Tag Archive: Gay


A Trans Sex Guide

I’ve been sitting back on Forever the Queerest Kids these past few months as my life has undergone some transitions—graduation from college, the start of a new job (that I tolerate), an internship with an organization that makes me excited for the next 10 years of my life, and the move to a new apartment (to come next month).  But I haven’t forgotten about you guys!  I’ve also been slowly collecting material to talk about, important things that I hadn’t gathered my thoughts on yet.

So here we go.

Looking through my bookmarked FTQK pages, I found that I suddenly had a lot of material on trans issues, and trans sex particularly, which is awesome, because I spent so much of last year trying to integrate more trans-friendly programming into my college campus.  I’m always on the lookout for intelligent responses to the incredibly difficult issues trans people face daily.  Here are a few.

My girlfriend recently alerted me to a really cool PDF Brazen: Trans Safer Sex Guide written by Morgan M. Page and published by The 519 last year.  The PDF is pretty groundbreaking just by the fact that it specifically deals with Trans issues AND sex specifically, but I thought the particular subtopics covered were even more interesting.  There’s a lot of stuff in Brazen that you just wouldn’t find in a safer sex guide aimed at cis-women.

For instance, Brazen devotes sections of each topic to dealing with people who engage in sex work.  Because the PDF is aimed at people in Canada, where sex work is technically legal (although there are a lot of restrictions around the trade), Brazen deals speaks to sex workers on amicable terms. There are concrete, specific tips for keeping yourself safe in the trade (don’t wear scarves or necklaces, as they can be used to choke you if a date goes wrong) and a no-nonsense approach to keeping yourself safe.  While it’s frustrating and sad that trans women are pulled into sex work out of necessity in inordinate proportions, I’m happy to see Brazen deal with that reality directly.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen sex work dealt with in a publication of this nature as anything other than among a laundry list of threats and potential missteps to a healthy sexuality.

Brazen also directly confronts the reality that many trans people are also recreational drug users.  Again, a sad and frustrating reality, and one that is NEVER dealt with in safe-sex guides for women.  Drugs and sex are very purposefully kept away from each other, in an effort to elevate the status of sex (by demoting drugs and distancing their combination in real life) at the expense of information.  Brazen makes very important points about mistakes people can make with drugs that are particular to trans situations.  EX: needles used for hormone injections are a different gauge than needs used for drug injections.

And on top of all that, Brazen does an incredible job of dealing with the nitty gritty of safety, like which activities put you at risk for which diseases, and how you can adapt condoms and other forms of protection to a trans or transitioning body.

Aside from safe sex, A Queer Chick, one of the columnists over at TheHairpin, had a great column back in march about navigating sex with a partner who has transitioned when you have never had sex/been attracted to that gender before.  She has great suggestions, like hanging out with dykes and watching queer porn, but the crux of her advice is strong for anyone, LGB, T or partnered with someone T, straight, queer, etc.

Don’t think about “how to have sex with a woman.” Think about how to have sex with your partner, your special beautiful sweet unique partner you’re crazy about. You don’t have to be a good lesbian, or any kind of lesbian at all. You just have to be with her.

And isn’t that how we need to think about trans issues in general?  That people are not their identity, but a unique individual who has come to their place in their own specific way?

But alas, it isn’t always that simple, especially for people who identify as lesbian or gay and fall for a partner who transitions to a gender that allows them to present as a straight couple.  Aja Worthy-Davis,who guestposted this article on Racialicious, writes eloquently on the subject.  She shows how complicated the intersections between race, gender, sexuality, and transition can be in a world where we wear our labels not only through our own actions and presentations, but through those of our partner.

I’m a queer Black femme prone to dating middle-aged divorced hippie White guys due in equal parts to my upbringing, my personality, and my personal baggage. He’s a Black man who has dated more than his share of middle-aged divorced hippie White lesbians. And (I guess this is the kicker) when we met in our staunchly Catholic high school over a decade ago, he was a girl.

…[When he transitioned] My personal life sped up to where I thought it would slowly lead, and my mind was so wrapped-up in the practical questions (Where will we live? When will we go to graduate school? Who will do the cooking?), that it totally bypassed the more personal introspective question about how it would change my personal and relationship identity to be perceived as straight and be with a Black man.

