Femme FATale


fail: kanye west
February 21, 2009, 5:49 pm
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i’m going to start this off by saying that i love kanye west and his music. i appreciate a lot of the politics he incorporates into his tracks. i think he has an incredible knack for combining wit and truth and packaging it up with some beats that you never, ever want to leave your head. i’m a long-time kanye fan from back in early 2000 when an indie hip-hop boy from a neighboring college attempted to woo me with the promise of mix cds featuring “unheard of” artists. kanye was on there and i instantly fell for him and not the hampshire boy who thought i could be so enamored with the new music he was giving me, that i’d forget he was a male-born dude. it might have killed him a little to know that his very cds became the soundtracks to the makeout sessions with my handsome then-gf. oh, the irony and sadness of unrequited collegiate love!

have i convinced you though of my fondness towards kanye west? because i require this preface in order to say that he managed to piss me off this week and in a really backhanded way at that. i say backhanded because i initially found his praise of gay folks as “really, really extremely dope,” a nice show of allied support. this awesome tidbit is, however, couched in an article focusing on how kanye west is, single-handedly, taking steps to “reinvent” the word “gay” from one that is, supposedly only negative to one that is positive. as a response to mainstream straight folks’ use of the word “gay” to describe anything that sucks, again, i appreciate the effort.

but kanye west wants to do more than just make “gay” positive again. he wants to, as i said earlier, “reinvent” it to be a positive portrayal of good taste in fashion, specifically. why? because all us homos can dress ourselves well, apparently. he’s been quoted in a pink news article as saying:

“I haven’t gone to a gay bar, nor do I ever plan to. But where I would talk to a gay person, the conversation would be mostly around art or design, it’d be really dope. […] From a design standpoint, kids’ll say, ‘Dude, those pants are gay.’ […] If it’s good, good, good fashion-level, design-level stuff, where it’s on a higher level than the average commercial design stuff, it’s gay people that do that. […] I think that should be said as a compliment. Like, ‘Dude, that’s so good it’s almost gay.'”

i don’t know about you, but i don’t want any words that people use as identifiers, especially marginalized identities at that, to be “reinvented” by a) someone who doesn’t ascribe to that identity and b) detaches it from its original meaning and attaches it to something as, trivial in comparison, to fashion. truly being an ally would, in this case, be kanye west stopping after calling gay folks dope and speaking out to reclaim gay as positive and to thwart those who use it to describe something as stupid or bad. defining a whole new meaning and interpretation to an identity and distilling it down to a superficial quality of some gay folks, is not only arrogant and appropriative, but just insulting. i much more appreciate the ad council commercials (two of which feature wanda sykes and hilary duff!) that specifically target the bogus and rampant “that’s so gay!” with some wit and snark.

kanye, i heart you and your music and, as a queer, i appreciate you aligning yourself with queer struggle and calling out folks for repeatedly equating “gay” with “bad.” i’m thrilled to have such a high-profile powerhouse on our side, but dude, don’t be stealing identities, introducing new meanings, and simultaneously erasing an entire history of struggle for folks to proudly call themselves “gay.” you are the leader of the hip-hop world, but your reign doesn’t allow you to be appropriative. we’re not forever on the outs, kanye, but this week, you get a fail.

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fail: jerry lewis.
February 8, 2009, 11:37 pm
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jack assi’ve been writing a post for the past 3 days, on and off, trying to articulate what i’m feeling these days about the overall reception/treatment of femmes in some parts of the queer community and trussing it to some experiences of my own lately that have left me feeling pretty raw and dissatisfied. i’m hoping to finish it up tomorrow and to hear back a bit from my extended femme family and allies about our experiences.

in the meantime, though, my very dear, very brilliant friend emily and i wanted to help get the word out on legendary problematic comedian jerry lewis and the petition that is circulating to protest the anticipation of his receiving a humanitarian award at the oscars on feb. 22nd. lewis is well-known for his telethons for kids with muscular distrophy, which are really, truly eye-raising (in bad, bad ways). here’s more on that from emily:

