Posted in feminism

On Bi Erasure and Heterenormativity

I don’t usually pay much attention to celebrity gossip. It’s all around me though, through coworkers or supermarket checkouts, so I absorb it whether I want to or not. Based on the way my social media feeds blew up, I could not *not* know that Miley Cyrus had recently split from her husband of 1.5 years, Liam Hemsworth.

Miley Tweet

What I didn’t expect was the wave of homophobic and bi-phobic garbage that would soon follow. During a break the couple had taken in 2015, Cyrus publicly announced that she was pansexual and gender fluid, and openly dated a few women during that break. Not surprisingly, people had opinions about this one woman’s dating choices. Bi erasure has a long and storied history, and I really shouldn’t have been surprised that most heteronormative people are completely unable to move past the binary. Out came the accusation of being greedy and the inability to be monogamous, neither of which are ascribable to a sexual orientation.

From the excellent online magazine bitchmedia:

As news of the couple’s breakup churned through the news cycle, so did photos of Cyrus kissing another woman, Kaitlynn Carter. Straight people on social media were critical of their spending time together, saying that it seems wrong to go on a vacation and flaunt it in an ex’s face immediately after breaking up, and that Cyrus was being “slutty” and “inconsiderate.” On the other hand, queer women came out in droves to celebrate having Cyrus “back,” glad that she had left a man, and suggesting her relationship with Hemsworth had always been temporary—a youthful pit stop on the road to a more valid queerness.

Nope, no understanding of the bi experience here. You’d think in 2019 that the needle would have moved SLIGHTLY when it comes to bi acceptance, but you’d be wrong. I dealt with exactly the same thing when I came out as bisexual in 1991; very little has changed. Lesbians had little interest in dating me then, and now it’s so-called gold star lesbians who scoff at me. When dating men, I rarely dealt with anything more obnoxious than a guy who thought me being bisexual meant endless threesomes for him. But I was married to a cisgender man and I’m currently engaged to another one. I’ve been dealing with my self-imposed bi erasure for years.

bi-erasure

Because I’ve had more experiences with men, I’ve never felt queer enough to be comfortable in queer spaces. There’s no magic formula here or requirement that says Properly Bisexual = 50/50. Of all my bi/pan friends, I don’t think a single one of them would agree with that equation. But one’s relationship status does change their sexual orientation. Am I any less bisexual because I’m monogamous to a cisgender man? In that same vein, does a widow stop being heterosexual when she stops dating men? Of course not. So why do bi and pan people get all the hate?

Krsiten Stewart

As rough as it’s been for me (it hasn’t actually been that rough) it’s so much worse for men. If most people can’t handle the fluidity of a bisexual woman, they sure as hell freak out over bisexual men. A woman could have sex with dozens of women before marrying  a man, and she’ll be considered straight. But if a man sleeps with one man at anytime in his life, there’s always the suspicion that he’s secretly and always gay.

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I don’t have any good answers. I still haven’t fully dealt with my own bi erasure, so I’m not qualified to tell other people what to do. But I can start by treating myself more gently, and reminding myself that we all exist in a continuum. And rewatch this wonderfully heartfelt episode of Brooklyn 99 where Rosa Diaz c (played by the bisexual actress Stephanie Beatriz) comes out to her parents and the precinct.

Freddie

And here’s some good advice if anyone would like to learn how to be a better ally.

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Bell, Elly. “What Miley Cyrus’s Breakup Reveals about Queerphobia.” Bitch Media, 19
Aug. 2019, https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/miley-cyrus-breakup-bisexual-erasure?
fbclid=IwAR2RakJrdm8BgdIXdsSpFWeDeLkVC2H8KCkG4jqbW4q-248U7MTPeh7xN4E.

Posted in feminism

How Does a Feminist Keep a Sense of Humor?

I, like many feminists, have been accused of being humorless. This is a relatively new thing, because now, if I hear a joke that punches down or makes me cringe, I don’t hide my discomfort. There was definitely a time in my teens and 20s when I would laugh along because I wanted to be the cool girl, the girl who wasn’t a buzzkill. I told more blonde jokes than anyone. But I grew and learned. Gradually I felt more comfortable asserting myself and I could explain, “Hey, that’s not funny, and here’s why.”

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It’s natural for humor to evolve. When I watch old movies or TV shows, even from as little as 15 years ago, not all the jokes land the way they once did. Take Friends, for instance. In the 90s, this show was heralded as one of the smartest shows on television. The writing was sharp and the jokes were quick. It was so different from other kinds of live-audience sitcoms we were used to.