While it’s easy, in theory, to acknowledge that the transition has not changed anything of substance in their identities, the way that a trans man and cis woman are seen is very different than the way two cis women are seen.  And I think it’s legitimate for there to be an element of mourning for the cis woman—the way she expresses her sexual identity has been changed.  She will, to most strangers, be forever read as a straight woman, and there’s not a whole lot to be done about it.

So at the end of the day, it’s a little stickier than just, “Well, this is the person I fell in love with, not the gender I fell in love with.”  Transition will affect many aspects of your life, and embracing that takes a lot of thought and work personally.  From the outside, it’s very easy to sing Love Makes the World Go Round, but inside a relationship, it’s more difficult.  But I would argue, inside that relationship is a complexity and strength that is a lot richer.

I’m A Slave For You

One of the hardest things for us equality-driven feminist-ish types to wrap our heads around is the BDSM idea of the master/slave relationship.  These relationships can take on a lot of different forms, but for a lot of people (myself included for quite some time), the idea that sticks is that of a woman caged against her will by the domineering of an aggressive man.  Never mind the numerous gendered assumptions made in this model (which are equally problematic)- I always believed that you couldn’t be a slave without giving up some inherent part of yourself in the submission, that you lose WHO YOU ARE when you become a slave.

Which is why it’s always so refreshing and exciting and hot to read The Perverted Negress, a blog about being in a master/slave relationships, from the slave’s perspective.  Mollena (the blogess herself) has a great snarky, sometimes even biting way of discussing things with her master, while simultaneously writing very evocatively about the emotional and spiritual journey that being a slave puts her through.  She is very much her own person, and anyone who is interested in a master/slave relationship, but afraid of the way the dynamic might cage their own sense of identity, should read some of what she’s written.

Today I want to link to a great advice column Mollena wrote giving suggestions for dominants.  Her unique viewpoint as a (particularly articulate) slave humanizes dominants and masters in a really wonderful way.

Yeah the big tough dominant thing is a hot and sexy image. But knowing about your process and emotional state

From Mollena's site- Copyright Michele Serchuk

creates intimacy and lets us trust you with our intimate thoughts and feelings as well. When you are involved in an intimate relationship, sometimes you don’t even have to hear the emotions of another spoken aloud to know when something is amiss, or when they are simmering with joy. Regardless? Letting those in service to you or owned by you in on your emotional state is absolutely necessary.

Too often dominants/masters are looked at like giant, looming, unquestionable figures without flaws or misgivings.  And that can be part of the appeal.  Being able to give yourself over to someone you trust completely and know will unconditionally be able to handle you with strength, authority, and grace.  But that’s an incredible expectation for even the most poised of dominants, and it is worthwhile to acknowledge that they are people with weaknesses and doubts too, who may even need comfort, who aren’t afraid to say “please” and “thank you.”

Celebrating dominance is not something our society is conditioned to do.  We have culturally encoded equality as (at least the hypothetical) objective, and so master/sub relationships come across as abusive and scary.  But they don’t have to be.

The sex-positive and BDSM blog circles have done an amazing job of bringing to the fore the voices of submissives who celebrating their desire to be dominated.  A great example of this is a recent post by Alyssa Royse, who owns the women’s sexuality company, Not So Secret.  She writes:

As usual, the woman who approached me after my TEDx talk wanted me to tell her that it was demeaning to see women tied up and spanked. And as usual, I told her I didn’t feel that way at all. I told her that I am a woman who likes to be tied up, blindfolded, spanked and devoured. And that it takes an enormous amount of strength to stand up and say that. To ask for it. To  be good, giving and game sexually and get what I want. It takes courage to trust so completely that I can get what I want.

Sometimes, the strongest decision you can make is the decision to not control things. To trust.

This is one of the most eloquent arguments for the beauty, honesty, and positivity that can come out of BDSM relationships.  But there are a lot of voices still missing from this conversation.

Where are the submissive men to dominant women?

Where are the lesbian, genderqueer/fluid, trans couples- monogamous and non- engaging in BDSM?  (a nod to Sinclair of Sugarbutch for being on this train and talking about it eloquently)

Where are the gay men talking about masculinity and dominance, the contrast between being seen as a bear and liking to be submissive, being effeminate and liking to dominate?

Where are the LGBT people talking about the way suburbia, marriage, and assimilation-ism is changing how we relate to our BDSM identities?

Where are the kittens?!

Where is low-income kinky people talking about how they find BDSM relationships in a world where $30 entrance fees and expensive toys exclude them from traditional venues?

Where are the people with disabilities who are talking about making BDSM work for them in an able-bodied world?

