White People and the Bigger Ferguson Picture

The events that are occurring in Ferguson are important to all of us.  Not should be.  Are.  The very least we can do as allies is stay informed as events move forward.  If you have not been following along, start now.  There is great reporting to be found from those actually in Ferguson.  On television, check out the best work from Chris Hayes on MSNBC and Jake Tapper on CNN.  Some of the best first-hand accounts and reporting are on Twitter, so check out St. Louis alderman Antonio French (@AntonioFrench), the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery), Buzzfeed’s Joel Anderson (@blackink12),  Vice’s Tim Pool who has been live-streaming (@Timcast), the Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) and for how Washington D.C. and the Department of Justice are responding, Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidner (@ChrisGeidner).  These are just a few, and the Ferguson hashtag is also informative.

This all began with the killing of an unarmed teenager.  The story of Mike Brown and its resolution are extremely important.  The best reporting will follow it as it unfolds through the continuing release of information and criminal proceedings, and that conversation will continue to be important as we all pay attention, as it should be.

Knowing that, I want to consider the larger issue this specific situation has brought to the forefront.  There are a multitude of complicated problems that have arisen through the protests in Ferguson and the police response.  The militarization of American police forces.  The subjugation of freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.  Criminal elements taking advantage of peaceful protests.  The depiction of black people in the media.  The imagery the press focuses on in depicting protests.  The control of the narrative.  The list goes on.

These are all important things to address as a country and society.  However, at the root of the entire situation is the issue of racism and the racial divide in our country.  It is a systemic problem that we cannot keep ignoring.  It is about all of us, and it affects all of us.

Every time an incident happens that creates enough response to bring a situation involving race to the national dialogue, we get close to having the real discussion.  We tip toe on the line mentioning a “racial component” so we can nod to the root issue.  Then we focus intensely only on the specifics of the situation because they are easier to deal with than the systemic problem.

There is a very real danger that in the case of Mike Brown, this will happen again.  Make no mistake, I’m not diminishing the importance of justice in this case.  However, if defeat or victory is based only on the specific result of this case, then regardless of the outcome, we can “move on” when it is done.  Again.  Like we have done in every other race-based crisis.  Black people invariably bring up for discussion the elements of the greater problem along with each of these situations, but the white majority population focuses on addressing the specific instance as an isolated moment rather than an ongoing cultural issue.  Once it is over, we leave the greater problems rooted in racial disparity behind.  We cannot keep doing that.

As white people, seriously, as white people, we have to acknowledge there is a massive problem.  Whether Darren Wilson is convicted of a crime or not, the problem will still exist.  The ability to believe that our justice system will deal fairly with the facts and evidence of this case is proof of the great divide.  Many black people do not believe justice from the system is ever possible.  If the outcome of this case is in line with their understanding of the facts, it will be viewed by many as a welcome exception, but not a new rule.

We have to acknowledge and begin truly understanding that black people experience our America in a fundamentally different way than we as white people do.  Many white people get upset at the mention of white privilege, as though it somehow devalues their accomplishments in life.  It does not.  That is not the point.  To stop listening there just reinforces the very concept.

We have to be willing to listen.  Black people are speaking loudly through the specific lens of the Mike Brown case, but the issues they raise are rooted in the systems of our culture.  If Ferguson is shocking, it’s only because we have not been paying attention.  Many black people’s distrust of the police, the justice system, voting procedures, educational opportunities and government at every level from community to federal is based in their lived reality.

We can argue with it, we can say they should not feel that way, we can say it will not get better if they do not believe it will get better – and we will simply show ourselves to be in denial of reality because we are afforded the ability to believe it is not true.  That it is not many of our experience does not make it less real, it makes it that much worse that it is the experience for so many.

It can be seen in the simple difference in the way we teach our children about authority figures in society.  I was taught to respect the police.  That’s it.  And the same goes for the vast majority of white people.  Ask any black person, regardless of socioeconomic status or location in our country, how they teach their children to interact with the police, and then sit back for a complex monologue on behavior and attitude.  And that’s just one extremely simple example.

We have to let black people lead this dialogue.  We cannot direct the narrative, or tell them what we think they are saying.  We have to be able to hear and understand the true differences in the way they are treated in our country, and then together we have to figure out what we can do about it.  Dismissing their experiences is arrogance.  Denying their examples is willful ignorance.  Ignorance afforded by our long history of built-in privilege.

It is not simple.  There are certainly no easy answers.  Showing up for the conversation prepared to acknowledge that there are actual differences across everything from voting to job opportunities to education to services available in urban areas is the very least we can do if we want to be a part of working toward solutions.

We cannot be defensive.  We cannot be dismissive.  We cannot continue to deny that if we are not actually and actively working to make it better, we are making it worse.  If you’re response to any of this is to say, “but they…” followed by anything, you’ve missed the point completely.

I attended the National Moment of Silence in Los Angeles organized nationally by Feminista Jones (@feministajones) and others last Thursday.  I wanted to do something while genuinely unsure of what that should be.  At least I could add one more body to the crowd saying “what’s happening in Ferguson is not okay on so many levels”.  People of every color were in attendance, and there were other white people sharing my question of “but what can we actually do?”

It is easy to point to Donald Sterling-style overt racism and say “that’s racist” and then feel comfortable denouncing it knowing that “we’re certainly not like that.”  It is much harder to see or acknowledge the more subtle ways we each support systemic racism by enjoying the advantages of being white in America and doing nothing to equalize those advantages for people of all colors.

Doing nothing contributes to racism in our country.  It bears repeating – when we do nothing, we are contributing to perpetuating racism in the systems of our country.  In proportional representation in all levels of government.  In law enforcement.  In all forms of entertainment.  In beauty standards.  In so many small ways we do not even notice that all add up to a truly enormous amount of social, political and economic inequality.

So, to return to the difficult question – what can we do?  As white people, how do we contribute to real change without appropriating the dialogue?  To discover the answer we must first show up, we must then sit back and we must truly be willing to listen to perspectives and experiences that are fundamentally different from our own and acknowledge them as definitive reality in order to amplify black voices in finding and creating actionable solutions that get us closer to an America where equality is an experiential reality for all of us.

Before we can do anything, we as white people, with all of our systemic privilege and power, have to, all of us, admit that racism is an ongoing problem that we all perpetuate if we are not active in the fight against it.  And we have to keep talking about it.

National Moment of Silence 2014 for Mike Brown and Ferguson, Leimert Park, Los Angeles

National Moment of Silence 2014 for Mike Brown and Ferguson, Leimert Park, Los Angeles

There are lists of actions here and here and a wealth of information about the history and current landscape through, you know, google.

Posted in Human Behavior, In The News, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

An Ivory Response to an Ebony Frustration

Dear Ms. Mannie,

I found your piece for the Daily Mississippian, shared widely by TIME here, to be both thought-provoking and more nuanced than many of the responses have allowed.  I also believe the importance of various minority subcultures to be able to have dialogue with each other is vital to working toward greater equality for all of us.