Jerry Lewis has long been protested by disability activists for his infamous telethons for “Jerry’s kids,” children with muscular dystrophy. Though Jerry Lewis may have good intentions, his telethons are deeply problematic, as they encourage pity for people with disabilities and paternalistic charity. Many in the disability rights movement have come together to protest the telethons, but Lewis refuses to listen to those he supposedly seeks to help, and Lewis once responded to a protest, “You have to remember they’re sitting in chairs I bought them…. These 19 people don’t want me to [raise money]. They want me to stop now? Fuck them. . . Do it in caps, FUCK THEM.” Yet, he will be honored this year at the Oscars and receive a humanitarian award. Check out http://thetroublewithjerry.net/ to sign a petition and find info about how to protest the event. Pity is not progress. It is especially relevant that people support this protest in the name of Harriett McBryde Johnson, a disability activist and writer as well as one of Jerry Lewis’s earliest and loudest protesters, who passed away this year. Here’s one more offensive Lewis quote to leave you with: he said that a disabled individual is “half a person,” and snapped, “[If] you don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair, stay in your house!”

clearly, jerry lewis is the last person who should be receiving a humanitarian award. we’ll connect the dots some more by noting that as if his pity partying of disabled folks isn’t problematic enough (and oh, is it ever!), lewis is vehemently homophobic, having used the word “fag” derogatorily and repeatedly in on-screen appearances in the past few years. need even more? he’s also an old misogynist to boot, quoted as having once said: “women should be having babies or naked, oiling themselves up at home. they should be waiting with bated breath for their man, the rightful heir to the throne and ruler of all mankind. only a strong man in a bear-skin bathing suit back from a long night at the clubs can rescue the weak, docile, female of the species.” barf. go sign that petition, no?



remember a lot, heal a bit

i read leo’s post last night about feeling a little bit stuck post-election, not knowing what to say or write next, and found myself tearing up in agreement. i think what leo is articulating so honestly in this post is what a lot of us are feeling right now – happiness and shock over barack obama’s win and then disbelief and anger over all that’s happened since. and i’m trying to move past the prop 8 stuff, but calling out the scapegoating by queers on people of color has me tethered to it tighter than ever. my stomach lurches every time i hear someone else mention those reports of queers protesting, slinging slurs at black folks in the midst. and it hasn’t stopped with those early stories. the advocate, one of our most renowned glbt (i will *not* use “queer” to describe the advocate. ever.) has the most truly offensive cover one could imagine right now. “gay is the new black?” really, advocate? are you going to play this appropriation game? are you really going to further pit queers and black folks (as well as other communities of color) against one another by making *this* the slogan of the gay marriage debate? the subtitle of “the new civil rights struggle” does little to soften the message; in fact, it feels unclear to me whether or not we’re supposed to interpret gay rights as the “new civil rights struggle” or the growing tension between queers and people of color. when did it ever become a good idea to compare and contrast oppressions across difference?

i am awe-struck by what we are witnessing and have never felt more detached from my community as a result. earlier in the week i wrote about what is at risk in focusing only on homonormative issues like marriage and ignoring others, citing the murder of duanna johnson as the worst kind of example of this. last friday, another transwoman of color was murdered in syracuse, new york, teish cannon. that’s two transwomen in barely two weeks. my brain can barely process it, let alone my heart.  racialicious noted in a post this week there was an increase in racially motivated hate crimes during and post-election season, as well. we are funneling so much energy and money into having the right to marry, but so many of us are overlooking physical violence and death. what are we in the midst of here? despite a win in the white house, the aftermath is terribly frightening to me.

today is transgender day of remembrance and i’m going to attend services to remember those whose lives have been cut short because they’ve dared to be themselves. i’m going to go and remember duanna johnson, teish cannon, 15-year-old lawrence king, and the other 26 named and the however many who are unknown and unaccounted for. in this space, with fellow queers and allies, i’m going to try and feel like part of a community again. one that is able to think across sexuality, gender, and race to realize how these oppressions operate in tandem with one another; they are not separate to the point of dividing us so starkly. i’m going to hope to feel part of a queer community that is capable of wanting equal rights, including marriage rights, for everyone and simultaneously challenging what it means to make our relationships and our love “normal.” what’s at risk when we strive for this? who and what goes unnoticed?

today is a day for those we’ve lost, to remember them, and their place in or queer communities, or queer families. it’s also a day to heal a bit, soak up some love and strength, and figure out how we manage to move forward, fix this terrible rift we’ve caused, all while honoring the memory of queers who have lost their lives so violently in fighting this fight to just be.