If you guys know of high-quality bloggers talking about this stuff, throw a recommendation my way.  I’ll put them on the blogroll for everyone to know about, and we can all learn.  Because there are so many viewpoints- so many ways of interpreting BDSM, master/slave, etc that we should try our hardest to hear them all.

Stay cool, queer kids, and hit me up with any questions.

 

 

Equality for Argentina

I know I’m way behind on this viral video, but these ads for LGBT equality in Argentina are inspiring and worth sharing, timely or not.

 

 

More info on the ad campaign (and even more cute videos!) is here at blabbeando.

Stay cool, queer kids.

 

Hey guys,

I have been le waaaaayyyy busy lately, so here’s something entertaining a friend forwarded to me.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2058921/Chris-Birch-stroke-Rugby-player-wakes-gay-freak-gym-accident.html

The headline for this charming piece of literature: “Burly rugby player has a stroke after freak gym accident… wakes up gay and becomes a hairdresser.” Apparently this isn’t a completely isolated occurrence. Another man from Malvern, Worcestershire had a similar stroke and woke up with the ability to paint with great detail and skill, even though he’d never learned before. I’ve read about a women of Pennsylvania dutch heritage that woke up after her stroke with the ability to speak fluent German, though she’d never studied it.

I’m no neuroscientist, so I can’t really explain why this happens, but its a fascinating phenomenon.

Stay cool, queer kids. And hang in there, another real entry will be coming this weekend.

One More Gay Kenya Post

The great thing about the summer after my abroad semester is the slow pace, which has allowed me some time to process my feelings about living in Kenya and to confront a lot of the difficult realizations I came to during my time there.  And many of those realizations are intertwined very tightly with my identity as a queer person.

Being queer abroad wasn’t as repressive as I was expecting (because frankly, my standards were pretty low), but it was hard.  I didn’t have the freedom for self-expression that I was used to, and I had to continuously deny the most positive relationship in my life- that of my loving girlfriend of almost two years.  I felt stifled and cut off from my activism and my identity.

I think the pressure I felt most acutely, however, was the pressure to make the homophobia I felt around me into “not a big deal.”  Because I was in Kenya and because all of the students of the trip were dealing with difficult issues of color, race, wealth, and especially gender, my concerns became relatively less important. It’s fairly obvious that I still have trouble talking about my time in Kenya, though, and about the things I did think and feel.  I tend to skirt around details, get caught in self-referential circles to nowhere, only alluding to the things that have really hurt me.      But I think it’s because I can never entitle myself to the pain, when we all went through so much there.  My whole group faced a lot of hard decisions, a lot of frustration, a lot of doubt in our work and the future of our host country, and the goodness of its people.   I could never hone the hurt down to just homophobia, to just being closeted, because it was so many things more than that.  And it was more than that for everyone else- so I haven’t accepted that my load was just a little heavier than some of my classmates.  Even writing the fact seems wrong. I still won’t believe it as true.

Why?  Homophobia in Kenya is not blatant: it is not Prime Ministers getting up on podiums to denounce the homosexual menace.  It is not men screaming and spitting on effeminate boys walking through the Central Business District.  It is not even, generally, underhanded allusions to prostitution or moral decay.  Homophobia in Kenya is rarely offered outright- it has to be drawn from people with the right questions.  Thus, if you DO ask those questions, and you DO get offended, well, who is to blame but you, right?

And that’s the most poisonous part.  That the men and women you genuinely try to befriend- the coworkers and classmates and even the guards and maids who inhabit your daily routine- are all seeping with that ignorance and hate underneath.  There’s such a beautiful gloss over homophobia in Kenya, and yet, knowing that it’s just a gloss makes it all the more painful.

Part of me wishes that someone could have told me.  Part of me believes it would have made me better prepared.  And yet, mostly, I realize that it wouldn’t have made a lot of difference.  Indiana University, long known as one of the most friendly LGBT campuses in the US, created a whole website for LGBT students studying abroad (as well as for international educators and staff welcoming international students to the US), and there are a few useful documents- notably their checklists of What Can An International Student Orientation Program Do? and What Can a Study Abroad Office Do? which help college staff in charge of study abroad and international students to better incorporate LGBT concerns into their programming- but for the most part, the   advice on the site rings hollow.  It has little to do with my actual experiences in Kenya.  It offers little insight, and no therapy.