Many responses have focused on discounting, dismissing or dismantling your perceptions and conclusions.  I don’t find that productive as it tumbles quickly into the “oppression Olympics” that everyone proclaims they abhor yet often feed into so easily.  I would rather contribute to continuing a conversation.  It’s important that we be able to have dialogue rather than screaming firmly planted monologues at each other and calling it discourse.

Much of the response is focused on the “can we/can’t way or racist/not-racist” aspects of your issue with the behavior of some white gay men.  To explore it from a different perspective, I’d like to consider where this behavior originates.

Within the vast array of minorities, there has long been a particular affinity between sizeable amounts of gay men and black women.  I like that, and really, more than that – I love that.   I also understand how our familiarity at times can be perceived as crossing your “much thicker line” between appreciation and appropriation when viewed from a distance or when the parties involved do not know each other.

The greater issue of appropriation and the way in which many things, particularly in the arts, are appropriated from black culture and introduced to mainstream culture through white artists with greater visibility rather than lifting up and promoting the black artists and communities that created them is a massive problem.  One society-at-large must continue to address.

I’d rather stay here in the gay white men/black women relationship.  Because I care about it.  You’re absolutely right.  As white men, we will never come close to understanding the experience of being a black woman dealing with the intersectionality of two distinctly different and equally potent kinds of oppression.

I’m about to venture dangerously close to “Not All…” territory, so I hope you’ll give me leeway for a moment because I truly believe this is the journey for the greater majority of the white gay men who engage in these behaviors you feel are appropriation.

The root basis of our behavior with black women is this – we admire the hell out of you.  We are absolutely in awe.  For the very reasons you stated.  You cannot hide that you are a women when you leave the house.  You cannot hide that you are black when you leave the house.  So instead, so many of you have learned, despite the massive obstacles and oppression it comes with, to leave the house loudly and proudly, embracing who you are and demanding to be included and accepted equally at the table without having to compromise any aspect of your identity to the patriarchy or white culture.

And that. Is freaking. AMAZING.

You mentioned that we retain so much privilege because what is denied us could float back to us if no one knew we preferred the sexual company of other men.  When we were doing that – hiding our identities to maintain appearances – in the closet, wrapped in the privilege our ethnicity and assigned and accepted sex provide, we were dying.  Some of us actually did.

Enjoying the benefits of the privilege you describe came with a steep cost in shame and lack of self-worth.  We cannot actually allow that privilege to float back to us without destroying ourselves, and when we were cloaked in it like some kind of privilege skin receiving those benefits before coming out – it never fit because we hated ourselves for hiding and lived in fear knowing that, for many of us, the true revelation that would end our privilege would also lead to total rejection by our families, churches and communities.

Standing in that closet, where we looked like just any other white men at the top of the privilege pyramid, for many of us it was a special kind of hell.  And there, in that place where we were so terrified that revealing who we actually were would be world-ending – we saw you.

The proud, and honest, and authentic black woman.  In myriad forms.  The musical divas we adore for the fearlessness of their lyrics, performances and conquering of a challenging industry.  The iconic black women in television and film who embody characters we adore with performances we admire.  The girls in the club proud of bodies in all shapes and sizes that do not conform to mainstream magazine beauty standards.  The hair choices.  The bold approach to patterns and colors in fashion, jewelry and shoes.  The girl down the street who walks the sidewalk like a runway.  The mother in line at the grocery store that clearly made a decision long ago not to take crap from anybody.

We saw you.  We saw so many versions, types and expressions of you, but with a seemingly shared cultural decision to be strong, present and accepted for the very things that make being a black woman a challenging path in our society in the first place.  And we fell in love.

You are right in some ways about our privilege.  Many of us who could hide, and did hide for far longer than was healthy.  Because we could.  Because we were ashamed, because we were terrified and because we just were not quite brave enough yet to step up and step out to face the hatred and vitriol that so often comes with revealing who we are.

I understand your great issue with the line between appropriation and appreciation.  I do think it’s important.  I also think it’s important to note that what constitutes appropriation is different for different people in various circumstances.  I also get the “sassy black girlfriend” stereotype most greatly perpetuated by Hollywood is a maddening thing for the black female community knowing that you, collectively and individually, are so much more than that.  We have our version of that archetype character that many in our community find equally frustrating and limiting.

I believe it is natural that we often pick up the conversational habits and behavioral mannerism of our friends and idols.  I talk far more Texan around my friends from the south, I get a little valley girl with my producing partner’s daughters and sometimes I kiki in African-American Vernacular English with my black gays and black girlfriends.  I watch Ryan Gosling as a study in acting (okay, fine, and for the abs), I learned to smize from Tyra Banks, and I watch the Real Housewives to figure out how far is too far in plastic surgery.  I’ll happily admit Atlanta is still my favorite.

Some of the generalized mannerisms that slide into caricature territory that it seems like you most likely take issue with I would qualify as the place our two communities meet in the middle which can always be messy.  I would call it, for simplicity’s sake, “black drag queen.”  On the spectrum between gay white men and black women there are a number of stops that I think contribute to your frustration and hopefully explain some of the feelings of ownership white gay men have launched back at you.

Drag queens exaggerate and play with masculinity and femininity.  Many gay men of color who could not hide or “pass” have chosen to proudly embrace overt femininity and the drag community sort of mixes it all together.  White drag queens often adopt the vernacular of their black counterparts and the language and mannerisms mix and mingle.  Then those of us who sit in the audience in awe take on the empowering elements of the combined total feeling as though we are all one big mass of individuals attempting to slap back at the judgment of the conservative and controlling societal hierarchy in the strongest way possible.  The reality is, many black women do that better and with more panache, wit and flair than almost any other minority group.  And again, because it bears repeating, we absolutely love that.  It’s inspiring.

I think one of things we can all agree on is that assuming someone is going to respond to you a certain way based on a stereotype is terrible. You’re right that to roll out my best head-popping, sass-talking stereotypical imitation to any black woman I encounter is offensive because limiting someone to only being a stereotype is offensive.  I feel the same way about white girls who want me to be “one of the girls”.  I know what they mean, but it’s irritating.  I’m gay, not a girl.

So, I’m willing to begrudgingly admit that I am not a fierce, black woman.  But I just want to maybe provide a bit more insight into why some of us find it an aspirational thing to be, to embrace and yes, at times, to imitate.  After all, that so much of white, patriarchal society puts you down and limits you for who you are as black woman, I hope that underneath the irritating-at-times aspects of our ridiculous behavior, you can see the very genuine compliment it contains.

As a skinny, gay, white man who grew up with all of the perceived privileges that you did not, but was hard-pressed to appreciate them for my own feelings of being a fraud, I stewed in shame and low self-esteem for too long.  I would stand in the shower (okay, fine, I still do sometimes) and let my “inner black girl” sing “And I’m Telling You…” from Dreamgirls believing for a moment that I was Effie because I wished I had her strength, related to her pain and loved the way she expressed it.

