Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Don’t Worry, I Won’t Marry Your Girlfriend: Sexuality, Identity, and the Easy Laugh

Although finals are upon us and I am busy doing a multitude of things, I always welcome the ability to take time out of my day to blog for the Feminism and Religion Project.  I hope you enjoy this post and are both able to laugh and reflect upon the serious issues at hand.
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I must say, I will be the first to admit that the recent outbreak of videos promulgating the idea that gay men will marry a straight guy’s girlfriend or lesbians will marry a straight girl’s boyfriend all for the sake of marriage equality left me stifling my laughter as I attempted to pay attention in class.

However, after the calamity died down I took a moment to reflect upon the intrinsically embedded aspects of misdirected norms of sexuality, gender, and misogyny latent within the laugh lines and the guffaws throughout each video.


The images that are present within each video not only work to reinforce the cultural and sexual stereotypes that propagate that ideas that gay men are inherently more sophisticated that their heterosexual counterparts (as well as better dressers) or that lesbians are just like a straight girl’s boyfriend who loves videogames, sports, and beer (and has no problem with his World of Warcraft Addiction) but also work towards breaking down the proverbial bridge that activists have attempted to build between individuals and groups, such as religious organizations, in order to get them to not see the error of their ways, but rather understand that love and committment, comes in multiple forms.

Although these videos were created to shed light on some of the issues that are present within popular culture as well as to get the easy laugh and adoration of fans from across the world who are fighting for marriage equality, the creators must be held accountable for the responses that have developed as a result of the challenge each of these videos presents to heterosexual society.  These videos dare to tackle the inborn quality that men not only should marry women but also that they are suppose to marry them as an acquisition of property rather than an object of affection.


These videos create a world that is reinforced by the idea that straight men have something to fear from gay men and that both gay and lesbian individuals are lacking an important aspect that signifies their identity as a member of society: the acquisition of a woman.  The dialogue that remains, after we essentially walk through the proverbial smoke and mirrors that these videos create, is both dualistic and reductionist at best.  No longer having to deconstruct the larger cultural and sexual narratives, heterosexuals who do not support marriage equality or feel threatened by homosexuals return to their one source of power that reinforces the ideology that they are on the right path: the Bible.  “Marriage is between a man a woman,” or “A man shall not lie with another man as he would a woman,” becomes the newly reinforced heterosexual rallying cry and the progressive progress that occurred in the past becomes nothing more than a joke.

Although these videos make it difficult to ignore the issue at hand without breaking into a fit of laughter, the issue of equal rights or marriage equality should never be reduced to a laugh line. 


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Simple and to the Point



or to take a turn towards another interesting discourse...



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Please Excuse for Having a Penis: Taking a Back Seat to Privilege and Power


Although I have been traveling recently, I am still proud to be a part of the Feminism and Religion Project and happy that I can continue to contribute to the ongoing discussion that takes place on online communities.
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I have often struggled with that little voice, call it my conscience if you will, that speaks to me during times of distress.  Although I consider myself a proud feminist, I still struggle with aspects of what I call, internalized misogyny, or more aptly defined as a male born characteristic trait that imparts the idea that men are not only dominant but also more powerful than the other 50% of the species.

For many reasons, I believe religion is one of the main culprits of this growing evil, one that we all witnessed throughout this last election cycle.  However, instead of placing blame solely on religion and images of the male Godhead we have to begin deconstructing the sociological consequences these subconscious social, sexual, religious, and gendered norms have on men but more importantly men who identify as feminists.
I believe that male feminists often deal with multiple binds that force them to recognize and then re-acknowledge their innate power and privilege.  Whether a male feminist identifies as straight, gay, queer, or trans, male feminists, in an abstract way, must combat social and religious images that define their power and privilege for them before they are even given a choice.

I was recently on a panel at the National Women’s Studies Association’s annual conference in Oakland, CA that discussed the issue of having a Men’s Caucus at the annual convention.  Officially becoming a caucus provides the group with an official vote on the board and a possible say with the future direction of the NWSA Conference.  Staged against Robert Jensen, who argued against the formation of such a caucus, I took on the position of the need for such a body to exist, to reexamine the growing field of masculinity studies as well as the growing number of men or male identified individuals who have been coming to the conference in recent years.