Because how can any website give me permission to feel betrayed by homophobia, when the people who hold it in their hearts suffer so many injustices that I can’t even fathom?  How can any essay tell me it’s ok to say I had it harder than my friend who was harassed almost daily walking through Nairobi, who was denied exit from public transportation one day and driven into some remote part of the city against her will?  How can I grieve when my weakness feels oppressive to those who have suffered and continue to suffer more than me?

I honestly don’t know, and I fear that if I cannot accept these contradictions in my experience, I won’t be able to move on with my life.  But there’s no one that can help me with it.  It has to come from inside.

As for those of you who are looking to study abroad, especially in Middle Eastern or African programs, let this be a warning for what you’ll have to face, but not one meant to dissuade.  Being in Kenya was the most meaningful experience of my life to date, and despite all the pain, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  The best thing I can suggest is that you look through IU’s list of weblinks to regional organizations that deal with LGBT issues abroad.  There is some comfort in knowing that there are groups fighting stigma and homophobia/transphobia everywhere, however small and often isolated their influence is.  Because when it comes down to it- when you’re finally there, confronting a whole new world- there’s nothing left to be done but to go on living.

The other day, I went to a counter-rally which was protesting a Westboro Baptist Church protest. For those who are not familiar with WBC, they are a family led by Fred Phelps who regularly advocate absolutely horrifying ideas about God. According to Wikipedia , they usually protest about 6 times a day at locations around the country. Essentially, anything bad that happens anywhere is considered to be God’s judgment for “letting” gays live openly and act as citizens—they protest at soldiers’ funerals (with signs like “Thank God for IEDs” and “Thank God for 9/11”) and the Holocaust Museum (“Rabbis rape kids”), for example.

Horrifically, they even decided to protest at the funeral of the 9 year-old girl who was killed at the Tucson, Arizona shooting of Sen. Giffords. Thankfully, Arizona quickly passed restrictions on protests at funerals (which is currently being challenged in court), and the WBC was persuaded by some DJs not to protest in exchange for getting their message out on the radio.

Many people are understandably upset with the WBC and its message of hate, and at many of its protests, angry passerbys and numerous counter-protesters have confronted the WBC protestors. But is it a good idea?

Here’s what the WBC spokesperson Sherly Phelps-Roger said to TBD.com about counter-protests:

“Tee hee! We LOVE THEM! When you are delivering a message to people, it makes it easier to deliver the message when people see the signs. So counter protesters have an opportunity to ask questions, and engage in discussion.”

Was my going to the protest appropriate? Or did it just help the WBC get their message out there? Here’s how I saw it:

1. The WBC was going to be there, and was going to get the media attention regardless of what we did in response.

Due to their inflammatory rhetoric, the WBC gets noticed wherever they go, so a counter-protest is unlikely to bring the spotlight to them anymore than they already would anyway. What’s a more positive headline, though? “Westboro Baptist Church protests at campus” or “Fighting hate with blackout poetry”?

2. An organized counter-rally is better than unorganized anger.

One of the most common responses to the WBC is yelling. I understand yelling: these are despicable people, doing despicable things. However, what benefit does yelling actually have, besides making yourself feel better? Phelps-Roger also told TBD.com that:

“We have gone into many places and they send their children out like attack dogs. At this hour, the nation is clear that when we go out, the mob comes out.”

In other words, they like the upset, angry, and untrained counter-protestors who simply spew vitriol at the WBC, making the WBC look almost reasonable in contrast. With an organized, calm counter-protest, a lot of the anger and upset can be channeled into a far more positive outlet, which certainly will not change the WBC protestors’ minds but is still a worthwhile demonstration of support for everything WBC vilifies.

Am I right, though? Did our counter-rally actually doing anything worthwhile, or did we just play right into the hands of the WBC? And here’s the biggest question: did we simply legitimize the WBC?

That is what I am most afraid of: that somehow, by my actions, I actually aided and abetted the WBC’s hate campaign. However, that brings me to the most important reason I went to the counter-rally:

3. It is never ok to stay quiet when hate is being perpetuated.

Certainly, it does not seem that the WBC will persuade many people with their sheer hate, but they are simply one small part of a much larger problem. Standing up to them is easy: they generally are repulsive to even those who might agree with their basic anti-gay rhetoric.

Standing up to the more subtle kinds of hate is hard: a gay slur used in casual conversation (“dude, you’re such a…”—if you’re under 25, you filled in the blank automatically, I’m sure), a derogative comment about how something is “so gay,” and so forth.

