Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Genderbread Person

The Genderbread Person has been floating around the web for some time in one form or another. The latest version is posted here, and it features a non-continuum style of conceptualizing gender identity, gender expression, etc. Your thoughts?

Click on the image to see it full-sized

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Perhaps you missed the point?

William Saletan has a piece over at Slate on Robert Spitzer's research on reparative therapy (which attempts to change the orientation of participants from gay to straight), and his recent apology and apparent retraction. It's intriguingly entitled "Fifty Shades of Gay: In the political war over ex-gay conversion therapy, sexually conflicted people get trampled," which makes you think "oh, maybe here's a new angle on some aspects of this issue we've been overlooking," right? Except wrong.
Saletan notes that Spitzer's research was initially embraced by conservative religious and political groups who wished to eradicate homosexuality, but now his apology and retraction has been embraced by gay rights groups and others who wish to eradicate reparative therapy. According to Saletan, all this eradicating talk needs to stop already. And here's where things get a little fuzzy. Apparently we need to stop talking about eradicating reparative therapy because there are many individuals on the fringes of homosexuality - who feel conflicted or don't neatly fit into the gay/straight binary - and for them this whole reparative therapy might be effective. Correct me if I'm reading him wrong, but I'm pretty sure that's what he's saying.

Now I'm totally on board with two of Saletan's claims. I wholeheartedly agree that the whole gay/straight binary has gots to go. So does the male/female binary, the virgin/slut binary, and a whole lotta other binaries that we ♥ so much in our culture. I think we can generally agree that binaries with rigid boundaries and harmful social policing need to be replaced with flexible identities and open continuums on which people can express themselves and live their lives in the ways that are most fulfilling to them. I'm also totally on board with Saletan's resistance to the urge to overgeneralize and speak for/conceptualize/attempt to treat groups rather than individuals. No group is monolithic, no two people are the same, etc. Agreed.

But here's where Saletan's argument goes chattering off course so very dangerously. In fact, it is not problematic to attempt to eradicate things in general. Some thing just need to be eradicated. Things like hatred and abuse and oppression. Genocide could be eradicated, and I think we would all agree that the world was better for it. So this blanket prohibition of eradicating things seems a little counterproductive, to say the least.

And this points to a further problem with Saletan's argument. Saletan works from the assumption that homosexuality is not political, it's personal. And maybe in some cultural framework that could be true, but it's certainly not true in ours. Sexual orientation and gender presentation are profoundly political, because we make them political. We distribute opportunities and respect and social power and protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender presentation. We view these things as fundamental to one's identity, and identity is key to so many social and economic aspects of a person's life that that they simply can't be depoliticized. Like it or not, sexual orientation is political.

But beyond these issues, it seems like an important question has gone unasked here. It appears that Saletan is claiming that the fact that reparative theory can in theory be effective for those who are just a little bit gay to begin with (this is a great illustration of the problem with binary thinking and language in itself) means we should salvage it and continue the practice. The idea is, if you're not super hardcore gay, you might be able to become kinda sorta straight after therapy. But the real question that must be addressed regarding reparative therapy is why we want to change people's orientations to begin with. Even if you are in one of those shades of gray that doesn't fit neatly into a box, should we want to alter you in such a way that you do fit in the right box? Even if it makes you sad, or results in you living a life of celebacy and shame? Even if it makes you spend a lot of time thinking about killing yourself?

The point is, we have lots of reasons not to support the practice of reparative therapy, and a number of compelling reasons to work to end the practice, that go well beyond the possibility that it might be effective on a very small population of individuals. To begin with, there are the mountains of testimonials from individuals who were traumatized by reparative therapy. But beyond that, there's the harm contained in the very message that the existence of the therapy itself sends. To put it simply, it says being gay is bad and being straight is good. And there's no coherent way to refute this. Imagine if I started a program that promised to turn left-handed people into right-handed people. No doubt you would ask "what's wrong with being left-handed?" The point is, you cannot offer a cure for a condition without also implying that there's something wrong with having that condition to begin with.

