Posts Tagged ‘queer’

I’m lucky to live in the wonderful city of Chicago. It’s my favorite place to live, my adopted hometown, and an important city for poets as the hometown to the Poetry Slam. Recently I traveled to New York and took part in the slam at the world-famous Nuyorican Cafe (the former home to Def Poetry Jam) and noticed a key difference between their scene and ours–feminist poetry was pretty much non-existent, and in fact some openly misogynistic poems scored pretty well. Meanwhile, in Chicago feminist poems are prevalent at pretty much any poetry slam, and often come from unexpected sources.

I like the Chicago poetry scene because political poems are encouraged to be shared from all prospectives, even when it’s a white woman talking about race issues or a black man talking about domestic violence. I’d like to share some of my favorite poems about issues of gender, empowerment, and female oppression that belong to big-time poets and newcomers from the Chicago area. Watch the videos to let the poems speak for themselves, and then let me know what you think.

1. Tony Denis, “Mothers”

One of the few poems that’s made me cry, read by a classmate of mine at Columbia College. He got a perfect score in the slam but, in turn, got slammed by the time restraint (still placing fourth overall despite the 4 point deduction). It still remains a memorable poem, and I was impressed by the insight and empathy young Tony demonstrated. Mothers are understated heroes and I admire that he made an attempt to pay his dues with this poem.

2. J. W. Baz, “Anointing the Hand”

This poem is a poignant statement on what could be called “masculinism” but is nevertheless important in the context of a larger discussion on gender and violence. Baz is a former Def Poet who slams Hillary Clinton (rightfully so) for being old money and equating soldiers to barbarians. I like this poem because as a feminist, it’s easy to forget the everyday struggles that people face other than women, and this poem totally made me see the world differently.

3. Robbie Q. Telfer, “2002 Silver Chevy Cavalier”

Okay, so, this is a feminist poem, huh? Well, maybe not. But I still love it for its hilarious satire of manliness equating to how many “bitches” you fuck and how nice your car is. Robbie Q. is probably my favorite poet, not just for his mad skillz, but also because he’s made a career working with at-risk youths through his efforts with Young Chicago Authors. Respect.

4. Marty McConnell & Tristian Silverman, “The Female Body”

My favorite poetry power couple. I loved them both separately before realizing they were dating, and had the pleasure of hearing them perform this piece in person during class called Queer Poetry. They both are stellar poets apart from each other who are perfect examples of “the personal is political” without being boring, overstated, or pretentious, using their personal stories as vessels for a range of topics from confused sexuality to checking their own privilege. They never isolate anyone with their poems. I think in the context of that conversation, this poem largely speaks for itself, and I like the juxtaposition between Marty’s rambling definition of “the female body” and Tristian’s nervous apprehension when seeing a naked lover for the first time.

5. Andi Kauth, “Orchestra of Bones”

Andi is another old classmate of mine from Columbia who has recently propelled herself to National acclaim as a slam poet (go girl!). This is her signature poem and for good reason–it addresses issues of body image and self-esteem in a completely original way, one that takes gigantic risks through exposing the ways bulimia had failed her and the way the bodies of starving people are commoditized through photographs. It’s a controversial favorite, but one has to admire the fact that she was willing to share her very human story and prospective, even when unflattering, on a national stage.


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We all have our guilty pleasures, submitting to cultural forces even when they completely contradict our beliefs and identities–we can’t deny it. I love reality TV—I find shows like Jersey Shore and Keeping Up With the Kardashians addictive. Despite the fact that no matter how much I try to downplay my interests with a sense of irony, I’m still feeding into a capitalist mass-media phenomenon that’s ultimately perpetuating inane cultural ideals, mostly relating to fame, gender-constructed notions of sexual identity and dating, and especially money. I won’t try to explain it or justify it or say that it creates some sense of intellectual fulfillment, because it doesn’t, and that would just be flat-out pretentious. I try to keep my “guilty pleasures” on the downlow, queueing up the megavideos of Kourtney & Khloe at obscene hours of the night, only speaking publicly about these shows with my adopted grandmother who shares the same secret obsessions (and used an apt metaphor to explain herself: “You know when you’re driving on the highway and you see a horrible, fiery accident and you slow down to look? It’s exactly the same thing.”).