That is the real challenge for a decent person: to force yourself not to just let those little things slide.

-The Girlfriend

Christmas and Gender Stereotypes

Merry Christmas fellow queer kids!

As much as I hate using my friends as fodder for this blog, one of my good friends’ comments touched on a subject I think is really important, but perhaps I’ve glossed over in the past: the conflation of gender roles and sexuality.  My friend mentioned how she didn’t like Johnny Depp’s performance in Pirates of the Caribbean because he acted too “gay” to be a pirate.  Ironically, I thought this role was the absolute highlight of his career, specifically because he made the atypical, perhaps slightly effeminate and uncourageous male attractive.  Though the role of Jack Sparrow was never meant to be played that way, Depp’s ability to transform the stereotype of a male pirate into its complete opposite while maintaining his personal sex appeal was nothing short of amazing.  However, my friend’s contrary viewpoint brings up an important concept.

Sexuality and gender presentation are not perfectly correlated, and that is primarily because gender roles are so highly constructed by society.  We talk about this a lot in my Rainbow Speakers Bureau presentations at school- society’s idea of what constitutes a “manly man” or a “womanly woman” is constantly evolving and is very much relative to the culture surrounding it.  This is incredibly evident in many areas, from sports to modeling to high school Proms, but I want to focus on two areas in specific- movies and dance.

Though Johnny Depp is a prime example to the contrary (as he is straight as a pin in Pirates), most of the images we are fed in the media conflate homosexuality with femininity in men.  The examples are less prevalent in the opposite direction for women (as the success of shows like The L Word illustrate), but there are still very clearly defined ideas of what women vs. men should do, act, and say in relation to one another and their sexuality.  To illustrate this, I’ll use The Bechdel test, created by lesbian writer Allison Bechdel, as a criteria for what movies she would go watch relative to women’s gender roles.

Rules:

The hag from Princess Bride thinks the Bechdel Test is tricky business

  1. There must be more than one main female character
  2. Those female characters must talk to each other
  3. …About something other than a man

It’s incredibly surprising how many movies this eliminates from the Hollywood schema.  But how does this relate to sexuality and gender roles?  Well, let’s put the pieces together- if a woman in a Hollywood movie is primarily concerned with talking about and attracting another man, this prescribes both a gendered role for women (to get men using their feminine wiles) and also a sexuality- straight.  There’s no room in this paradigm for a lesbian.  THEREFORE, because women do A, B, and C (and present themselves in the manner that is consistent with others who do A, B, and C), they are presumed straight.  And by extension, those who do not do A, B, and C, (and who present themselves differently), must be gay.

Similarly with men- a straight man has specific objectives in a given movie (although they tend to be wider-ranging than women’s) — they are tough, strong, confident, independent and have a very clearly defined way of behaving.  Men who act contrary to that (swashbucking, ragingly-sarcastic pirates among them) are considered effeminate and gay.

My point with all this is not simply to say, “well, gosh, that’s annoying, but you should already know this and let’s get on with Christmas already.”  Instead, I want to point out the way this conflation of sexuality and gender roles is poisoning one of our great art forms: dance.

Perhaps some of you are familiar with the show “So You Think You Can Dance?”  The show pairs off mostly professionally-trained and rigorously-auditioned dancers to learn routines and perform weekly for a panel of dance critic/teacher/producer/judges.  It’s a very intense process, and the routines incorporate all styles of dance, from contemporary to jazz to ballet to….ballroom.  And here’s where the poison hits.

So You Think You Can Dance has always emphasized the importance of strong, manly physique for its male dancers and made crucial the ideal of an intense, confident, very masculine dance presentation.  This is often very important for contrast with the female dancers, however, it can also be very limiting.  In this season, due to a new competition format, many of the female competitors were eliminated early, leaving a preponderance of male dancers.  When the inevitable ballroom number came up, the choreographers and producers had two options: to embrace traditional gender roles or break them down.

You can figure out from the video which they chose.  For me, this is the poison of conflating gender and sexuality- it becomes so impossible to allow the male to be sensual, to be feminine, to be “other,” that art loses its flexibility.  Which is why I LOVE LOVE this article about Gay Ballroom Dancing in the Gay Games.  It brilliantly illustrates how two men can adapt the idea of gender roles to suit their own needs.  In same-sex ballroom dancing, the lead for the dance often changes between and within numbers- there is fluidity in the roles of the dancers, and thus, the interaction is more organic, more unique, and more vibrant.  And in the case of “Gay Ballroom Dancing,” the emphasis is on gender, not sexuality.  You do not have to be LGBT to dance with same-sex partner, only willing to relinquish your standards of what constitutes male and female roles.  But because society still holds so much stock in the masculine-male, feminine-female dichotomy, it’s unlikely to see much more of this outside of LGBT spaces.