So I agree with Saletan that we need to always consider and include those who don't fall neatly into one of two boxes. I agree with him that we can't act as if groups of people are monolithic. That's what queer politics is all about. That's what countless activists and theorists are advocating every day. But preserving a form of therapy that was coercive and harmful from the beginning does nothing to further that end.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Miscellanea

Happy Friday. Here are some things to mull over as you pursue your weekend activity of choice:

A shocking discovery has been made in China:  having more money doesn't make you happier. Which I think we knew from earlier studies, with the caveat that having enough money to cover your basic necessities does impact your happiness ranking, but once you're out of that ball park, it has little or no effect.

A group of rats that switched up their healthy drinking water for a sweet beverage (aka diluted high fructose corn syrup, or soda, or whatever the popular sugary drink currently being marketed to young children is) experienced a substantial decline in synaptic activity. In other words, sugar consumption appears to make you dumb. Which isn't terribly surprising. And I thought we already had enough other reasons to avoid sugary beverages - especially those with HFCS in them.  ...or any food containing HFCS, for that matter.

An interesting new study examines the relationship between teenage motherhood and economic status. In Why is the Teen Birth Rate in the United States so High and Why Does it Matter? Melissa Schettini Kearney and Phillip B. Levine challenge the dominant view that becoming a teen mom is what puts so many young women in the U.S. on a low-income trajectory. Rather, they argue that more teens choose to have babies when there is little economic opportunity or social mobility available to them. In other words, this study seems to show that the causal relationship (if there is one in this particular correlation of factors) goes the opposite way from how it's conventionally viewed. Girls don't become/stay poor because they get pregnant - they are more likely to get pregnant and raise a baby if they are already on an economically-deprived trajectory. I think this merits some serious conversation.

I've finally started reading Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank.  So far it's interesting, amusing, and fairly light reading. Here's an excerpt on the topic of the hymen:

There simply are no symptoms occasioned by virginity loss that are uniform enough to point directly and unequivocally to the existence of the hymen. One would in any case reason that if there were, or if human beings did possess some innate awareness of the existence of hymens-an awareness, again, that all other hymen-bearing animals appear to lack-it would not have taken us until 1544 to figure out exactly what the hymen was and where it was located in the body. Truly, human beings are not so different from all the other animals that have hymens. We too very rarely have any inkling that our hymens exist.

It seems much more probable, given the importance human beings attach to virginity, that our awareness of the hymen came into existence the other way around. In other words, we became aware of hymens because we are aware of something we call virginity. We found the hymen because we found reasons to search women's bodies for some bit of flesh that embodied this quality we call "virginity," some physical proof that it existed. Humans are not alone in having hymens. We're merely alone in knowing it, and in having given ourselves a reason to care.

What are y'all reading these days?

And finally, a video for your viewing pleasure:

Happy weekend!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

About the whole Bible-and-the-gays thing

No doubt you've heard about the whole brouhaha surrounding Dan Savage's comments on the Bible. Of course, he's just saying what other people have pointed out before, like here, for instance. But this time it's shocking and inappropriate. Notice that nobody has said it's not true. Because it is true. Read the Bible and you will in fact find all kinds of anti-shellfish, anti-cutting your hair in the wrong way, anti- menstruating women, anti-women wearing pants, anti-pork, pro-slavery dictates. Of course these are mostly in the Old Testament. As far as I know, Jesus only identifies one abomination: the love of money. Now there's some food for thought...

But that's not what this post is about. I was thinking about the whole topic of Biblical stances against homosexuality earlier today, which got me thinking about Lot. You know, Abraham's nephew. I remember hearing the story of Lot and his family as a kid. In my church it went something like this:

Lot and his wife and daughters lived in Sodom and Gomorrah (I guess they lived in 2 towns??), which were very wicked (and not in the good way), so God was going to destroy them. At Abraham's request, God sent two angels, cleverly disguised as men, to warn Lot and his family. When they came to town all the wicked Sodomites and Gomorrahites  pursued them, but Lot took the visitors to his home and then defended them against the mob at his door who wanted to sex them up. In the process of defending the angels against the mob (brace yourselves), Lot offered his daughters, whom he claimed were virgins, and told the mob that they could do anything they wanted to his daughters as long as they left the two visitors (whom he did not know were angels, mind you) untouched. 