I don’t want to claim your blackness.  Or your womanhood.  I know my “inner black girl” is not real.  I also do not intend to insult you by referencing her to embody traits I wish I had more of and expressed more regularly.  I have learned, and had the benefit of time to do so that you did not, to be confident in me – as you had no choice but to do.

So, let’s make a deal.  Some of us white gay men do need to work to ensure that we never presume when meeting a black woman that she is going to fulfill some of the regular stereotypical aspects of a black woman that we find to be fantastic, amazing and inspiring.  We should allow her to be a full and complete person and appreciate her regardless of what kind of person she chooses to be.  If we remember to respect her beyond the stereotype, I hope you won’t begrudge those of us who do the hip pop, finger snap and “yasssssss, girl” if she proves to be one who is happy to purse her lips, tilt her head down and quip back with “alright queen” because she does see the appreciation and the “imitation is the highest form of flattery” intended in our clumsy display of admiration.

All of this does not necessarily change anything, but having these discussions is important to ensuring that as minority groups we continue to respect and strengthen each other.  And of course there are white gay men who are genuinely inappropriate.  Who presume too much.  Who assume familiarity without first being invited to do so.  That is an expression of some kinds of privilege.  They should behave better.  (And possibly, at times, I personally should behave better.)  I just believe that a much greater majority of us mean it as far more than appropriating your identity for laughs or limiting you to the characteristics we like best.  When we’re out of line, you should call us on it.  I hope that the rest of the time, you can see it for the tribute and expression of love and appreciation it truly, truly is meant to be.

Posted in Gay, Human Behavior, Social Issues | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“So Sexy” – A Hollywood Party

It’s been a while since I shared in my Social Adventures series, so here’s a random amalgam from a successful attempt last night.  I promise no great insight, just mild amusement.  Off we go.

I attended a fun Hollywood party last night for a magazine at an event called “So Sexy” (yes, legitimately, the name) intended to be for the young and attractive in Hollywood. It certainly was, with gorgeous, stab-yourself-in-the-face-because-you’ll-never-look-like-them people everywhere. It was a great and fun time and a great venue, very well done by the magazine. However, the highlights for me personally (being the slightly twisted people watcher that I am) were as follows:

1) The incredibly long line for the red carpet.
This happens at lots of events. It’s part of the process. (that we did not do.) What made it AWESOME was the increasing level of attitude, indignation and general bitchiness from those waiting to do the red carpet. Not the legitimately famous people, you know the ones, with a talent, that they are known for, which they actually do well.  No, it was all of the others.

Dear not-actually-famous people: a) they don’t need to take your picture. b) you don’t need to have your picture taken. c) that magazine employee, PR company intern is not actually going to do their job faster or better because you express repeatedly how annoyed you are at them for the process taking so long.  Believe me, they want you gone faster than you want to be gone.

2) The entire cast of Van Der Pump Rules was present (except for Jaxxxxx – how many Xs are there? – who rumor has it, and by rumor, I mean someone said they heard from someone who was there with a friend of a girlfriend of a PA on the show, was unavailable because he was getting a nose job. WHAT?! Awesome.  Can’t wait for it be unveiled on the next season of Van Der Pump Tolerates The Worst People In The Entire World Who All Sleep With Each Other Because That’s What Pretty Awful Pretty People Do.)

3) A girl actually said, mid-sentence “Be Right Be”.  As in, not “Be Right Back” or “BRB” as in text speak, but a weird awful slangy mixture of both.  I hate love her so much.

4) A stunningly beautiful girl stood in front of me and awkwardly adjust one of her breasts.  Then she reached in her top and adjusted it further.  I surmised (correctly) that she was adjusting padding.  “Problem with your chicken cutlets?” I asked knowingly.  Wide eyed, she laughed, “Yes, it’s slipping!”  Nodding I offered, “take them out then!”  “I should,” she said wistfully.  “Do it, I’ll stay close, know one will see, and you will be free!”  And then we did.  Just that.  And she yanked them out, waived them around laughing and handed them to her friend.  Obviously I’m in love with her.  Remember kids, it’s all smoke and mirrors.  (She’s still a 17 on the 1-10 scale of pretty, or “So Sexy” though, cutlets or no.)

5) In the “not famous at all, but pretty enough to figure out how to get invited” category, there seems to be a direct skirt length and tightness to brain power ratio.  I don’t have the exact formula down, but yeah, wow, some pretty people really haven’t gotten to the “some day your looks will fade” realization.

6) This was said, during the cutlets adventure.  “Oh, I could introduce you to my doctor.  He’s actually here. (looks around) Right here. (points)”  We did not need to ask.  Her plunging V-neck dress and gravity-defyingly perky breasts made it very clear.  THAT doctor.  Sweet of her to offer though.

7) Aaron Samuels was there.  I mean, I know he has a real name, but he’ll always be Aaron Samuels to me.

8) So was Barbie Jesus from the Real Housewives of Orange County.  I do not know her name.  Still.  And I’m okay with that.

9) Nearly the entire cast of Hit The Floor was present, and they spent a massive portion of the evening tearing up the dance floor, truly not caring about looking right and being seen, and I love them so much for it.

10) There is nothing more entertaining than watching people trying to figure out if someone is famous, “famous” or just attractive without actually staring at them.  It can involved a weird amount of sideye staring, scanning back and forth without stopping entirely too many times, or the awkward walking back and forth in front of them too many times without any apparent reason to do so.  People are hysterical.

10)  It’s possible that we walked the red carpet on our way out only so we could do “weird douche guy” pose and then “girl who learned to pose from America’s Next Top Model: The Porn” pose.  Because people who take themselves too seriously trying to get their picture taken are amazing.

Okay, that was the highlight reel from the ridiculous people.  They aren’t actually even the people it’s supposed to be about, but they are the reason you can always be sure any Hollywood shindig will be a good time.  The magazine threw a fantastic event filled with a great group of great-looking people.  I had highly entertaining conversations with smart and interesting people I didn’t know, which is always a bonus.  This is not always the case.  When doing events, I take a “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst people in the world to make it the best” approach.  This was a win on both.


Posted in Entertainment, Human Behavior, Social Adventures | 1 Comment

24 Things To Do In Front Of The Buzzfeed Offices

Buzzfeed has changed the way all of us look at lists.  No longer do lists come in nice round numbers like a top ten, or the hundred best – no, lists can be of 37 things or 49 things or 17 ½ things with a bonus.  Buzzfeed listicles permeate our very existence now providing us with lists from the important to the inane to remind us how many things there can be lists of that we did not know that we absolutely needed to know (because we do.)  Here is our tribute to Buzzfeed for taking away so many productive hours from our lives, and we thank them for it.

1) Recreate the Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil Pose

Yes, it was originally done by monkeys.  But we read somewhere we are 98% the same as monkeys anyway.  We’re not sure where we read it, but it was probably on a Buzzfeed list.

Yes, it was originally done by monkeys.  But we read somewhere we are 98% the same as monkeys anyway.  We’re not sure where we read it, but it was probably on a Buzzfeed list.