It shouldn’t, however, discourage you from going out and trying some dancing on for size!  The art will only evolve if people push it forward.  So go exert your influence!  I won’t turn you down if you ask me for a dance.  🙂

So who’s heard the good news?  In a surprise move after the rider on the defense budget was struck in the Senate/House reconciliation of the bill, the House of Representatives introduced a stand-alone bill which dealt exclusively with repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  It passed the House last week and the Senate on Friday, officially ending the long-standing discriminatory policy.

But what does this mean?  For right now, the symbolism behind the act is HUGE, but the actual impact may be minimal for several more months.  There’s been a big push for a complete implementation of the policy within the first quarter of 2011 and an 80  page manual for dealing with the policy implementation has been published by the Defense Department.  These are good first steps, however, the way the repeal bill is written will slow the process for beginning implementation.

The New York Times explains: “Under the terms of the legislation that passed the Senate on Saturday and the House earlier last week, the Defense Department will not carry out the repeal until Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates , Mr. Obama and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “certify” that the military is ready to make the change. After that, the legislation requires a 60-day period before the change takes place.”

I highly recommend you read up on the language of the bill and how it handles procedural and policy decisions regarding soldiers in this same article.

Regardless of the stall in implementation, I’m incredibly thankful that we have senators courageous enough to take on this bill as a stand-alone and finally allow LGBT men and women to serve openly in the Armed Forces.

Out of Africa

There are a few reasons that I feel I need to write a serious blog post to you today.  First, I am leaving for Kenya in just shy of 3 weeks, and I am absolutely terrified and beyond excited.  Second, while I’m gone, this blog will go inactive, unless someone is there to care for it.  So three, I am scoping out caretakers for the site until I return.

This isn’t a big obligation, but if you ever felt like blogging about sex, sexuality, or the like, this is your shot.  I’ll be gone for four months and internet is spotty in Kenya, so I probably won’t have time to upload any content.  If you want to put something here, just email me at bonkiep@gmail.com or comment on this thread (or facebook me, if you must), and I’ll get it up there.  Your help will be greatly appreciated.

As for the actual post, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about homophobia on the international stage.  While I am in no position whatsoever to try and sum up what the nearly 200 countries in this world have integrated legally and socially into their codes against LGBT people, I can offer a few handy links to give you an idea.

The best source I’ve found to-date about the legal discrimination placed against LGBT people is this pamphlet issued by the International Lesbian and Gay Association called “State Sponsored Homophobia.” It goes state-by-state, listing all the applicable sodomy and obscenity clauses in national documents which apply to gay people.  The problem, of course, is that the document does not even begin to touch on the traumas, trials, and tribulations of transfolk in foreign countries, which is often an even more torturous road to travel.  As I’ve written before in my article on Queer Literature abroad, the story of Randa the Trans illustrates how even in the relatively progressive state of Lebanon, there are incredible hurdles for transpeople to clime in living the life they want, and if so desired, changing their body to fit that life.

As a queer person who is about to travel abroad, this reality terrifies me.  Queer activists in many countries, especially Russia, the Middle East, and Africa, are harassed, beaten, and stalked for their affiliations and beliefs.  They are murdered as examples to the LGBT community.  They are beacons towards a world of tolerance often swallowed up by the waves.

I am a person who despises injustice in all its forms and idolizes the people who fight for equality by putting their lives and futures on the line.  Yet, as a foreigner, I find myself worrying about my own personal safety.  What if I slip up and mention my girlfriend?  What happens if I attend a meeting for LGBT people in Nairobi?  Will there be angry mobs outside my door?  Will I be watched?  Vilified?  For me, perhaps this is an over-reaction- I am insignificant on the bustling streets of the city.  But am I really?  I’m a mwanza, a white person, sticking out like a sore thumb.  A white person in a black country means something, even when it means nothing.  People pay attention.  I do not honestly know how safe I am.