-I'm not making this up, you guys, it's right here-

So anyway, the angels manage to handle the crowd without handing over the two virgins (who later conceive children with their passed-out-drunk father) to the ravaging crowd and escort the family to safety while Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed with fire and brimstone. Except for Lot's wife, who violated the angels' command by turning around and looking back at the destruction, so she was turned into a pillar of salt.

Things that struck me about this story as a child:
  1. What is brimstone, anyway?
  2. Why salt?
  3. Why doesn't anyone notice or comment on the horrifying way in which Lot casually offers his daughters up to the crowd in place of these total strangers he just met?!?
  4. How is it that Lot's daughters (or anyone in that town) were still virgins to begin with?
Of course the contextual view of this story within my childhood religious environment is pretty important here. The conventional wisdom concerning Sodom and Gomorrah was that they were evil because of all the rampant homosexuality. And I think this is still a very common view in conservative religious circles. The fact that the townspeople were violent and predatory, which is what strikes me now, doesn't factor in to this view. That's not what God hated - it was the fact that they wanted the men rather than the women (it seems like maybe they were just super-opportunistic when it came to sex and would have gone after either option...). The point is, they were wicked because of all the homosexuality.  Which is ironically contrasted with the coercive, incestuous behavior in the following chapter that appears to have gone unpunished.

So somehow Lot appears to retain his "righteous" status in spite of offering his daughters up for gang rape. On top of it, there's a little moral of the story thrown in about strict and absolute obedience, illustrated by the punishment of Lot's wife, which seems a bit extreme for a relatively minor infraction, but OK. It's all very confusing, given the fact that we're also told that God is loving and merciful.

But the larger point is... no doubt the Bible does say some pretty harsh things about homosexuality (and shellfish, and pork, and haircuts, and menstruation, and women wearing pants). But it also has passages in which it appears to be perfectly acceptable to offer your daughters up to a gang of frothy-mouthed rapists, so why exactly are we expecting a literal interpretation of the Old Testament to yield any kind of a foundation on which we can ground a modern society? The fact is, Christians are already picking and choosing which scriptures to follow and which to disregard. My understanding of the process is that 1) we're in new covenant (New Testament)  times now, so scriptures about shellfish being an abomination no longer apply, and 2) a thoughtful Christian will think about God's nature and the spirit of the law behind the Bible and the contextual factors behind specific scriptural dictates, and will try to apply them to our social and historical context as effectively as possible. This means at times you will not follow specific scriptures to the letter (after all, nobody's out there sacrificing goats in the city square anymore) because they were intended for a different time and place.

But maybe that's just me. And I'm a backslider and a black sheep, so what do I know about Lot and his daughters?

A post about how it really should be Friday

You guys.

I cannot get over the feeling that it should be Friday. And I cannot get in the mood to blog about anything serious. I can, however, pass along some totally mindless yet entertaining tidbits:

I'm a tiny bit obsessed with milk glass mugs right now, so I've been shopping for sets of them on eBay.

I really need a set of these, right?

Second, here's a fabulous flash mob video to brighten up a dull Thursday (since as it turns out today is Thursday)

And two somewhat less mindless but equally interesting items:

You really should read this short but fantastic piece What Isn’t for Sale? over at the Atlantic. For what it's worth, the transition from having a market economy to being a market society that he describes so well is roughly the same thing I'm referring to when I mention (aka "yammer on about") Habermas' concept of the colonization of the lifeworld.  Good stuff.

And finally, I was thinking this morning how ironic it is when people reference a person who successfully started a business by borrowing $20,000 from their parents as "pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps." Ahem.  People whose parents happen to have $20k lying around don't generally have to pull themselves up by anything. And suggesting to young people who may be economically disadvantaged that they borrow money from their parents to start a business is ... insulting? ...offensive? ...privilege-blind? Something like that.

Not that I don't like Jimmy Johns. Crunchy pickles get me every time.

Happy Thursday.