2) Wait in lineIMG_0990small

They have to open up again eventually.

3) Catch some raysIMG_0982small

It’s important to never forget that hard-to-tan spot under your chin.  This system was good enough for Magda in There’s Something About Mary; it’s good enough for us too.

4) Wear hipster glassesIMG_0957Asmall

They make you look smart.  Everyone knows that.  And besides, we have it on good authority that 73% of the great minds that work at Buzzfeed wear them.  So there.

5) TailgateIMG_0969small

Who needs a sportsball match or truck?  You can tailgate with any car trunk. Don’t let drunk southern sporstball afficiandos tell you differently.

6) Take a selfie1Bsmall

So everyone else knows it really happened.

7) Take a selfie with someone taking a selfie2Bsmall

So it looks cooler and you get a second Instagram moment out of it and advertise your great eye as a photographer.

8) Take a selfie with someone taking a selfie with another person taking a selfie3

Because the selfie is the epitome of new media art.  It is post-modern and self-referential so we must all continue to attempt to take a selfie better than the Oscar selfie (which still seems like cheating, Ellen).

9) Be not famous like Shia LeBeouf1small

Shia LeBeouf removed the stigma from putting a brown bag over someone’s head that frat boys created so long ago.  We honor him for that.  And hope it gets us cast in an Indiana Jones movie.  Or at least a music video with full frontal.  Disclaimer – Shia, this is not plagiarism, it is tribute.

10) Be a hashtag activist2small

Because we all know that the perfect hashtag might not change the world, but it might actually draw dialogue and attention to an issue that truly needs awareness.  And you can wear sweat pants while you do it.  #StillOnTheCouch #Blessed #FullSentenceHashtagsAreStillFunny #THEYTOTALLYARE

11) Steal someone’s purseIMG_1027small

Because all the cool people have been arrested once for something and with jail overcrowding you would probably just get morgue probation with a Disney star in their “STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO” identity crisis phase.

12) Realize it goes better with your outfitIMG_1030small

Because the wrong purse ruins an outfit, and some people cannot be trusted with fashion choices.  And Tyra taught us that the broken doll pose ALWAYS WORKS.

13) Olivia Pope-ingIMG_0945mall

A fabulous coat, a glass of wine and a cellphone are all you need to basically run the world.  This we learned from the almighty Shonda Rhimes.  We’ll never be Kerry Washington, and when that makes us sad – there’s still the wine!

14) Recreate the most iconic moment in all of film for all of timeIMG_1051small

WHAT?! IT TOTALLY IS!!!! We Will NEVER let go!

15) Make a mistake the night beforeIMG_0974small

But ya know…Always be prepared.  (You have seventy-two hours, which is nice, because sometimes you’re still drunk the next morning and he doesn’t seem like a horrible Coyote Ugly mistake until the next, next morning.) #TheMoreYouKnow

16) Act like someone just said the funniest thing you’ve ever heardIMG_0962small

Action shots always look terrible.  No one looks good laughing, except for maybe one half-second and no one ever takes the picture in that perfect moment.  Don’t embarrass your friends by taking awful pictures of them laughing.  This shot is completely fake and frozen.  Friends don’t let friends take candids.

17) Go to the bathroomIMG_0992small

Los Angeles has entirely too many establishments that do not have public restrooms.  Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.  Or invest in those adult diapers that worked for Lisa Nowak, the astronaut kidnapper.  Or some of those Whoopi Goldberg pee pads in those commercials we always fast forward through.

18) Bring planking backIMG_0994Asmall

Planking seems really easy though, so we’re not sure what all the fuss was about in the first place.

19) Support animal printsIMG_1044small

Every year animal prints run the risk of going out of style.  We cannot just leave it up to the ladies of the Real Housewives of Everywhere to keep them in style.  It takes vigilance from all of us.

20) Direct trafficIMG_0943small

Because if you want to be an air traffic controller, being a volunteer ground traffic controller seems like the legit unpaid-intern-doing-it-for-experience version of that.

21) Start a book clubIMG_1014small

Because Oprah had one.  What other reason could you possibly need?

22) Try to remember how books work for your book clubIMG_1019small

The thing is…these “book” things seem like a serious commitment.  Do you have any idea how many tweets it would take to equal a book?  (To that one person that counted up the number of characters in a book and divided it by 140 to tell us – go outside, make a friend, wash your hair.)

23) Play in trafficIMG_1012small

Because jaywalking is totally fun.  And we’re bringing skipping back.

24) Read a Buzzfeed listIMG_1047Asmall

There is no better place on earth to enjoy the wealth of knowledge in a Buzzfeed list than standing in front of Buzzfeed.  It is the new media Mecca and we have reached the end of our social media hajj.  It’s all downhill from here, folks.

**BONUS – OR, just skip it all and go for Mexican across the street!


You can stalk us.  If you want.  But don’t make it weird.  It’s totally the kind of thing we would (and do) do though.  Make it weird, we mean.

Emerson Collins: @actuallyemerson IG: emersoncollins

Stacey Oristano: @staceyoristano IG: staceyoristano

Blake McIver: @blakemciver IG: blakemciver

Guest star:  Josh Crotty: @joshcrotty45


Posted in Entertainment | Tagged , , , , , | 58 Comments

An Open Letter to Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann suggested that the gay community is bullying Americans and politicians.  You can read the full article and hear the clip for yourself here. This is my response.

Dear Michele Bachmann,

I would like to provide you with a definition of a word that, for all your legal experience, you seem not to comprehend. The word “bully” has become a buzzword, a convenient way for adults who are losing an argument to shut down the conversation. When your back is against the wall, you call someone a “bully” and if they don’t allow you to gracefully exit the argument you get to say, “SEE! They ARE a bully.”

Except, that’s incorrect. “Bully” is defined variously as “a person who uses superior strength or power to harm, intimidate or influence those who are weaker.”

Now let’s reconsider your words. “…the gay community, they have so bullied the American people, and they’ve so intimidated politicians. The politicians fear them, so that they think they get to dictate the agenda everywhere.”

Let’s consider the fallacy here, shall we?

In order for it to be true that the gay community has “bullied the American people” you have to be admitting that the gay community has superior strength and influence to all of the American people. Even the most generous figures put the LGBT population at 10% of the whole, and as we can be discriminated against legally in many states in employment, housing, partner/spousal benefits and many other ways, it’s difficult to find supporting evidence that would demonstrate that the power differential – in any situation – weighs in our favor.

Sure, it sounds good to call us bullies, but let’s be honest Michele, you’re just pissed that we’re fighting back, fighting back well, and winning. And you know why that is? Because we actually HAVE a lifetime of experience being bullied to know how to handle it when one comes for us. We aren’t the scrawny kids hiding in the bathrooms and running from dodgeballs anymore, but the wit and intelligence we learned to handle those situations with, yes, we’ve turned that on you. You brought this on yourself. You taught us to fight back intelligently and fearlessly with all the tools we have by first attempting to teach us that we were less than, second class, or somehow undeserving of equal protection under the Constitution you so loudly claim preserves your right to be a bigot.