Now imagine that being your entire life.  Imagine always wondering who is watching you, who is checking the people you let into your apartment at night, who is noting where you go for drinks in the evening, who you dance with.  It’s an ugly, unnerving feeling, to be unsure who is out there and what their intentions are.

For the starkest picture, compound this constant alertness with the fear that strikes every woman at some point in her life: rape.  In many countries, most notably South Africa, civilian vigilantes still use “reparative rape” as a means of “converting” LGBT people back to normalcy.  And rape itself is not an unusual problem.  This article from BBC highlights the threat of gang rape in public latrines in Nairobi slums.  These are all issues staring me in the face during my study abroad.  The focus of the program isn’t ecology or African literature- it’s sustainable development.  That means addressing the structural problems of HIV/AIDS, rape, discrimination against women and LGBT people, the devastation wrought by poorly-run government programs and the slow decay of urban slums.  All problems are linked.  One cannot isolate one issue from another.

I can’t offer a solution to any of this yet, but perhaps after some field work, I’ll be able to report back with some perspective.  I don’t know where this journey will lead me to, but I know where it starts.  When I began my studies in International Relations, I thought there was no room for LGBT and sexuality studies in Africa, that other problems came first: water, access to medical care, etc.  But everything is interconnected, and I see now that the hardest and most obscure battle to be fought may be the one that needs the most help.  In closing, let me remind you to be thankful for your freedoms, but also never to compromise.  Always push for true acceptance, for real equality.  The battle is to be fought everywhere.

((side note: the bill to get rid of DADT just passed the house.  If it gets through the senate before the end of the year, President Obama will sign it and the discriminatory policy will be no more!))

I wanted to wait a little while to post about the rash of gay suicides because of all the media attention that was suddenly focused on them that obscured so many of the details in their stories.  So now that it’s “over” and most of the world has forgotten about Tyler Clementi and Billy Lucas, I want to return to the real problem associated with gay bullying, and it has little to do with bullying at all.

I will admit that in a way, I used the gay suicides media blitz for my own benefit.  Capitalizing on the sudden outpouring of support that world gave to these teens, I submitted a proposal to my local high school aimed at creating a more tolerant and thoughtful student population through a 18 week Gender and Sexuality studies elective for juniors and seniors.  While the response was positive (my curriculum will be recommended the next time the Social Studies dept. undergoes curriculum review, probably in 2013), many people in the school’s administration cited ongoing anti-bullying campaigns as a way of helping promote tolerance of LGBT students.

This strikes me as slightly laughable.  Though my high school has one of the most comprehensive anti-bullying programs in the state, it didn’t stop my peers from tearing down GSA posters and putting up homophobic slogans in their place, nor stop them from complaining to the principle of “gay propaganda” during Gay History Month announcements.  Our anti-bullying program never once mentioned LGBT students as a population not to pick on, and so, it seems, they’ve been exempt from protection.

So many problems, including the suicides of these young boys in the past months, stem from this silence.  The Nation’s correspondent Richard Kim wrote an amazing piece about this phenomenon– how “gay bullying” isn’t a villain contained by the school yard, but one that’s fed by our insecurities in talking about LGBT issues.  And the response to these suicides shouldn’t be a push to punish the students who precipitated them by bullying, but to tackle the society-wide silence which allows them to bully.

“When faced with something so painful and complicated as gay teen suicide, it’s easier to go down the familiar path, to invoke the wrath of law and order, to create scapegoats out of child bullies who ape the denials and anxieties of adults, to blame it on technology or to pare down homophobia into a social menace called “anti-gay bullying” and then confine it to the borders of the schoolyard.”

Harry Potter Stands Up for Gay Rights, Won't You?

Harry Potter Stands Up for Gay Rights, Won't You?

As if I hadn’t said it enough, the problem is so easily solved by TALKING.  Gay intolerance seems like an insurmountable problem until you break it down into component parts.  Even if your child is bullied at school, told by the media that he/she/ze is inadequate or moral wrong, if you- just you, the parent- can reach out, say it’s OK, be a pillar of support at all times, then suddenly there’s a ray of  hope in the world for that child.  This is exactly the kind of issue where just one person can save a life.  If you are a student, reach out.  If you are a parent, reach out.  If you are a teacher, administrator, store clerk, employer, day-care worker, REACH OUT.

Gay teen suicides may come in rashes, but they don’t disappear.  If a child identifies as LGBT, they are 400% more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetime.  Even when the news isn’t covering it, it’s happening.  Don’t turn a blind eye.

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