as as equally valid as a transgender identity.

This thought creates a rabbit hole in discourse that, if left unchecked, could be irreparably damaging to both the transgender movement and the various black civil rights movements.

Yes, both race and gender are both socially constructed. In fact, there are more biological differences between members of different sexes than there are of different races. This is a strictly intellectual view of the social construct theory. It has no meaning in the debate over transracialism or transgenderism. We don’t live in a vacuum. Theory and practicality are two very different things. Theoretically, because gender is a social construct, trans people should be able to live as they want with no repercussions. A dark-skinned person should be afforded white privilege upon request. We all know nothing works that way.

It is not uncommon that a person has a particular attachment to a culture into which one was not born. It is not uncommon that a person feels disconnected from the people, culture, or role into which one was born. This probably happens every day. I myself have always felt disconnected from the family I was born into. This does not give one the right to choose on one’s own to change cultures or families. Gender is malleable. Roles, careers, relationships are malleable. Cultures and families are much, much less so.

Trans-racialism is not a thing. I, as a white human who often advocates for immigration reform, cannot decide tomorrow to wake up and declare to the world that I am Latino. Aside from the fact that I am unable to speak Spanish, there is nothing in my lineage to indicate that I am Latino. I have never been discriminated against on the basis of my skin color, language, or ethnic origin.

To make the comparison between trans-racialism and transgenderism is flawed on either a theoretical or practical front. From a theoretical perspective, concepts of race are extremely narrow and restricted to a specific culture. Since there is no biological basis of race other than skin pigmentation, each culture determines what this means for themselves. The American concept of race is steeped in a bloody, violent, disturbing history that is almost entirely exclusive to us. South Africans have their own violent history with race, but it is very different from our own.

Gender, on the other hand, is more or less the same. Many cultures seek to understand gender from a biological sex perspective. The roles of various genders differ, the methods of determining whether or a person belongs to a non-binary gender differs, but there are far more congruous aspects of gender to us as a species than there is race. It would be impossible to compare the way Americans understand the differences between “white” and “black” as it would to compare those same principles to those understandings in, say, India.

From a practical standpoint, the lived experiences of black and white bodies in the United States are very different, just as the lived experiences of trans- and cisgender people are different. Black bodies, like trans bodies, are subjected to heightened scrutiny, viewed as lesser beings than their white/cis counterparts, and subjected to violence that would be anathema to the dominant cultures. Neither black nor trans bodies have any say as to how they are. One cannot choose to be black any more than one can choose to be trans. They are experiences from which there is no escape or choice.

Race is a social construct, and that fact alone is what has everyone so confused regarding Rachel Dolezal. If it’s a social construct, why can’t someone be trans-racial? It’s not that kind of construct. Race is constructed insofar as our understanding about what our features or skin pigmentation mean. Our features and skin color are not constructed, they are there. They are unavoidable, in most cases. Ms. Dolezal has attempted to gain something by “identifying” as black. What it is, I’m not sure. I’m not sure anyone’s sure. She has made an ass out of herself. She has made a mockery of the black community and the trans community alike. “Transracial” and “transgender” are not synonyms. Let’s stop that kind of discourse right now.

I want to apologize again for my silence. I’m not even sure this post makes any sense. I wanted so badly to write something on this subject and hit roadblock after roadblock in my mind. Sorry. I’ll be back to normal tomorrow, I swear.

(Belated) Pride Day 13: Top V. Bottom

I apologize in advance for this. I’ve gotten very annoyed that now that I’m out as a bi trans guy, the first question people want to ask is “top or bottom,” as if those are the only two choices.

The False Dichotomy of Top and Bottom

A quick glance at gay culture reveals dichotomies largely built on hetero- and cisnormative gender lines. There are butches and femmes, tops and bottoms, doms and subs. Sexual behaviors, for some reason, have become social identity. What kind of a fucked up, self defeating attitude is this?

To be honest, the butch/femme culture in the lesbian community challenges heteronormative paradigms in a way that the top/bottom and dom/sub communities don’t. However, no one is perfect and we live in a really heteronormative world.

Why is it that sexual identity, gender identity, and social presentation are so bizarrely linked in the queer community? Is there some aspect of this that imposed upon us by hetero society? Why is it that tops feel pressure to present themselves as hyper masculine and that we assume that all femme guys are bottoms? Why is there this need to recreate gender norms in spaces that try to subvert them?

Why should we, in re-creation of hetero society, restrict ourselves sexually or socially by their constructed limitations? Why should we deny ourselves pleasure in upholding an unnecessary and arbitrary framework of exclusivity?

Think about that the next time you’re tempted to ask me whether I’ll “be a top or a bottom now that I’m a dude.”

Pride Day 12: Queer Fairytales

As in all minority communities, the LGBT community has access to very few stories that represent our individual struggle in the world. We have very few major characters that we can identify with and love when queer characters are so-often presented in a negative light. While LGBT fiction and memoir are finally starting to pick up steam, we have historically had to change the nature of stories to add queer elements where they once did not exist, usually only in our own minds. I’d like to share one of the stories that I revere as my own queer fairytale.

My favorite film as a very small child was Disney’s reimagining of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Released in October of 1996, it was one of the first movies my parents took me to see in theaters. I was hooked. I owned a plush Quasimodo, the film on VHS, the soundtrack on CD, an Esmeralda Barbie doll, and a plush Jolly. Most of these objects did not survive into my adulthood, but that Quasimodo plush is on my bedside table and the soundtrack is saved—in mp3 format—on my cell phone.

I’ve seen the film a couple of times as an adult, most recently a couple of months ago after it was added to Netflix’s streaming library. The film has exceptional cinematic quality, both as a musical and as one of the most visually striking of Disney’s hand-drawn animations. It was, of course, a very odd choice as a novel-turned-film for Disney, but they found a very fascinating balance between the darkness of Hugo’s original nineteenth-century work and the innocence required of Disney.

Watching this film again as an adult made me realize just how much I could still identify with the character of Quasimodo. I was raised in a very strict Roman Catholic household in the southern part of the Midwest, where conservative politics was inextricably linked with a belief in God. I was forced to undergo full confirmation into the Catholic church, even after I had lost my religion as a queer person. I related to Quasimodo’s being trapped in the bell tower of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Quasi grows up in almost total isolation. His primary caretaker, Judge Frollo, represents traditionalism, the law, and oppression; he constantly reminds Quasimodo that he is a monster and unworthy of love. This experience and the feelings of despair that Quasimodo embodies are unfortunately very relatable to me as a queer person growing up in a conservative place.

Quasi also symbolizes an atypical form of masculinity that I find very appealing. His atypical masculinity comes at a cost, however, as he loses the love of Esmeralda to the more traditionally masculine Phoebus. Quasi’s masculinity is not founded on violence the way that many male characters in the film are. Quasimodo is gentle, loving, artistic, naive, and optimistic. He rarely uses force and routinely underestimates his own resolve. He is a protector, but one that refuses to demean those who society would place beneath him.

Quasimodo’s physical deformity can also be seen as allegorical to mental illness, something that is rampant in the queer community. His life trajectory would also indicate that he would also suffer from some amount of anxiety and depression, the way the two thirds of American adults are.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is, for me, a queer fairytale, as Quasimodo symbolizes so much and a more equal society is born in the aftermath of the climax.

What are some non-queer queer Fairytales that are meaningful to you?