As more men become involved in women’s studies and more women start taking an interest in the growing field of masculinity studies, men and women alike have to start examining the reasons why men in feminism is both beneficial to the field as well as being useful in changing the ways in which men, women, boys and girls all interact with each other and construct their individual social, sexual, and religious identities.

However, as many scholars and activists have point out, while men continue to engage in feminist discourse, we still have to remind ourselves, on a daily basis at times, that even though we may be a minority within the safe space of the NWSA Conference, the moment we step outside the doors of the conference hotel, we are no longer the minority but again the majority.  Male feminists must take a back seat to the inherited privilege and power that is given to us within social and religious circles and remind ourselves each day why we chose to become feminists and more importantly why we continue to fight against our internalized misogyny that silently whispers to us that “we deserved” whatever position or opportunity we were passed over for simply because we have a penis.

Male feminists must be aware that we not only engage in an ongoing struggle against sexual and gender inequality, but more importantly an ongoing fight with ourselves.

Previously discussed at the Gender, Society, and Change Conference at Claremont Graduate University where myself and other scholars discussed "masculinities," sometimes, always raising our hand in class may not be the best option and sometimes always speaking our mind does more harm then good, but in the end, the fight continues and it is within the space of the fight that we begin to not only occupy and navigate through the delicate area of power and privilege but also into a new world where men and women no longer have to take the metaphorical back seat but can operate and function in a world together, equally.

(This post would not have been possible without the support of two dedicated scholars and activists, Brian Jara and Tal Peretz (the moderator for the panel mentioned above) who proposed the idea for the panel and have, like myself, been at the forefront of the issues surrounding men in feminism.  I am grateful to their dedication and honored they asked me to serve on the panel alongside Robert Jensen)  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Visions of My Grandmother

Writing has been very hard lately.  With classes, teaching, and working in West Hollywood, I often find myself wanting to lay on the couch more than read a book or write a blog post.  However, I am continually honored to be a part of the Feminism and Religion Project and I hope you enjoy my post this month.

xoxo
John
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I haven’t dreamt of my grandmother since her passing one hot summer July evening.

The night, and the days that followed, continue to be a blur.  However, as my family members continue to see her in their nightly visions, I, go on unabatedly longing to see and hear the voice of a woman who made me feel the presence of the divine with each passing story. 

My sister saw her in a dream when she was buying shoes, my mother has seen her multiple times when she would be undergoing a particularly stressful situation, and I, left alone and oftentimes wondering through an abyss of loneliness and disarray, wake up each morning wondering why, I am left all alone.

We often question the divine, his/her intentions, and specifically whether or not we will ever see resemblances of those long gone in our daily lives, but I’m here to ask and ponder whether or not my inability to see my grandmother has to do with the fact that she was the one person I was not honest to during her lifetime.    

I never told my grandmother I was gay.  I’ve often wanted to visit her grave, clench my hands together, and pray that she forgive me for betraying the trust she instilled upon me long ago.  However, even today, I cannot bring myself to make that trek, up the hill into the countryside where her ashes lay below the ground.

Yes, my grandmother would meet the boys I was dating and yes, I would talk about my life in a way that it would be obvious to anyone else that I was gay, but I never uttered the words, “Gladys, I’m gay” to her.  I could handle rejection from my parents, I could face the dismissal from certain family members, but her rejection, the rejection of my hero and best friend, was one thing I was not willing to face.

The only time she ever entered into my dreams was a year ago when I found myself entering her house and seeing her sitting in her chair with its back turned towards me.  I called her name, I kept questioning whether or not she had heard me (she was always hard of hearing), and the more I called out her name the more she just sat there, in her chair, silent, and unable to  turn around and look at me.  

How does one who doesn’t really believe in the divine pray?  How do we manage the complex emotions that we feel when loss and heartache overcome our power in faith?   More importantly, who, when we are unable to deal with the guilt and pain we have inside, do we agnostics pray to? 