There is nothing wrong with being a feminist with guilty pleasures. But I do find it quite disgusting when people try to justify their indulgences with feminist commentary, as if they were serving some greater good by circle-jerking (online and off) about aspects of sexual liberation in Sex in the City.  The online magazine, Jezebel, has basically built a commentary empire based on post-feminist bullshit that tries (unsuccessfully) to reunite Western mass media with female empowerment. The thing that really irks me is that feminists, even the really intelligent, self-aware ones, keep buying into this crap, feeling some vague sense of fulfillment and pretension that somehow justifies what should be reduced to “guilty pleasures” instead of becoming over-glorified pseudo-social commentary that ultimately fulfills the same purpose as any other magazine “for women.”

Now, let’s be real for a second. Jezebel isn’t just a dumping zone for over-intellectual zealots, and for those who comb through the articles obsessively, it’s not too hard to find articles contributed by real activists with real, legitimate, culturally relevant opinions. But for the sake of example, today I loaded up the site and took a gander at the articles featured at the top:

Let’s take these headlines from left to right:

  1. “The Art of Getting Dressed While Drunk” – Hey, lady, even if you’re completely disoriented, you should still put thought and effort into your appearance because, after all, it’s an ART
  2. “Lady-Tears are Total Bonerkillers” – Don’t show your emotions in your heteronormative lifestyle because you will inevitably  push your man away and NOT GET LAID (and we all know that bad feminists don’t have sex)
  3. “Social Minefield: How to Deal with Shyness” – could be more aptly titled “How to Conform to Social Expectations and Succeed in Impressing People with your Fake Personality”
  4. “Cosmo’s Fake Cover Hides Orgasm from Advertisers” – Appropriate subtitle: WE DON’T!
  5. “Kendra and Betheny Dissect Their Own Body Issues” – Because models who willingly sexually objectify themselves and fulfill societal standards of beauty should also be the standard of how you measure your own body issues too.
  6. “What the Angle of your Ponytail Says About You” – Mm, yes, really important information for empowered women here.
  7. “The Harrowing Date-Rape Scene from Snooki’s Book” – Celebrity date rape, not regular rape, because that would just be too human for a celebrity gossip e-zine. Still not exploitative or anything. Nu uh.

Pretty much all of these articles are in reference to cultural ideals that promote “false-empowerment,” or the post-feminist notion of being empowered by choosing which ways to conform to society’s expectations. Jezebel ditched its title as a feminist pop-culture e-zine some time ago, now proudly toting themselves as “Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women,” but its fans are not ready to let go. Smart women who consider themselves feminist still seek out Jezebel as a means to buy into the same cultural ideals that have oppressed women for generations, but then justify themselves as intellectuals — for some reason reading celebrity gossip on Jezebel is better than Us Weekly, despite the fact that it’s far more convoluted than just saying “Fuck it, I want to see Kourtney Kardashian’s exclusive baby pictures and I don’t understand why!”

Hell no–Jezebel is fucking proud of the way it can present the same topics that you’d find in any magazine “for women” yet justify it with some vague notion of being well-informed when it should be the exact opposite. If you’re well-informed, you should be dissecting the ways mass media exploits and oppresses women, not promoting it. I mean, if you want to buy into it a little bit, knowing full well you’re buying the ideas The Man wants you to, you can still keep a firm sense of boundary between your beliefs and their beliefs:  sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Yet Jezebel has no concept of this. In fact, it actively seeks to destroy it by continually attempting to reinforce the idea that if you’re a feminist, all aspects of your identity support this, despite the fact that no one is impervious to social pressures. In the end, if you want to continue to read Jezebel because they have articles that you like, go for it. Just don’t do it under the guise of being a well-read feminist. Please don’t encourage them or contribute to their sense of legitimacy as feminists creating change “for women. Without airbrushing.” Fuck no.

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I’ve been successfully avoiding Lady Gaga for years now and it’s worked out pretty great. I tend not to pay attention to pop stars until they reach their trainwreck stage. However, tonight, a shocking twist in the Gaga epic took place when my facebook newsfeed informed me that several formerly proclaimed die-hard fans were recounting their fandom on account of her leaked video featuring Beyonce. So, I decided to take a peak at what the fuck exactly is this “pop-culture art” trend I’ve been hearing so many people condescendingly circle jerk has been about all this time.