But it has not aged well. Put aside the constant gay jokes about Ross’s ex-wife Carol, Joey’s pickup artist tendencies, the awful transphobic cracks around Chandler’s drag queen father, or the overwhelming caucacity. Problematic storylines aside, the writing doesn’t seem as funny as it once did. It doesn’t mean the humor was poor quality, just that our tastes have changed. I’m not the only one who’s felt this way.

It should be allowed for humor to evolve, not just in the entertainment we consume, but our own takes on humor. I used to actively enjoy some extremely problematic things in the 80s and 90s. I especially loved the extra subversive shit: Beavis & Butthead, South Park, Spike & Mike’s Sick & Twisted animation festivals. If conservatives hated it, chances are I ate it up. (Interestingly enough, I still enjoy entertainment that conservatives hate, but for different reasons.) I can’t watch that stuff anymore; not only does it not seem funny to me, but it makes me feel ashamed that I once thought it *was* funny.

To a 10-year-old, there is nothing funnier than a fart joke. Will that 40-year-old still find farts as funny? Probably not, and that’s understandable to almost anyone. I won’t stop calling out problematic humor when I see or hear it, even it makes me that so-called “humorless feminist.” Life is too short to actively participate in my own dehumanization in the form of sexist or homophobic humor.

 

Posted in feminism

Female Empowerment, Filtered Through the Male Gaze

It seems to be a glorious time for female superheroes. After 11 years and TWENTY feature films, Marvel finally released a story about a titular female hero, Captain Marvel. On the DC side, it only took 4 years and 3 films to put out Wonder Woman in the DC Extended Universe franchise. Marvel’s Phase Four plan includes a Black Widow film, and Thor: Love and Thunder, which will feature Natalie Portman as the new Thor.

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It’s great that we’re seeing more women in starring roles, but we’re really only seeing one kind of woman: white, (that’s for another post) model-thin, leggy, and beautiful. It would be easy (if not intellectually lazy) to argue that these body styles are dictated by the pages of the comic book. But since we are talking about fantastical beings with superpowers, I don’t think that argument holds much weight.

A funny aside: if male superheroes were drawn like female superheroes:

Marvel
Black Widow’s pose is ridiculous, and unrealistic. Her weapons are tiny pistols! Why wouldn’t she be pointing them at an enemy? Instead she’s about to perform a sexy shotput maneuver.

A week or so ago, I came across a fantastic opinion piece in the Chicago tribune by Naomi Darom: The sexist demand on female superheroes: Save the world and look hot. Many a word has been written about the aesthetics of female superheroes, but this piece got to the crux of this feminist paradox:

This is female empowerment, filtered through the male gaze.

It is really rather odd. We’re constantly told, by stars and studios, that these movies are about breaking barriers, empowering women, increasing diversity. Yet why are superheroines today allowed personalities, professional lives, cool gadgets, lassos of truth and sassy comebacks, but not rolls of fat, pimples or big noses?

Darom goes on to say how for many, many years, “beauty was the only superpower a woman had.” Discrimination in employment, property ownership, and pretty much everything else in life kept women from attaining any goals outside marriage. Spinsterhood was a very real “threat” for a young woman if she couldn’t ensnare a man to marry.

“…folded inside every contemporary superwoman is the ultimate female superpower: Her legs are long, her abs are taut, her cheekbones exquisite. It seems that we have replaced one set of impossible standards (be pretty and helpless) with another (deflect bullets and also have a killer body).”

Will we ever see everyday, average women portrayed in film as heroes? As long as men continue to write the scripts, sit in the director’s chair, and run the production companies that greenlight films, probably not.

In Avengers: Endgame we saw a depressed and obese Thor still kick ass. Surely a size 8 (or above) woman is worthy of the superhero treatment.

 

 

 

Darom, Naomi. “Commentary: The Sexist Demand on Female Superheroes: Save the
World and Look Hot.” Chicagotribune.com, Chicago Tribune, 13 Aug. 2019,
https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-opinion-superheroes-
women-marvel-sexism-20190813-gm7uzushznadfb56wbxp6cgbae-
story.html?fbclid=IwAR2u0JOYSSQCBlHjl08v2c60TFfs2syIOogVVOoR1pUIYi
GGLwIaiu_yGwo.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Dreaming of a Gender Norm-Free Future

Like many liberal, left-leaning Gen Xers, I see the current state of affairs in the United States and I put my faith in future generations. As our society becomes incrementally more progressive, with marriage equality and better queer representation in media it mostly feels like we’re headed in the right direction. (The last year of atrocities committed by the Dotard-In-Chief notwithstanding.)