I’ve never really pray, but when I do I pray to my grandmother.  I do not pray to a God or Goddess that I do not know exists or not, but rather an entity who I hope still watches over me. 

However, like with many of the prayers that we cast into the unknown, I too find myself on the same boat, hoping that one day, my divine grandmother will forgive me of my sins and welcome me back into her loving arms.

I look forward to finally walking into her house in my dreams and seeing her warm smile greet me at the door but until then, I’ll continue to sit here and pray. 
 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

8 Simple Rules for Being a Queer Godfather

This month I decided to write about an event that changed my life: the day I became a Godfather.  I am honored that I am able to write about issues on the Feminism and Religion Project but proud that I have the ability to share my story with our readers.  Enjoy.

xoxo

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I often wondered why I wasn’t asked to be the Godfather of my niece and nephew.  It made perfect sense to me that I would be the best person to guide and provide spiritual care for either of them as I was the only member, in both my family and my brother-in-law’s, getting a PhD in Religion.  I didn’t think there would be much to it.  I would go, hold my nephew, and watch a priest pour water over his head, and then go and enjoy some very sugary cake in my sister’s backyard. 

On August 18th, 2012 my wish came true and I became the Godfather to my sister’s second child, Drew.   I had always believed that there was nothing to being a Godfather.  That it was a title in name only and a tradition that many individuals bestowed upon members of their family as ritualistic habit rather than a sacred institution of spiritual care and upbringing.  Boy, was I wrong.

In various posts housed on this blog, authors discussed their hopes for the future and their wish to change the systems of domination that many believe to be a source of entrapment in specific religious traditions.  As an advent agnostic, I always found religion to be an interesting force of social control rather than way of life that some people believe it to be.  Becoming a Godfather was more than just a reentry into the Catholic traditions I had long given up but rather a journey back in time that would grant me the ability to rewrite the wrongs I felt as a kid growing up in a tradition I not only didn’t understand but also didn’t feel like I belonged in. 

Looking into my nephew’s eyes as he quietly sat in my arms while the priest poured water over his head, I made a wish for my nephew and said my first prayer in a long time:

Dear Nameless Deity,I know I haven’t been the most faithful as of recent but I want you to know that I promise to take my role as Godfather seriously.  I understand now that Drew’s journey is just beginning and that I am here to help him along his way.  Bestow me with the ability to answer Drew’s questions when he gets older and to be there to guide him through life as a friend in his spiritual journey rather than an authority who dictates instead of listens.  Keep him safe and keep him in your thoughts, amen. 

(Me Holding My Godson Drew, my mother holding my nephew Brady, and my niece Emma dancing)

I realized that I wasn’t going to be the a-typical Godfather.  As a self-identified queer male, I realize that Drew, if raised in the same traditions that I was, would one day have questions not only about faith but also about his Uncle and now Godfather.  How would I answer them and more importantly, what would I say when and if he ever asked me if I was going to hell? 
While he slept in my arms I came up with 8 rules I promised to live by when and if Drew ever would require the spiritual guidance I was sworn to deliver.  I reinvented the tradition to create a better future for my Godson rather than the recapitulate the dominating forces that entrap rather than empower and confuse rather than answer:
  1. Answer all his spiritual questions regardless of how hard they may be for me and how awkward they might be for him to ask.
  2. Treat him with respect and dignity.
  3. Give him the resources he needs to continue his spiritual journey if he so chooses.
  4. Do not lie to him about the Bible.
  5. Educate him about various interpretations of the Bible and g-d. 
  6. Go to church or whatever religious institution he chooses to attend without hesitation or judgment. 
  7. Teach him the differences between theological questions and religious ones. 
  8. Love and listen to him, no matter what he chooses to believe or what he does throughout his life.
It is my dream that one day we can create a world with new traditions started by the simple actions of making new spiritual promises rather that reifying old ones.  One step at a time and one wish and a prayer later, change may be right around the corner or in the hopes and dreams of a child just starting their journey in their Godfather’s arms. 