The comparison of Gaga to Britney and Madonna has seemed obvious to me. What I don’t understand is how people can mistake Gaga for a great thinker in terms of art. Sure, she’s a legitimate artist–the same way Billy Ray Cyrus is a legitimate artist. Her music and image is a cultural commodity–she was signed to a sub-label of Universal not three years ago, and was launched into fame by Akon. Next thing you know, she’s playing a major stage at Lollapalooza, and the rest is history. I recognize some fans might not consider Gaga’s latest video to be her best, it’s still drawn out, exaggerated, and hypersexual. It’s I really don’t see how it’s much different from any of the other mainstream pop videos whose popularity essentially hinges on selling its female star as a sex object. At the same time, Gaga exploits her audience under the premise of “advancing art” and has even become a political speaker. Gaga definitely isn’t making art for art’s sake, and to perpetuate her impression that she is is sheer stupidity. Gaga is acting on the behalf of the major record labels that make money for her, and the “spectacle” is feeding a million-dollar industry.

I first heard about Gaga in my intro to gender studies class when my teacher read us an interview in which Gaga disowned feminism while simultaneously claiming to be fighting against sexist double-standards within the music industry:

G: You see, if I was a guy, and I was sitting her with a cigarette in my hand, grabbing my crotch and talking about how I make music ’cause I love fast cars and fucking girls, you’d call me a rock star. But when I do it in my music and in my videos, because I’m a female, because I make pop music, you’re judgmental, and you say that it is distracting. I’m just a rock star.

I: Are you also a feminist?

G: I’m not a feminist – I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars…

Apparently Gaga likes to buy into the stereotype that feminism=manhatingism, and although she claims to be at least as ballsy as a shallow, groin-scratching male, she’s not man enough to stop spreading ignorance of the political opinions she claims to believe in. Throughout her career, Gaga has gone back and forth on where she stands with the ‘f’ word. What’s puzzled me this whole time is how Gaga, in addition to being the latest thin, blonde, half-naked super star, has come to be seen as a leader within the LGBTQ. In this same interview two years ago, she speaks revealingly as to her appeal to the gay community:

G: I’ve got three #1 records and I’ve sold almost 4 million albums world wide.

I: So what’s the biggest [thrill] of your career so far?

G: The gay community.

I: Why?

G: ‘Cause I love em so much. ‘Cause they don’t ask me questions like that. ‘Cause they love sexual strong women who speak their mind.

Gaga recognizes that her most loyal fans are members of the gay community, and in this strange political climate, apparently that means she has a right to claim she’s a leading voice within that political sector–even though the LGBTQ and feminists have worked together for decades.

You know who else the gay community loves? Britney Spears and Madonna. Britney Spears and Madonna even made out one time, you know, just for their gay fans, right? It seems to me Lady Gaga–who is an open bisexual–is no more a gay rights activist than either of the former Queens of Pop. Further, if she’s so gung-ho about supporting the gay community, why is she so apprehensive about being an open feminist? I guess I just don’t see how Lady Gaga has really changed anything in the mainstream music industry.

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“The woman artist” is a notion that persists today, assumed to have gained the most strength during the Women’s Liberation Movement. Today, the idea behind “woman art shows” is the same as it was in the 60’s and 70’s—to give women a platform in which to share their art, lest they be marginalized in the regular art world. Almost all of the time, these shows focus around female empowerment, and, by association, feminism. But, truth be told, whenever I attend these shows or take part in them, they leave my feminist senses with something to be desired.

A month or so ago, I caught wind of a “feminist show” at Locked Out, one of my favorite Chicago venues that doubles as an anarchist commune. I was pumped about it, expecting to show up and see lots of riot grrrl style bands. But the real show was nothing like that. I walked in at the beginning of a performance art installation that featured many naked women on stage, just standing there and being naked, and what looked like the Bride of Frankenstein with a phone cord wrapped around her neck in the middle of it all. Once the performance was over, the host informed us, “The artist wants you to know you can interpret this installation in anyway you please.” I thought to myself, Really? Because this looks like blatant sexual objectification under the mask of avant garde to me. The next act? An all-male band with a female front woman who, again, made little to no actual feminist commentary. The fact that the only reasonable explanation for this band performing being because of the sole female member added insult to injury, especially when I know of several local all-male bands that deal with feminism in a more direct way. Not only was this show failing as a statement for feminism, but it also struggled to find enough talented, all-female artists to fill the bill.

To be honest, much of women’s art has gone this route—an art student’s desperate, yet failed, attempt at political consciousness—or another route: to try to continue to exemplify feminist art from the Women’s Liberation Movement rather than expand on it in the Third Wave. If you said this was because there have been very few prominent feminist art influences since that time, you’d be half right. If you said this was because feminist art is still trying to market itself as art for women by women when the conversation has been expanded upon immensely, you’d be on target.

