If I could time travel without, like, disrupting the space-time continuum, one of the many things I would tell a younger me would be that: It's not the interest in appearance that's wrong, it's how you do it. Fascination with the visual is something as broad as the history of human signing (as well as something that underlies ubiquitous ableism in the social and built environment, since not everyone has the ability to see said visual). Sometimes I like to put it in perspective for myself like this—if I were thinking about non-Western cultural and aesthetic forms, I would be less likely to criticize and more likely to think about these practices as a way of being culturally competent, enjoying shared symbols, and evoking continuity with a cultural history.
I'm an affectionate person, almost everyone I've dated or been friends with commenting on that. But whenever I am out in public with my fiancée, I become self-consciously affectionate. Not because I'm concerned about what nasty thoughts people might think about seeing such queerness, but because of what they fail to think.
This post is about what I consider to be one way of being the change I want to see. I think of it as a small public education intervention that I do almost every day.
We're elaborately taught how to relate to ourselves as gendered beings. It's been a long time that people have been building on the critical observation that there's no natural connection between pink/girl or boy/blue, yet kids continue to be the targets of aggressive marketing that creates profitable niche interests—a collection of stereotypes from which gender binarized consumers are "free" to choose—and of subtler gender conditioning (as my friend Ember is finding out, swaddled babies, though indistinguishable, are praised as pretty or strongdepending on how parents advertise their sex). I've mentioned how a lot of kids are skipping the closet and, consequently, finding themselves at the forefront of advocating respect toward sexual difference. What about trans youth? There's been increasing attention to "gender creative" or "gender independent" kids as social space opens up in which to discuss, rather than repress, their behavior. Could these terms reflect a reluctance to apply the concept of transgender to youth of a certain age because of its association with sexual identity (I am thinking specifically here of the historical, medical roots of trans-related descriptors in the West that have stemmed from the word "transsexualism" coined as "transsexualismus" in the early 1900s by Magnus Hirschfeld and later "trans-sexual" by Harry Benjamin in the 1960s)? Conversely, does the usage of the trans label problematically continue to lump the T in with the LGB? (Not that the B gets much visibility, either).
A few posts ago, in Slut Shaming and the Empowered Young Woman, one reader commented on the way that asexuality is written out of a lot of the most visible debates on what it means to be mature, empowered, and sexually self-aware. She also observed that asexual feeling, identity, and relationship practices are so nonexistent in pop culture that it's almost impossible to know where to begin analyzing it. In her high school experiences as well as in mine, dating was one of the biggest status symbols you could achieve, and it was fairly well assumed that dating was the gateway to rounding those bases and scoring a home run, as it were. (I've never been too clear on that base analogy, and the fact that it doesn't really seem to translate for GLB people isn't its only problem.) As The New Goodnight Kiss documents, for some young people, sex has become a lot more openly casual than what I remember. But that activity still has a lot to do with teenaged pecking orders, even as it may also have to do with fulfilling experiences of sexual freedom or the development of positive relationships for some young people. So what about asexuality and youth culture? How do kids learn to associate certain values with being sexual and not being sexual?
After seeing the headline "Catholic School Board Raises Concerns Over Teaching Homosexuality in School" the other day, I got to thinking that there's still a lot of confusion about "inclusive" education. Teaching homosexuality!? What exactly does that mean? Here's my take on the question based on the headlines in my home province of Ontario, a supposed bastion of mythic Canadian "tolerance."
Kids are indeed the future and so they're also the site of great moral panic. As more kids are skipping the closet, debate rages on about what is appropriate to "expose" young people to—which also raises the question of what is appropriate to acknowledge as already existing in young people's experiences. And because it is easier to recognize the specificity of queer sexuality, sociality, and familial forms in the face of unmarked mainstream culture—where hetero love stories provide the narrative framing for most cultural products—youth and non-normative sexuality are a fascinating and revealing combination. (Maybe my next post will be on why the Disney Princesses have made the "PC" leap to include a princess of color but won't be advertising a lesbian princess any time soon?) So in this series, I want to ask: How have discourses of sexuality and gender been transformed in the context of youth? Who gets to speak for kids? Where do young people receive their most influential messages about the values around sex, sexuality, and gender, and their proper performance?
The School District held an investigation you see, nothing too formal, they just sat down amongst themselves and members of the community, and decided they didn't have a bullying problem. Members of the community formed the Parents Action League, to make certain the neutrality policy, the policy forbidding teachers from acknowledging that queer people exist, stays in place. They formed a group whose sole purpose was to make sure that the conditions that led young people who were queer or perceived to be queer to take their own lives did not change.
In May, Tennessee's legislators came very close to passing a bill that make it a misdemeanor for teachers of K–8 students to talk about homosexuality. Dubbed the "Don't Say Gay Bill," queer activists were unsurprisingly upset about its progress through the General Assembly and state Senate, although it hasn't been made law yet. Across the country, in California, new Governor Jerry Brown just signed into law a curriculum requirement that textbooks in his state include the contributions LGBTQ people* have made to society. With these large gaps in philosophy regarding how we talk (or are prohibited from talking) and think about queer people, what are the consequences for future generations of Americans? And is there anything to interpret from these moments of contradistinction?
Earlier in this series I did a post on the bluestockings and a Facebook commenter suggested I do a follow-up piece on Japanese anarchist feminists. I thought now would be a good opportunity to mention them and some more feminerd forerunners from around the globe, including Kurdistan, Indigenous North America, and even ancient Babylon.