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(Me Holding my Godson Drew and his sister Emma)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Writing is Hard

As I sit in the public library, I realize that writing, or at least getting back to comprehensive academic writing, is very difficult.

I see and now understand why people are constantly writing, always putting out pieces, whether they are for the world or their own personal use.

Sitting back and examining all these articles and papers I have in front of me for my addition to the Feminism in the 21st Century Anthology are daunting.  This chapter needs to be good, no GREAT!

It deals with my grandmother, twitter, feminism, community, online spaces, and digital story telling and thankfully it doesn't have to be in 140 character or less.

Well, back to the grind...

Until next time.

xoxo

(If you want to check out the basis for my chapter, look at the twitter feed I created a couple of years @storiesofself)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why Men (and Women) Still Can't Have It All

I oftentimes finding inspiration for my latest blog at the last moment.  Today, it came via a phone call with Dr. Gina Messina-Dysert about topics.  Inspiration, much like a muse, hit me.  In honor of my blog's topic I have to admit that without Gina's help, I wouldn't have been able to write this post.  Did I use Gina?  Maybe.  Did we work together on a project that best served both of our interests? Yes.
We used each other and we continue to day in and day out.  In doing so, we have created some great posts.  Thanks Gina, for all the help and constant inspiration you always give me.  Also to my faithful and dutiful best friend Anjeanette for reading it in the late night as I frantically read it over afraid of what people might have to say.  We all use each other and when we admit to it, we create beautiful end products as a result.


                                                                         -John
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Growing up, my favorite movie was The Associate staring Whoppi Goldberg as a woman at a Wall Street firm attempting to climb her way up the corporate ladder through hard work and dedication.  Her character Laurel Ayres does all the work and comes up with the ideas that clients eventually invest in, her partner Frank takes all the credit and eventually surpasses her at work by getting the promotion she had been vying for.  In a prodigious scene that I still vividly remember from my childhood, Laurel quits her job and starts an investment firm on her own; betting every cent and piece of property she has on the eventual success of her new business adventure.

In an attempt to break through the proverbial glass ceiling and play with the big boys of Wall Street, Laurel eventually discovers that although she can be (and is) the genius behind many of the great ideas that would save companies millions, she still needs to have her ideas expelled by a man she creates in order to win over clients, which eventually leads her to become successful.  However, while Laurel is reaping in the benefits of having Mr. Cutty, her made up business partner, by her side, she eventually learns that no matter what she does she will always be secondary to her male business partner.
Although the movie ends with a good feminist one-two punch to the proverbial patriarchal face, it taught me an important lesson about the politics and sacrifices each gender consciously or subconsciously make while trying to succeed in life’s adventures.  Why were perfectly good ideas by a female second fiddle?  Why were men the only ones capable of coming up with ideas?  And more importantly, why did women and men use each other in the same manner in order to succeed and further themselves in the world?

I’m sure many of the readers of Feminism and Religion have read the painstakingly long and brutally honest piece titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter and others might have read Gina Messina-Dysert’s blog in response to it.  While we all took to the blogosphere to find and discuss our answers to the age old feminist question that many have been afraid to publically ask like Anne-Marie Slaughter and few have actually dared to answer in great detail, I’m here to tell you that both men and women still can’t have it all regardless of how many eye rolls you just had after reading this last sentence.
Yes, men use women and yes, when you look at the political, social, sexual, and religious landscapes of the world, white, Angelo-Saxon men blot out the terrain like an ever-growing forest in a land of capitalistic enterprise hell-bent on earthly and gendered domination.  However, what we fail to realize is that women also use men in many of the same gainful enterprises.  While I live in the world of academic, I also live in the real world.  I go out to clubs with friends, I listen to the stories from both men and women from highly respected careers discuss their crazy Saturday night, and hear from each of them about how they skillfully and successfully manipulated the opposite gender (or those of the same gender for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters) out of the club and back to their apartment or into some other compromising position that placed one at a disadvantage and the other in a seat of power.  
While my friends bragged about the escapades over coffee at brunch or in a text message, I often felt that many people are afraid to admit to their misusing because they are worried about how it will make them look rather than admitting it is something that we all have and still continue to do.   The point and problem about using each other is, that it serves as a catalyst to many of the world’s problems and successes.  Academics, many like Anne-Marie Slaughter and others would like to sit back and write about the inequalities in gendered politics and the advantages and disadvantages to women and men without truly engaging in the matter that they too once did the exact same thing that they are now writing about.