“Hey! What’s wrong with making feminist art for the purposes of feminism?” You might ask. Well, there’s nothing wrong with making art for whatever purpose you see fit—or for no purpose at all. What’s wrong is the way this art is presented to its audience, almost always through “woman artist” shows. It’s not that “woman artists” are less talented because they’re women, it’s that most serious artists reach a point in their career where the last thing they want is to have an extra noun tacked onto their title, be it “woman artist” or “gay artist” or “black artist” or “working class artist.” At this point, I should hope the interests of feminism have progressed so that “woman artist” and “feminist artist” should not be synonyms. I know female artists who would like to have nothing to do with feminism and many male artists who frequently give adapt insights to our oppressive climate. Many of those actually talented have the title “woman artists” thrust upon them by others, regardless of whether or not they identify as such. When someone says, “Here’s a poem written by a woman poet,” it’s like saying “Here’s a poem I wouldn’t bother to read if it weren’t written by a woman.”

Not every “woman artist” rejects the notion of being labeled, however, and these artists usually fit into one of two categories: 1) they need the exposure and are willing to play-up their womanhood in order to get it, 2) they recognize that being a “woman artist” and making feminist art will gain them a place in a community. The second one I consider to be much more damaging, because the “woman art” community, in true tradition of Second Wave Feminism, continuously isolates other political opinions, not to mention female artists of color. Yeah, there are still a lot of poetry open mics that feel like old boys clubs, and sometimes when I get up on stage and share my poetry, I know I’m going to have to deal with at least one audience member hitting on me after the show. I have been to plenty of open mics where I was the sole female contributor, and seen as a novelty for this reason. But the fact of the matter is that the objectification of women is really not much better at these “women’s only” shows. Fuck, at the feminist show I previously mentioned the vast majority of the audience were males who find hyper-sexualized art arousing, and the so-called feminist artists were more than ready to give it to them. This climate is no less threatening to women and their legitimacy as artists than any other.

So should woman artists shut up and just try to compete with the white males who still dominate the art world? No, but they could certainly try to look at the art world in a way that isn’t either half a century old or, more often than not, concerned primarily with getting exposure for their political platform (and, by association, themselves). The obvious solution—to me, at least—is for artists who are truly concerned with politics not to isolate themselves to a venue where everyone will share their opinions, but to try to make political art more visible, yet more subtly political, outside these realms. Perhaps it’s easier for me to say this because I live in a major city with a seemingly endless supply of galleries, venues, and cafes seeking artists, but in the age of the internet and the rising popularity of blogs (or other forms of self-publication), there are even more outlets for art and audiences for it than ever before.

One phrase closely associated with feminist art is “the personal is political.” This was true in the 1960’s as it is in our time. But the fact of the matter is, unless you are extremely careful not to isolate your audience, people are more likely to not relate to your personal political poem. It’s dangerously easy to bypass technique in favor of getting a political message across clearly. One should never sacrifice artistic integrity in favor of better voicing their own opinions. Instead, one must look at the challenges they face as both an artist and someone with political opinions, and accept them in order to make great art. After all, in art, it’s not sound opinions that influence people, it’s mind blowing compositions that make people see the world in a whole new way. Let’s focus on that, shall we?

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Every so often I approach the magazine rack of some store or another and take a healthy gander at women’s magazines. I’m shocked that most of the sex advice articles–when they aren’t putting women down for their poor body image or revealing over and over again that the best kept secret to sex is a vibrator–offer advice that applies to both men and women, whether you’re with someone of the same gender or opposite. I’ve decided to simplify it by offering a more cohesive, all-inclusive list of tips.

A mandatory disclaimer: Don’t ever force yourself to do something you’re uncomfortable with for your partner’s sake. If any of this advice is too kinky for you, don’t feel obligated to take it.

1. Tell Your Partner You Like It

Let your partner know they’re doing a good job–the more specific the better. Don’t be afraid to be a little dirty; if you let them know how hard you’re going to come, they’ll make sure you enjoy it to the fullest extent, not to mention it will drive them crazy.

2. Touch Your Naughty Bits

Whether you’re absent mindedly fondling yourself or working yourself down there, masturbating will show your partner that they’re driving you wild, plus they’ll be able to see what feels good to you. This is besides the fact that it will feel great for you! See if you’re able pleasure yourself while performing oral or during the old in-out.