Not to mention, as much as you seem not to like it, we are American people. There’s a logic gap in your statement that would mean we are bullying ourselves. Unless of course you attempted to imply that by being gay we are not American? I’m sure that’s not the case. (Well, I’m not totally sure, but this one time, I’m actually going to give you the benefit of the doubt.)

I would imagine as a woman succeeding in two very male dominated professions, you have actual experience with being bullied. Bullied by those with more power than you, bullied by chauvinists, bullied by those above you and with more power than you threatened by your intelligence, your looks or your success. I’m sure you can understand then, why it is so incredibly offensive to our community that has a long history of being bullied on the personal level by individuals and organizations in the communities we grew up in, and on a community level by those who continue to attempt to ensure we are treated like second-class citizens because they do actually wield enough power to swing elections and influence politicians by the sheer numbers they command, that you would suggest that we are somehow the bullies because you do not agree with us.

We are not bullying you. We are standing up to you. And there is a world of difference between the two.

A final note – You said the politicians fear gay people. Well, the actual word for this is “homophobia” and I’m sure you didn’t mean to state that politicians are homophobic, did you Michele? Or maybe, just maybe, you finally admitted it out loud. After all, you are one of those politicians Michele. Are you homophobic Michele? Are you afraid of us?

Well, good. You should be.

Posted in In The News, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 188 Comments

The Real Victory in Arizona

This evening Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062 and ended the journey of a piece of legislation designed to enshrine the ability to discriminate against the LGBT community under the guise of religious freedom.  The viral attention the passing of the bill received led to an enormous amount of social, political and, most importantly, business pressure on the Governor to veto the law.  And she did.  And that is certainly cause for celebration.

The celebration is not for Governor Brewer; she is still the same Governor who championed Arizona SB 1070, the harshest immigration law in the country. She made racial profiling the law, unless we’re going to pretend that law enforcement in Arizona stopping likely illegal immigrants is also stopping all of the kind white people they meet and assuming they are Canadians.

After the national media firestorm focused on Arizona, many of SB 1062 supporters backed off of the anti-LGBT sentiments, but early on they stated very clearly that this was in response to a court case in New Mexico against a Christian photographer who refused to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony.  Later, the claim was made that this was about protecting the ability of individuals to hold their religious beliefs publicly and in business, not about being anti-gay.  However, since being gay is not one of the protected classes in Arizona, while race, religion, age, sex, disability and even HIV status are, the combination of these two laws would have essentially created the legal right to discriminate only against legally unprotected LGBT citizens in housing, employment and services and claim that it was because of deeply held religious beliefs.

Today’s victory is not in the veto of the bill.  The real victory is that this idea to protect religious-based bigotry was introduced as actual legislation and then it was socially, politically and economically torpedoed.  Here’s why.

There has been an ongoing theme in the farthest right media that there is a war on Christianity happening in our country.  They propose the idea that Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs and complain that the only publicly acceptable intolerance in our country is intolerance toward Christian principles and beliefs.  They scream this loudly every time they oppose marriage equality to shut down the discussion of equal treatment under the law.

The impact of this idea permeates more subtly into mainstream media coverage of LGBT rights.  When someone states that their opposition to gay marriage is based in their religious beliefs, the conversation stops.  Every time.  There is no push back from the interviewer as they try to respect the speaker’s first amendment right to freedom of religion.

The result is that it has continued to propagate the idea that bigotry against the LGBT community is acceptable if it is based in religion.  It has been the motivating factor behind state constitutional amendments defining marriage, and it has been allowed to continue because no one in the media wants to say to someone “well, then your religious beliefs are bigoted.”  Even though they are.

Arizona finally showed us what happens when that desire to proclaim bigotry as a religious principle is taken so far as to be articulated as a law not related to the marriage discussion.  This law took the complicated nature of using the word “marriage” out of the equation and made it simply about bigotry.  It simplified the issue into an even more black and white scenario.

The opposition response was overwhelming, and that is important.  Marriage may be a complicated word for many religious individuals, but equal treatment on other fronts, based on the coalition of individuals, organizations and businesses disgusted by this law, is quite clearly not.  SB 1062 was finally a clear cut example of trying to legally hide bigotry behind a religious shield.  They pushed too far, and they lost.  Dramatically.  And we as a nation needed to see that happen.

It has not mattered how often those who support marriage equality have drawn parallels to how religion was used to oppose equal rights for African-Americans, the right of women to vote and interracial marriage.  Those who oppose gay rights refuse to see it.  They believe they are being persecuted.   They believe they have the constitutional right to proclaim their religious beliefs.

And they do.  They just don’t have the right to make the law of the land in accordance with their religious beliefs, or be applauded for being bigots.  They don’t have the right to discriminate in their businesses because of their religious beliefs either.

There has been an ongoing refusal to acknowledge the reality that religious beliefs are not excluded from the judgment of society and the fact that an individual holds an opinion because it is part of their religion doesn’t make it more valid than someone who holds an opinion because unicorns dancing through a field told them they should.  They are all opinions, and all subject to acceptance or rejection by our greater society.

If your religion believed murder was a tribute to God, murder would still be illegal.  If your religion believed that short people carry a plague destined to destroy humanity, you could not attack the vertically-challenged on the street.  And if your religion believes that gay people are going to hell, you still have to serve them if they show up at your restaurant.  You cannot fire them because of who they love.  You can claim they are destroying the family and fabric of society, but you cannot demand that the rest of us agree with you or even that we hide our disgust when you make such claims.

The real victory in the widespread derision of Arizona’s SB 1062 is the clear example it sets that yes, you get to believe anything you want if it is a part of your personal religion.  However, you do not now, nor will you ever, get to make the laws of our cities, states and nation match your beliefs if the rest of us believe they enshrine the ability to treat even one single American as a second-class citizen.

So, thanks Arizona!  Sorry for all the crazy your intelligent, accepting and welcoming citizens have had to deal with for the last week, but the object lesson was incredibly and vitally necessary.  To the other states with similar legislation pending – we’re coming for you too.

Posted in Gay, In The News, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Michael Sam, Sportsball and Me

I’ll be honest.  I am not a fan of football.  So much so that to the amusement and often the irritation of my friends, I regularly refer to it as “sportsball” to proclaim proudly my ignorance and disinterest.

Football and I never had a chance.  In sixth grade P.E. class the coaches corralled us all on the field to teach us (well, those of us that didn’t already know) the rules to football through flag football games.  We were a sea of adolescents in matching red short shorts, but not the cute kind obviously.  Our matching slate gray T-shirts, appropriately colored to match my mood at the start of the period every day, each had a rectangle mid-chest where there was only enough room to write one’s last name in magic marker.  A testament to penmanship and resignation, we knew that’s the only name that would be shouted for the duration of the interminable period.  (What’s with that sports last name thing, by the way?  As if one is less likely to hustle when called by first name? But I digress.)