Can women have it all?  Possibly.  Can men ever have it all? Maybe.  Regardless of however we put it, the are ills to every good deed in the world and we need to get back to understanding how and why we use each other in order to fully understand that behind every good man might be a good woman but also behind every good women there might also be a good man.

We all use each other to get ahead in the world and there is nothing wrong with that.  It is the matter in which how we use each other that we need to question and deconstruct in order to fully realize and understand Slaughter’s final point about understanding our own power and in the process making the world better for all women and in the process men as well if we truly are attempting to create a world based on gender equality rather than inequality.

Much like the ending of The Associate, we all create and use people in our lives to succeed and fail in our endeavors.  Although Mr. Cutty was a fictional character, he eventually became the physical manifestation of everything the Laurel Ayres attempted to escape at her old job and recreate in her new, female owned and operated one.  She eventually had to literally become the actual manifestation of Mr. Cutty at an all-male New York City club to reveal that behind every good man may be a good woman but behind good women may still be the predestined and already defined actions of men that feminists have been trying to fight against for years.  Men and women may be able to have it all but they won’t get anywhere near achieving the goals of Slaughter’s article without acknowledging how we got there in the first place.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

“Vaginas are Everywhere!”: The Power of the Female Reproductive System


Having the ability to share my thoughts and my ideas with the Feminism and Religion Project is a continual honor.  I hope you enjoy this latest piece. 
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I have a beautiful picture of vagina hanging on my wall.  However, for the longest time it was in the back of my closet, with a plastic bag covering it.  I wasn’t ashamed of it but my ex-boyfriend, like most gay men, refused to have it on the wall where he could see it.  He is now long gone, the vagina is now out and proud. 

I bid on the picture one fall during a showing of the Vagina Monologues at Claremont School of Theology.  One of my best friends was in the show and I had always loved its powerful message.  I walked out of the theatre, waiting for my friend, and there it was: the picture of the vagina.  I found myself caught up in its beauty.  Its gaze had mesmerized me.  The outlying layers of red, the contours of its shape, they all began to mold into a figure before my eyes.  While I have never thought of myself as a religious person, I realized that at that moment I was no longer looking the old photo but rather I was staring at the outline of the Virgin Mary.  At that moment, I realized that I had to have the picture.

My ex boyfriend was ashamed of the photo.  I let him shame me into putting it in the back of my closet and cast it away like it was nothing.  Like the experience, call it religious or not, had never happened.  When we ended our relationship, I found myself inconsolable and pacing up and down my stairs in a never-ending cycle of sadness and downheartedness.   As I was pilfering through our items, I came about the picture.  I saw it and for a split second, I was no longer sad.  I placed it in a position on the wall that used to hold a picture of my ex and I and proudly stood back and felt a sense of calm take over me.  Slowly but surely, I began to box up the rest of the stuff I had hidden away from my friend during the mass exodus of memories and replaced them with images that helped me begin to heel. 

That’s the power of the vagina: its births new life into the world, even when one does not think life is possible.  It is not just an organ but a vessel that proudly and respectfully births and re-births us all back into a world that has shunned and cast us away.  Vaginas are powerful not in the classic sense but in the uniting and ecstatic transformative bliss that they bring into the world. 