homonormativity, negligence, and duanna johnson

i’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging over the last week or two because of these exams of mine coming up that will pretty much determine whether or not i can/will continue with this ph.d. program and move on to (finally) beginning my dissertation research. i have a set of three “publication ready” papers due next monday and then the oral exam, which terrifies me, on december 8th. but my blood pressure is not the topic of this entry. all of this is to say, instead, that i haven’t been writing not because there’s nothing to write about or because I have nothing to say. in fact, there is so much to say that i’ve been dying to put out here, but that my workhorse way of life right now has not been allowing me. i realized this morning when i woke up, unplanned, at 7am after only being able to fall asleep at 3:30, that maybe i at least need to get this one post out of me that has been aiding in my insomnia, especially this past week. i might catch a lot of shit for this entry, but since I’m in major-exam-fighting mode these days, bring it.

i’ve acknowledged on this blog and offline to friends and family too, as many of us have, that november 4th was an exciting and historical day for the u.s. electing barack obama, but a disappointing day in terms of the myriad of anti-affirmative action and anti-queer rights ballot measures that passed, including of course, the number of bans on gay marriage. i’ve been surprised to watch, between coffee breaks and citation searches, this unification amongst members of our “queer” communities to rally in support of gay marriage. (sidenote: i’m purposely putting “queer” in quotes here because of the, seemingly, changing definition of this word recently. one that i used to acknowledge as being tied to a particular, transgressive kind of politics that now, in light of these recent events, seems almost remiss) surprised not because marriage rights are not important to many gay people and their allies, and not because i doubt the ability of folks in these communities to organize around such an issue; the hrc, amongst other organizations, has been telling us to do so for the last 5-10 years after all and we are certainly a community of ralliers. i’m surprised, more so, because over the past week i’ve watched my queer friends across the country, people who are part of my “radical” queer community, that have for so long been outspoken about homonormativity, about the monopolization of the gay marriage debate, and about the negligence paid to more pressing issues like trans rights, queer p.o.c. rights, and hate crime legislation, organize against prop 8. and i worry, is this the new “queer” politics?

let me clarify something before i, unintentionally, wind up devaling the efforts of folks who came together since november 4th and, especially, those who turned out nationally in most major cities across the country on saturday. i don’t think going out and rallying against prop 8 this weekend was a bad thing. at all. i think that, in light of what just happened, national organizing and public disavowal of anti-gay rights ballots in all of the states that passed them, not just california, is an important thing. no doubt the number of demonstrations and, what jointheimpact.com is counting as, over one million people protesting across the country is exciting and shows incredible solidarity.

my concern is that in all of this outrage over prop 8, in all of the organizing, what has “queer” politics left behind? why, post-november 4th, is homonormativity, and all that it overshadows, not still one of the queer community’s biggest gripes? and if you want to tell me it still is and that the outcry against prop 8 since election night doesn’t change that, how and why did we not organize and demonstrate over the recent murder of duanna johnson, a black transwoman of memphis, tennessee? how did we, the people who claim to be so attune to what national gay rights conversations consistently leave out, allow gay marriage to trump issues of transphobia and racism right under our noses? in the midst of all our rallying over the *institution* of marriage (and yes, i support all of us having that option even if i’m *institutionally* opposed to it), we obscured a woman’s, a member of our larger queer community’s, death.

duanna johnson was brutally beaten by memphis police in a hate crime incident that occurred in february of this year when she was arrested for prostitution. last sunday, the 9th, she was found murdered, shot to death, with last i read, no suspects in custody. how do so many of us queers still, a week later, not even know her name, let alone what happened to her? the queer community i’ve been so proud to be a part of was one that would have spread duanna’s name from coast-to-coast in order to raise awareness around this incredible loss and around issues like the intersection here of gender, sexuality, race, and class; hate crimes; police brutality; transphobia; and violence against sex workers. and all of this while simultaneously calling bullshit on organizations like the hrc that continually make marriage the locus of their attention and financial support, while programs that look at more marginalized groups within queer communities, and the issues that pertain to them, are consistently overlooked or cut altogether in the name of producing a white, affluent, normative image of what gay looks like. this is the queer community i love and support and that doesn’t require quotation marks to qualify its meaning.

i worry about its survival and i worry about what else, who else, we’ve failed to see in the past few weeks and whether or not this is what “queer” is truly at risk of becoming. in the meantime, this thursday is the international day of transgender remembrance where, surely, duanna johnson’s life will be honored and represented amongst the many other folks whose lives have been lost in the struggle that it is, not to marry, but to just live.