Even then, I was one of ten or so boys who chose not to learn to play football and instead went off to play kickball for those weeks.  I was taller than average, but the kind of thin that is politely called slight, but is more appropriately labeled “oh my god you’re so skinny a stiff breeze would blow you away” and the idea of throwing or catching a ball while someone ran full-tilt at me seemed a terrifying and unnecessary way to end up with broken glasses or a broken face, so I skipped out.

Many of the other boys went on to join the seventh and then the eighth grade football teams.  I, obviously, did not.  Those boys grew in popularity while I stayed comfortable in my own little world of music, theatre and the mathletes (yes, math + athletes = mathletes…because it’s just an awesome way to say “please, pick on me, I’m clearly asking for it.”)

In high school, the importance of football exploded exponentially as the boys on the freshman team became a special kind of super star, befriending upperclassmen and cheerleaders by the armload on their way to the junior varsity team and then the brass ring of the letter jacket-wearing varsity team along with an all-access pass to the inner circle of the social hierarchy. Meanwhile, I played the French Horn in the marching band.  Thus, I was on the absolute last rung of the ladder of those required to be in attendance at the Friday night football games, jockeying for position with the students who worked the concession stand as a part-time job.  At least they could offer free popcorn to buy their way up the ladder if they so chose.  I’ll admit that even attending every single school football game, I never actually learned the rules of playing.

My adolescent experience with football was set against the backdrop of suburban Houston, Texas.  The massive high school I attended had theatre, band and choir programs that were some of the best in the state.  Our drill team was number one in the nation and we excelled in many academic areas as well.  However, it was Texas, and absolutely everything rose and fell on the wins and losses of the football team, and there was nothing given more importance than the celebrity-culture of that team.  The entire world revolved around it and exploded with operatic frenzy for every. single. game.

From the time I was twelve years old, the worst player on the last string of the football team was more popular than the best individual at any of a myriad of other activities – well, essentially all other activities.  Even if they lost every single game they played.  Successful male athletes were considered to exemplify a special brand of masculinity.  The football players were on an Olympian plan above all others.  They ran in packs, bonded by the field of play in a way the rest of us could not relate to and thus were excluded from.

For many like me, those football players were a special brand of terrifying during the fragile years of being an awkward teenager.  Admittedly, some of that was from my own fear, my own self-doubt and the strange warping effect that puberty can have on one’s self-perception.  Some of it was the way some of them acted.  As if they were better than everyone else.  As if it gave them the right to intimidate anyone not in their club.  As if simply being in their class, their way or at times even just in their eyeline made it okay for them to hurl abusive, emasculating comments at those they deemed inferior. “You throw like a girl.” “Pussy.” “Go cry to your mom about it.” “Fag.”

This is not in anyway to characterize all athletes, all student-athletes or all adolescent boys as a bullies or anti-gay.  I have no doubt that many of them were then and others have grown to be fantastic individuals.  The simple fact is, for those of us on the receiving end of taunts or criticisms often led by the biggest and strongest of the football players, it was much easier to avoid being noticed by any of them than to wait and find out whether they were the good kind or the other kind.

I’ve grown out of those early fears.  My life is just fine without football.  I did eventually learn the rules from watching my frat boy roommates play Madden in college as they finally explained what “first and ten” means.  (Yes, seriously.)  However, I will continue to refer to their “costumes” and ask about their “rehearsals” and offer every time that “they really should end these performances with a curtain call” because it amuses me to frame a world that terrified me once in the terms of the world where I felt most comfortable.

I don’t hold the sport of football responsible, after all, it’s “just a game”, and I certainly know that incredible and terrible people can be found in every profession, hobby or sport.  However, there is a strange cultural clash between what some boys are taught about what it means to play football, the kind of man you have to be to succeed at playing football and the stereotypical perceptions of what it means to be gay that have long been in conflict.

The world of the NFL is in great upheaval at the moment because of Michael Sam’s public revelation that he is a football player aspiring to join the professional world who also happens to be gay.  I was excited for Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers and the openly gay athletes in a number of other sports, but I hold a special appreciation for Michael Sam and his willingness to be the first in football and carry all of the baggage that has and will continue to come with that.

Football is as American as it gets.  It’s as masculine as it gets, from that certain point of view.  As the gay community gains momentum in equality through legislation and the courts, it is moments like this one with Michael Sam that will contribute equally by impacting our culture and perception of what it means, and more importantly what it doesn’t mean, to be gay.  Tolerance is a decent start on the road to acceptance to the destination of indifference – until it just doesn’t matter one way or the other if someone is gay.  The positive and negative extremes in the responses to Sam demonstrate that we aren’t there yet, but actions like his move us forward.

It moves all of us closer to the universal understanding that being gay has nothing to do with masculinity.  It has nothing to do with athleticism.  It has nothing to do with skill, or success or aptitude for any of the varied abilities that allow an individual to rise to the highest levels of any sport, art or profession.  Even more importantly, being gay isn’t a threat to your way of life, your masculinity, your heterosexuality or your ability to do the job you are hired to do to be working, playing or performing alongside someone who happens to be gay.

And maybe, just maybe, as Michael Sam continues his journey and is able to focus on doing the work of his chosen profession, his efforts, his success and the similar examples of those who will inevitably follow will teach a new generation of boys who fall in love with the game of football and end up in that special realm of the uber-popular that there isn’t any reason a gay kid can’t be there too.  Because no one will care.

Because that way, a boy like I was can know that even though he doesn’t and wouldn’t want to play football, it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s gay.  He’ll know it’s not that he can’t or shouldn’t play, because he can hold up the example of Michael Sam when someone shouts those awful words at him as though they make him less masculine or less of a man unable to compete at the highest levels of athletics and say, “it’s not that we can’t play football, it’s just that I personally don’t want to play.”

And I like football just a little bit more knowing that.  So thank you Michael Sam for giving even those of us who have no idea what you do someone we can look up to as another brave example of the simple fact that nothing about who we are should ever impact what we can achieve.

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The Public Trial of Mia Farrow

Disclaimer:  I do not know Woody Allen.  I do not know Mia Farrow.  I do not know Dylan Farrow.  I say this because some of the commentary on both sides of the current public discussion seems so definitive that it would require such first-hand knowledge.  So to be clear, I do not have that.

That said, here are the current family statements that cut to the core of the debate ranging across all forms of social and online media.

  • Dylan Farrow stated that Woody Allen sexually abused her as a child.
  • Ronan Farrow supports her in this.
  • Mia Farrow supports her in this.
  • Woody Allen stated he did not sexually abuse Dylan Farrow.
  • Moses Farrow supports him in this.

There are an enormous amount of other facts, suppositions and inferences to be gleaned from the original accusations and accounts, the more recent statements by the various family members and the endless series of articles analyzing them to arrive at conclusions of guilt or innocence.  The facts, the original allegations, the various testimonies, the nanny, the siblings, the tweets – it can all be overwhelming to sift through and come to a personal conclusion.  So, let’s simplify.