One hope that us jaded, almost middle-aged types focus on is that eventually old prejudices, discriminatory attitudes, and conservative mindsets will die out, as Boomers pass on to the Great Free Love Festival in the Sky. While it’s arguable that younger generations’ attitudes will automatically be more progressive, one trend that seems inescapable is the flaunting and downright dismissal of gender norms through fashion. This makes me supremely happy. As a cisgender femme, I dress in a pretty typical cis femme way, but I absolutely love watching others play with gender norms. Sometimes I enjoy the big spectacle of it all, like with drag king shows. But mostly, I love the subtle ways fashion trends supersede gender.

I’ve previously written about musicians and their gender-bending costume choices, but I’m thinking of something more subtle here. These choices made are not necessarily to shock, but just represent normality, as in, “This is me, this is how I like to look.” Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day comes to mind, with his smudgy eyeliner.

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Incidentally, Billie Joe teamed up with Kat Von D last year to sell a brand of eyeliner specifically marketed to men, called Basket Case. I see what they did, there.

Another very current, very hot artist is reggaeton artist Bad Bunny, and his painted nails. I was flipping through Vevo recently, catching up on current music videos and came across his song Mia,with Drake. After a minute, I caught myself staring at his

BadBunnyfingernails every time his hands were visible. They were polished, and relatively long! For a Puerto Rican rapper, this felt like a really big deal. In an interview with Refinery 29, he talks about how painted nails have always been a part of his style, even before his rise to stardom. He spoke about being denied a manicure at a nail salon in Spain. While many of his fans support him and love his nail art, he still receives homophobic comments, and recently deleted his Twitter account completely. His Instagram account is still alive, and unapologetic. It will take a few lifetimes to rid the world of toxic masculinity, if ever!

Celebrities like these, along with Jaden Smith, Ruby Rose, and other celebrities who wear whatever the hell they want make it easier for their fans who seek their own freedom. Whether they are questioning their gender identity or just really like how makeup looks on masculine features, representation matters a great deal.

Posted in feminism

The Insidiousness of White Feminism

Some years ago, I used to frequent a message board that was targeted to newlywed women. While not everyone on this politics and current event-themed board was a newlywed, many of us recently-marrieds found our way there. I remember one specific thread that got a lot of responses; in it, Black women spoke of how they were always Black first, and female second. I remember feeling shocked by this reveal, and then immediately chagrined for never having thought about it before. Therein lies the core of white privilege: “never having to think about things” that don’t happen to you.

This was right around the same time that the movie Hidden Figures came out in theaters. In the opening scene, our three heroines (expertly portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and the incomparable Janelle Monae) experience car trouble and pull over on the side of the road. A cop stops by to question them and after they tell him they work for NASA, he eases up on his questioning.

It wasn’t until that moment in the theater, while remembering the message board conversation, that I realized how blinded I was by my own white feminism. When I saw the police car, my immediate thought was, “Oh good, it’s 1961, this chivalrous man will help out the ladies.”

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but that’s how limited my worldview was. I honestly thought I was ahead of the game because I knew about the Invisible Knapsack, I had dated plenty of non-white men and a few women (I know, I know!) and had never uttered the words “all lives matter.”

This is how white feminism creeps into our white women brains. Yes, it is exclusively the domain of white women. If a white man starts parroting this garbage, he’s just another fake feminist guy trying to get some. 

I still have a long way to go. I’ve done everything on this list at one point or another. Sometimes I think the things and have an immediate “Girl, wtf?” thought, but have the wherewithal to keep my mouth shut. When I think about complex issues, I try to consider them with a focus on intersectionality.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Rock & Roll Gender Variance

David Bowie wasn’t the first the play with gender in his looks, but he certainly was the most influential. He always seemed like the epitome of cool; effortlessly fashionable with a dash of recklessness. The year he died, 2016, was the same year we lost Prince; another blow. One thing I read a lot after Prince passed away was how both of these iconic artists showed us there was more than one way to be a man. This thought was updated to include George Michael after his death in December of 2016.

While the latter two men would not be considered gender nonconforming, they absolutely challenged our preconceived notions of men in rock and pop music. 80s-era Prince was a vision in ruffled pirate shirts and spandex. My 12 year old brain couldn’t wrap its head around a man who would wear (what I considered to be) such feminine looking clothing, but his music was so full of raw sexuality! Around the same time we were introduced to George Michael via Wham! but it wasn’t until his solo efforts did we see the rougher side of George: unshaven face, cool-guy aviators, and a sensuality that demanded your attention.

The world of music owes so much to these incredible artists; not only for their timeless music or fashion sense, but because by their gender identity choices they gave us the freedom to express ourselves more easily. David Bowie and other gender nonconforming artists helped pave the way for new generations of gender variant artists.