3. Switch It Up

Even if you don’t have a big repertoire in terms of moves, rotating between different positions and sex acts will keep your partner’s attention.

4. Do It Somewhere New

Having sex in public places risks heavy punishment if you get caught (unfortunately the law is more likely to prosecute gay couples than heterosexual couples), but have you ever had sex on the kitchen table or on the dryer? Smooshing in places other than your bed adds spontaneity to what might otherwise be another Saturday night.

5. Take It Slower

What’s the rush? Got somewhere to be? No, you don’t, you’re busy getting busy, so why don’t you go at a comfortable pace and enjoy it? Rather than wearing yourself out trying to get it over with as quickly is possible, start slow and pick up–when you get tired, take a minute to go down on your partner, or vice-versa. Think of it this way: you’ll have more time to make each other completely satisfied.

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This week, the struggle between Catholics and the gay rights front took an interesting turn with this statement from Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan:

Homosexuals and transsexuals “will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan said Wednesday, reports Italian news agency Ansa.

Cardinal Barragan, of Mexico, declared that being gay is an “insult to God,” but he added that discrimination against gays and transsexuals should not be condoned.

Barragan, who served as the president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, also said being gay is something learned.

“People are not born homosexual, they become homosexual, for different reasons: education issues or because they did not develop their own identity during adolescence,” the cardinal said. “It may not be their fault, but acting against nature and the dignity of the human body is an insult to God.”

While this statement seems to put a firm boundary between where gay rights & the Catholic church depart — that being gay is an act against God, but it does not justify discrimination against gays — it strengthens an even larger one that is stopping the LGBTQ from being understood by society on a whole: the idea that being gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual or otherwise queer is unnatural and learned, a conscious decision made counter to what nature intended.

It also places feminists in an interesting position within the argument. Feminists and the LGBTQ community have long worked hand-in-hand, their struggles often intersecting or otherwise becoming one in the same. However, feminists popularly believe that sexuality and gender is a social construct, something that isn’t learned, but developed into. But recent research on where and how gender/sexuality biological emerge has done more to affirm queer theorists than reaffirm what the Catholic church would have you believe about heterosexuality being the only “natural” path. In May 2009, the American Psychiatric Association–the association that classified homosexuality as a psychological disorder up until recent decades–released this revised statement:

“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles….”

The complexities of this scientific research have proved confusing and disheartening; the existence of a “gay gene” has been seen as a point of leverage and propaganda for the so-called “gay agenda,” that people would be more accepting and less resistant towards gays if it was proven that homosexuality was hard-wired. However, people neglect to notice there are many more levels which play into someone’s biological make-up that go much deeper than genes; for example, humans and chimps are 96% percent the same genetically, and while some similarities are obvious, the differences in how we live span much wider.

On the other hand, primates have 24 pairs of chromosomes, while humans have 23. This plays a key role in how we develop prenatally–and in the womb is where many people feel the biological roots towards their sex/gender identity emerge. The hormonal theory of sexuality holds that, just as exposure to certain hormones plays a role in fetal sex differentiation, such exposure also influences the sexual orientation. Examining such subtle differences between the LGBTQ and heterosexuals can point out interesting differences in how we develop in the womb; things like the length of fingers is an indicator of how much prenatal androgens a fetus was exposed to. A smaller difference in the length between your index and ring finger points to a bigger amount of androgen levels, which could hormonally influence a woman’s sexuality.

So, have we got it all figured out, that prenatal hormones determine a person’s sexuality, and therefore it is not a taught behavior? Well, not exactly. Sexuality is already fluid to begin with–most people will feel a sexual impulse toward someone who is not their usual gender preference at least once in their life. Although homosexual relationships have existed in every civilization known to man, the social significance of these relationships has always been vast. Similarly, the roles of heterosexual couples have often taken on different forms in different cultures; different types of polyamorous relationships have been frequent throughout human history, for example. But one could examine numerous dynamics in sexual relationships from any day or age and find a persistent example of a certain level of both power and/or shame associated with given roles within that relationship–those characteristics play more to social influence than anything biological.

Therefore, the APA was not too far off its mark with its revised statement of what influences homosexuality. In fact, it’s the same that influences any decision a straight person makes about who they date–it’s both instinctual longing and social reaction, and neither can be inherently controlled by anyone. Our identities are something much larger than ourselves, something too complex to be explained by simple science or religious doctrine. What we can only understand is the importance of diversity and acceptance.

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