Dylan Farrow, as a grown woman, recently published her first-person assertion that she was sexually abused by Woody Allen in a blog for the New York Times.

Thus, for those who feel the need to decide and have a firm opinion of Woody Allen’s guilt or innocence in this family tragedy, there are three choices.

  1. Believe Dylan Farrow.
  2. Believe Woody Allen.
  3. Believe Dylan Farrow believes what she is saying, but that it is not actually true because Mia Farrow indoctrinated this version of events into her as an impressionable child.

Those who definitively believe Dylan Farrow are led by sexual abuse victims, victim’s advocates and those close to abuse victims.  Those who believe Woody Allen are led by fans of his work and those who doubted the events when they occurred in the first place.

When this exploded surrounding the Golden Globes tribute to Allen with the tweets from Ronan and Mia Farrow, there was a great deal of public artistic soul-searching about the ability to separate the appreciation for the artist’s work from the artist and their actions.  At the time, the argument was framed by some in the middle as a discussion of allegations and art that was challenged by abuse victim’s advocates who asserted that the lack of prosecution in the original case did nothing to diminish the veracity of the allegations.  It was mostly a conversation about art and the guilt or responsibility associated with enjoying the art of an alleged pedophile.

Then Dylan Farrow’s account was published.  Suddenly, those defending Woody Allen with the fact that he was not prosecuted were faced with having to call Dylan Farrow a liar in order to continue to maintain Woody Allen’s innocence.  Except for a select few die-hard supporters, most Allen defenders shied away from saying outright that Dylan Farrow was intentionally lying.

This led to a growing number of Allen defenders arriving in the third category.  They now say that Dylan Farrow isn’t lying, she believes what she is saying, but, and it’s a big but, she only believes it because Mia Farrow convinced her as a young girl that it had happened which burrowed itself into her as a permanent memory.  She’s not lying, she just doesn’t know the truth.  It’s not her fault; it’s Mia Farrow’s fault.

The result is that it allows Woody Allen defenders to sidestep Dylan Farrow completely to focus on attacking Mia Farrow as a Svengali Medea willing to warp, manipulate and sacrifice her children on the altar of her desire for vengeance against Woody Allen.  It means Mia is on trial, rather than Dylan, through a complete dismissal of Dylan’s most recent assertion that the abuse definitively took place.

Understanding the facts and attempting to discern the motivations for various parts of the original allegations and the ensuing investigation is enormously complicated if one digs deeply into the details of the original scandal, the family relationships and the various accounts available.  When family members are publicly calling each other liars and there are questions on both sides about the original course of events and the motivations behind the events now, it’s tragically messy to wade through.

Rather than positing on the specifics of conflicting accounts and details, there is something to be gained from the spectacle occurring by considering the implications of who we are inclined to believe.  Is your instinct to believe Dylan?  And why?  I am not unbiased.  I will readily acknowledge that my personal worldview and experience that victims often have a difficult time providing the evidence of abuse needed to lead to a criminal conviction, regularly face disbelief and added damage from the process and publicity and the difficulty they have coming forward in the first place leads me to always be inclined to believe the victim.  I know that’s my bias and where it comes from.

Is your instinct to defend Woody Allen?  And why?  If the evidence convinces you that Allen is to be believed, how do you discount Dylan Farrow’s account?  Is she simply lying?  What about her, her account and her current life far removed from entertainment makes this easier for you to believe than that she is telling the truth?  If she is telling her truth, but it is Mia Farrow’s creation, what about the convoluted series of events and machinations it would have required on Mia Farrow’s part – for a lifetime – is it easier to believe than it is to believe Dylan Farrow’s blunt and simple statement?  Why is it easier to put Mia Farrow on trial than it is to believe Dylan Farrow?

It’s much easier to debate the character and choices of Mia Farrow than it is to call Dylan Farrow a liar, but going after Mia in order to dismiss Dylan in the defense of Woody Allen is a smokescreen.   How far down the “it’s all Mia’s fault” rabbit hole are you willing to go?  What does it say about your worldview if it is easier to believe all of the convoluted elements of that line of thinking than it is to believe Dylan Farrow is speaking the actual truth?  To defend Woody Allen, you have to call Dylan Farrow a liar.  You can do that, just acknowledge that is what you are doing rather than trying to hide that fact in an attack of misdirection on her mother.

For many, there is so much information and opinion-based reporting to wade through, it’s easier to stay in the “I just don’t know” category in this instance.  I would caution zealous advocates for Dylan Farrow from aggressively attacking those who admit that they have a difficult time reaching a definitive conclusion in this case.  The lack of willingness to choose a side in a public opinion trial that is rapidly becoming a no-holds-barred family feud is not the same thing as being against victims of abuse, or even a sign of general indifference.  Save the most heated rhetoric for those who seem completely unwilling to consider that the abuse could have happened at all.

It is not beneficial to the cause of sexual abuse or sexual assault victims to vilify those confused by this particular case of as generally complicit in the difficulty of sexual abuse victims.  It is instead an opportunity to continue to educate the uninformed about the challenges abuse victims face in confronting their accusers, achieving justice through legal means and healing from abuse.  In that, I do think it’s beneficial for all of us to consider who we are inclined to believe instinctively, why we are inclined to do so and what that says about our perspective on and understanding of sexual abuse.

Shining a light on the behavior of abusers and the experience and needs of the abused to encourage education and awareness is likely to be the only genuinely positive thing to come out of this broken family’s tragedy; let’s just make sure the light is focused in the right direction.

Posted in Human Behavior, In The News, Social Issues | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Addiction Is Not “Just Like Cancer”

The death of a celebrity with the involvement of drugs or alcohol is unfortunately happening often enough that a frustrating pattern in the public reaction can be discerned.  It happened with Heath Ledger, Cory Monteith, variations on the theme with both Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston and most recently this weekend with the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.  The extremes in the reactions seem directly proportional to the general level of respect for the celebrity and their work, and with Mr. Hoffman’s passing the conversation exploded.

The reactions, completely over-generalized for the sake of further discussion, go something like this.

  • News organization: Celebrity dies. Drugs and alcohol likely involved.
  • General Public: WOW, it’s newsworthy, I should say something.
  • Group A: What a loss, I loved this person/their work.
  • Group B: This is sad, I feel bad for the friends and family.
  • Group C: This is an absolute tragedy, addiction is terrible.
  • Group D: They did this to themselves, a tragedy is troops dying in war.
  • Group C: No one chooses to be an addict.
  • Group D: They had the choice to do drugs or not every time they did it.
  • Group C: You’re uneducated, it’s a disease!  Just like cancer.

Obviously there are subtle shadings to each version of this, but the theme of this oversimplified conversation has played out repeatedly when this kind of death occurs, and it usually devolves quickly from there.  The unsympathetic will call the subject “stupid” or “selfish” and some with personal experience with addiction will translate that to their own lost loved one being called those things and it becomes a screaming match about “not blaming the victim” versus “personal responsibility” and the opportunity to educate others about addiction is lost in a battle of semantics and comparison, the importance of understanding completely lost.