you can check out events happening all over the world and, hopefully, in your area at www.transgenderdor.org

also, because i’m 100 years behind in my blog reader, check out jack’s (of angry brown butch) post from earlier this week about this exact topic.



solidarity is (not)…
October 29, 2008, 1:40 am
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i know that this can’t be a phenomenon with merely my friends because i’ve noticed the same thing going on with friends of friends of friends – you know, people who are, like, three times removed my friend. halfway-to-kevin-bacon sort of people. and at least amongst the people i know who are doing it, it’s all the more shocking because of the fact that these are folks i usually consider pretty righteous when it comes to their politics, i.e. they’re “progressive,” people – queer or queer-friendly, anti-racist/classist/sexist/sizeist/ableist, you name it. so what’s the grave offense?

i have, at present, several facebook friends who have changed their names to be as follows: [first name] hussein [last name]. before you roll your eyes at me over the fact that this post is about facebook, take a look at it. need i mention that all the folks doing this are two things: 1) obama supporters and 2) white folks with western european and/or american ancestries? what this means, in my opinion, is that while all of these people claiming the middle name “hussein” are undoubtedly doing so in an act of “solidarity,” they are simultaneously appropriating not “just” a name, but one that is tied to very particular histories and cultures that are not theirs. cultures which have been dominated, colonized, invaded, and oppressed by this country and other western european countries for hundreds, thousands of years.

while these people then also go and try on “hussein” as a middle name for the sake of the election season, in an attempt to shed light on the fact that links between barack obama and any sort of “scary”, middle eastern culture are ridiculous, they wind up playing cheaply and dangerously, putting colonized cultures at risk. because for black, brown and mixed folks in this country and abroad, as well as middle easterners cross-culturally and across region and religion, they don’t get to step away from the bullshit ignorant westerners have attached to the name “hussein” once next week comes and goes. for white supporters of obama to take this on for the sake of solidarity is to ignore an entire complex history of oppression and suffering that white people are responsible for.

your cultural appropriation is not cool. it’s irresponsible and it wounds. show your solidarity by voting. not by coopting something that does not belong to you, something that has been unjustly and negatively inscribed by the very culture you live in every day.



fail: beth ditto
July 31, 2008, 2:03 pm
Filed under: arg, class, fail, fatness, over it, pop culture, privilege, queer, race | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

this week has been one where you can’t blog fast enough about something. it seems like the second i read the news about beth ditto’s recent problematic spread in nylon magazine, five other posts popped up on my reader about it. namely, check out the smart and thoughtful responses from tara at fatshionista.com and the fierce ladies at threadbared (which is also cross-posted over at racialicious, one of my favorite reads!). both of these pieces are super insightful and exciting for the fact that they are so complete in their analyses. read them and love them!

the only 2cents i want to add is oh how i wish this photoshoot had come about a month sooner! don’t get me wrong, i wish it didn’t exist period, but if it’s going to, the least we can do is use it as a teaching tool and that i find exciting amidst the harm a photo like this does.

i’m thinking about june of this year when i went to an academic conference for an area of study whose evolution over the past thirty or so years has been so dedicated to thinking intersectionally about issues like gender, race, and class, along with the much-needed additional analyses of other identifiers like dis/ability and size. and yet, at a meeting aimed specifically at making space for fat studies within future conferences and the discipline as a whole, conversations about fat inclusion were “justified” by claims that “being fat is the last acceptable oppression.” i was so stunned by this response that i couldn’t control my body’s reaction to shake my head “no” rapidly and uncontrollably despite what i’m sure many assumed to be quite rude. this position is so offensive and so privileged, yet surprisingly rampant amongst a number of straight, white, fat folks.

and so then here’s beth ditto! someone who is white, but who grew up poor and has working class roots, is fat (publicly and on-stage!), and is queer and partnered with a masculine-identified, female-bodied person (i’m not sure how freddie fagula identifies, so…). and despite all of this, a photo like this exists that just so “brilliantly” makes clear that we are so far from any kind of place where any one identifier is the final frontier of oppression.

beth ditto, i thank you for being a strong, fat, queer girl, and for all of the awareness you’ve raised about what it’s like to be fat in the spotlight and in the mainstream, but it takes so much more than that to hold my respect. where’d your good politics go, girl? the ones that made us all fall in love with you in the first place? we’re all waiting for your response…



butch vs. femme, or why it’s not ok to play "i have it harder than you."