The thing is, addiction is not just like cancer.  There is an obvious appeal to the ability to draw the comparisons that are typically used to help those uneducated regarding addiction understand its seriousness and complexity.  Remission is like being sober, relapse is a possibility no matter how long it has been, it’s an ongoing struggle, it dramatically changes the individual and has an enormous impact on their loved ones and the way they operate in the world.  And more basically, it’s just truly awful.  For those who have intimate experience with addiction either as an addict, a health professional or the friends and family of an addict, the comparison seems to serve well in relating the severity and ongoing struggle of addiction.

Unfortunately, when using it in an argument with someone who does not understand addiction, or has little or no experience with it, the comparison is useless because it shifts their mindset immediately to presenting you with all of the ways that addiction is not like cancer.  Not only are you not getting them to understand the devastating nature of addiction, they aren’t actually thinking about addiction at all.  They’re now thinking about cancer.  They often inevitably first respond with the “choice” objection.  No one chooses cancer. Lung cancer from smoking can be volleyed back, and the various elements of the nature of addiction that remove choice from the equation can be explained, but the problem with all of this is that this apples and oranges conversation is now an exercise in defending the cancer comparison instead of educating the uninformed about the complexity of addiction.

Ultimately, it’s just a terrible argument, no matter how well intended.  When it is said, and I’ve watched it said repeatedly just in the last twenty-four hours, it’s often thrown down like a trump card.  The speaker wants the opposition to understand that addiction is a truly terrible and insidious disease.  This is an important conversation and is absolutely true.  Addiction is terrible.  For the addict and for those who love them.  The more we collectively talk about the disease of addiction, the more we remove the stigma from those who suffer with it and provide the opportunities they need to ask for help, work toward healing and learn to live a life fighting against it in the way that works best for them.

Almost everyone has an addiction story, whether personal or in their friends and family circles.  While there are threads that run similarly through many, each individual addict’s journey is unique.  This compounds the challenge of explaining it to those who do not understand it.  Despite general traits in common, when you can be addicted to anything from gambling to meth, it’s hard to explain it quickly.  The combination of the biological and genetic components, life circumstances and personality traits that makeup each addict is different, and this makes dealing with it unique to each person’s circumstances.  The desire to help those who are addicts, the will to educate those who are uniformed and the understanding that the more we talk about it the easier it is for it to be addressed are all incredibly important to fighting this disease.  Because it is unique.  And despite similarities, it is not “just like cancer.”

It is a disservice to those who have been lost to this disease, those who are in the throes of it now, those who struggle to keep it at bay on a daily basis and to those who love or have loved and lost an addict to lose ourselves in an argument of semantics about what addiction is not with someone who is uniformed instead of using that time and energy to focus on educating them about all of terrible, challenging and complex things that addiction actually is.

Unless, of course, you know an addict with cancer who says they are exactly the same, and then they can say it as often and as loudly as they want.

Posted in Human Behavior, In The News, Social Issues | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Trouble with “Tranny”

Actress Gabourey Sidibe made headlines today for an interview with Arsenio Hall where she repeatedly used the word “tranny”.  You can see the video, the reporting and her subsequent apology here.  It was quickly picked up by social media and the following debate ranged from “shocked and appalled at her transphobic bigotry” to “*eye roll* whatever tranny” within the LGBT community.

The transgender community has made it clear that the term is a slur and it should not be used.  GLAAD and other organizations have publicized this when it has been used publicly and a number of individuals from Neal Patrick Harris to Lance Bass have issued apologies for using it.  For those active in LGBT advocacy it has been a no-brainer for some time.

However, the conflicting reactions today seemed to arise from the various experiences individuals have had with the usage of the word, and who it was being used by or about.  The definition online (sketchy at best since the term is given credit as only existing since the 1960s) includes transsexual, transgender and transvestite.  There is a great explanation of the main popularization of the term by pornography and the impact of that in creating the pejorative context for the transgender community here and a response moderating that perspective on the same site here, though both are truly in reference to the transgender community’s own use and perception of the word, not the usability for cisgender individuals.

Many of the “shocked and appalled” responders seem flabbergasted by those who don’t – or didn’t before now – know it was a slur.  Though by the number of people whose comments in several conversations I watched today they didn’t, it’s worth considering the reasons.  First and foremost, it seems the greatest contributor is the continued lack of awareness of the needs and experiences of the transgender community.  I documented my own admitted lack of knowledge recently here, and it’s something I’m actively working to change.  So, it seems many people weren’t aware it is a slur because they just aren’t familiar with the struggles of the transgender community.

The second challenge goes back to the groups included in the definition, specifically transvestites.  Drag queens, transvestites or crossdressers – “tranny” is also a term that some in that community call themselves or each other.  This extends further to fans and friends of, most often, drag queens using the term in this context.  RuPaul famously defended the use of the word, angering many in the transgender community.  However, for the “*eye roll* what’s the big deal” responders, specifically gay men, not being willing to listen and understand the transgender community’s perspective is disrespectful and insulting.  You don’t have to “mean it that way” to be unintentionally contributing to the problem.

It seems clear that in any situation you default to the needs and experience of the group that has and continues to experience violence and vitriol, so the deference is clearly to the transgender community who in the LGBT rainbow still struggle far more significantly with legislative and societal acceptance.  Educating on the subject, specifically and especially within the LG (and let’s be honest, mostly the G) part of the community is important.  For the vast majority of us who are neither transgender or transvestite, these episodes should make it clear it is past time to stop using the word and let the drag queens and transgender advocates parse out the specifics for themselves.

In that, the unwillingness of some who are “shocked and appalled” to acknowledge that the word has and is used in other ways while still trying to stop it seems counter-productive.  In my own experience in my early years within the gay community, and I say gay because it included few lesbians and even fewer transgender individuals early on, I only ever heard the word “tranny” in the context of drag queens, or someone cross-dressing for a night for the fun of playing with their sexual expression – and it was always celebratory and positive.

My experience with the community and understanding of the damaging complexities of the word have grown since then, but I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable to acknowledge this usage and experience by others similar to me while explaining how the seemingly harmless usage in that scenario does not balance the painful experience of the transgender community.  It’s possible to continue educating each other without the pretext of “this is the only thing it has ever meant, ever, to anyone.”  I mean, for many cisgender heterosexual men the word describes first and foremost a car part.

For all practical purposes, knowing part of our community finds the term hurtful and often accompanied by violence or sexualized objectification means they deserve deference from the rest of us.  However, in explaining that to others, insulting their different experience or lack of awareness of the pejorative aspect is not a productive means of arriving at further understanding for any of us.  Being aware of an individual’s intentions should still play a factor in the nature of the response and efforts to educate them.  Some people deserve to be screamed at and others deserve a modicum of patience; knowing the difference between the two and tailoring responses to the specific circumstances gets all of us further and faster toward understanding and respect.

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