after a fairly successful weekend of fun, i was visiting my usual online haunts before getting ready for bed and came across the most recent vlog by resident youtube butch, AJ on her sister channel, the Beaver Bunch. i don’t know how popular AJ, of Ask AJ Anything fame, is amongst us tech savvy queers out there, but basically she gives advice and makes a lot of “top 10” lists. i’ve never found her much to write home about, but that’s just my opinion.

anyway, this week’s vlog was about sharing coming out stories, which was all well and good until about 4minutes and 45seconds in when AJ starts talking about being visibly queer and how she can never not be “out” because of her appearance. shortly after this, she relays the following message that has had me fuming for the past hour. basically, this: femmes have it easy. maybe my anger is misdirected. AJ is only one of many butches i’ve heard voice these sentiments in the past few years and i’m officially over it. so, to AJ, and all those who might agree with her, here’s my rant:

so, check it. unfortunately, most of us who are queer have had homophobic speech slung at us at least once in our lives. whether it was directed to us individually, as part of a couple, or with a group, the impact is still the same. for me personally, this usually isn’t what i get called out on the street for when i’m on my own or with a group a friends. if i’m going to be heckled in broad daylight in the middle of downtown, it’s going to be because i’m fat or, the way i like to think of it, because i’m a hot fat girl who defies every convention of what it is i’m supposed to do – cover up every inch of skin, wear dark colors, talk quietly. basically, do everything i can to keep attention away from me, to fade into the woodwork. though truth be told, assholes on the street would find me there too.

when i’ve been the target of queer bashing though, it’s always been in the company of others. a big group of my homo friends at a non-queer bar or arm-in-arm with someone i’m dating who, because i always date on the more masculine end of the gender spectrum, tends to be more visibly queer than myself, thus drawing attention to us. those times have mostly been scary, some downright terrifying and, later, when safety is certain and blood pressures have resumed a normal range, angering for everyone involved. never, though, have i sat down afterward with my significant other or with my friends and deliberated which one of us motivated the attack, who’s most queer in appearance, or who has it easiest/hardest…and i, frankly, can’t understand anyone who would!

i know all about the differences of visibility and invisibility when it comes to butch and femme (or anyone queer who doesn’t pass as straight and anyone queer who does – the labels don’t matter here); i deal with what it means to be invisible to a straight world, and even a queer world sometimes, on a regular basis. for example, there are few things more infuriating to me than my lack of recognizability as queer and the swiftness with which that changes based on who my partner is. far too often, my entire gender and sexuality become about the gender identity of the person i’m dating rather than anything about me. all this being said though, i also know that i’m privileged in passing because my queerness is rarely a visible target of staring, behind-the-back whispers, or violence, and that those are things butches and other masculine-identified, female-bodied folks are forced to deal with constantly. i don’t deny AJ, or any other person who exhibits female masculinity of any kind, the fact that their visibility is always more dangerous. the ways in which they bravely navigate that on a daily basis will always have my utmost respect and appreciation.

my frustration instead is about the need to make this comparison, to attempt to outdo eachothers’ experiences of oppression. i would never say to a butch, a trans guy, someone genderqueer, that i experience discrimination worse than they do because of x, y, or z. i realize, in the case of visibility, their identity puts them in a different place, a more volatile place even, than myself, but i’m not going to tolerate them or anyone else telling me that i have it easy. this is not to say that differences in experience don’t need to be acknowledged. of course they do! and in the particular case of discrimination as a result of visibility, i know who has a roughter time. but what’s the point of sitting around contrasting whether the attack on your queerness is greater than mine? what gets accomplished in that? and more so, what significant information gets erased in this attempt? what about the particulars of space and time? or the specifics of the person and the variety of other intersecting identities like race and class and size, amongst others, that operate simultaneously with queerness and how we experience discrimination? are we really going to spend time figuring out whose feelings were hurt more or who was treated more unjustly when a stranger called you a “dyke” and me a “fat bitch”? or are we going to acknowledge the fact that it sucked in a bunch of different ways for both of us, but we learned a bit from each others’ experiences as a result?

if we’re queers and know what that means to us and understand the politics and investments of using that word beyond an identity of being G, L, B, or T, we need to learn what it means to be allies to one another; to be supportive, caring, respectful, self-reflexive, and to know that finger pointing and pitting ourselves against each other is futile. acknowledging the different ways we experience our lives and our identities is invaluable, but the pissing contest of who has it easiest and who has it worst seems to be a game with no actual winner.