While they are a sense of beauty to some, they also serve as a symbol that needs to be controlled by others.   While some shove vaginas into the back of closets, covered in a plastic bag, others like to legislate against them.  Unlike traditional phallic sources of power, vaginas are an inward expression of beauty and power that take place within a woman’s body unlike external sources of power and size that men like to claim their penis’ represent. 
Nice girls don’t say the word vagina.  Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield, Michigan) learned this lesson the hard way after announcing on the floor that she “was flattered that [all the men were] so interested in [her] vagina, but no means no.”  She was subsequently barred from speaking the day and the controversial abortion bill, which makes it practically impossible for women to obtain abortion services in Michigan, cleared the House with a seamless majority of male support.
While men like to say that they respect women, I find it hard (specifically as of late) to believe anything a Republican (or a Democrat in some cases) says.  They would rather have women sit in a corner and wait silently with a dunce cap on their heads as men dictate what they should do with their bodies and how they should behave.  As of late, conservative men like to think of women and vaginas as two separate entities without realizing that without one you cannot have the other.  These men are afraid of women and more importantly their vaginas not because they signify difference but due to the sheer power they represent.  The ability to create, harbor, and in some cases, if the woman chooses to do so, take away life, is a gift and it is a gift, that as of late, is scaring men half to death. 

Wherever we look, there are vaginas.  From the birthing room to the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives, vaginas are everywhere and they serve an important part in shaping and empowering our everyday lives.  Regardless of whether or not these conservative men, not only from Michigan but also from all over the United States, agree is a matter worth fighting for and in some cases worth dying for. While Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville, Michigan) or Ari Adler, Press Secretary for House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall, Michigan) were outraged over Rep. Brown’s statements, they did not take the time to realize that they were only adding fuel to an already blazing fire within each and every woman who is sick and tired of having both her vagina as much as herself talked for and by men who believe they “know best.”

Well, to all those men, I, along with every other vagina wielding women and allies say, we’ll see you next Tuesday.  Vaginas are everywhere and well men, you’re just going to have to get used to it. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why I Failed Feminism 101: Gender, Sexuality, and the Power of Relationships

It has been a while.  I am continually honored to be a part of the the Feminism and Religion Project.  I hope you enjoy it.
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I was once told by my ardent feminist advisor in undergrad to “not put all my proverbial eggs in one man basket” after discussing my relationship with my boyfriend over a cup of coffee.  Thinking my relationship was different and that we were special, I heeded the warning but thought of it no further.  Now, looking back on it three in a half years later, I wish I would have.

Relationships are a powerful tool.  They help to make you feel special.  They help to bring you joy.  They help you discover the reason why a divine presence may have endowed us with the ability to love and most importantly they help you realize and discover things about yourself you may have never taken the time to notice.

Feminism 101 is more than just the pop culture stereotype of a bunch of women advising the younger generation of girls to be weary of men and the pain they can bring.  Feminism, specifically as what I now call Feminism 101, is the transformative ability to listen to your elders, trust yourself, and ultimately, if you happen to trust in the relationship you have built, knowing deep down that it is built on equality, love, and trust.

Recently, I have been told that hindsight is 20/20.  I should have been more aware when I realized that my former partner had no inclination towards anything having to do with feminism and more importantly the tenets it taught.  Refusing to see how feminism had even touched his life, he shrugged off my work but continued to “support me” and my noble cause.   I took for granted and fell victim to many of the same stories we all hear but refuse to ever accept as possibilities in our own lives. “We’re different,” “He loves me,” “We can make it through anything,” these thoughts haunt my mind as I sit back and think about the reality of my situation and the stories I told myself in order to feel better knowing deep down I should have trusted my gut.


As I continued to wonder down my blinded path, I forgot about the stories I had heard and read for years of men abusing their power and privilege and women being the ones who usually had to bare the brunt of whatever issue they were facing. I took the picture of a relationship I had concocted and forgot, that relationships, like feminism, are not easy, and that it is a conscious and continual effort of renewal to remind yourself everyday why you love the person you love and more importantly, in the case of feminism, why you fight, “the good fight.”

Although I feel like I have failed feminism, I sit back and look at the world around me and realize that everyday is a constant struggle to stay alive.  Everyday I have to find a reason to exist without my partner and best friend.  As my world crashed in around me and I felt like I had nothing else to live for, I remembered that maybe I didn’t fail feminism after all but rather had to rediscover it.  Through the pain and struggles of my sisters (and brothers) before me, I had to realize that the thing getting me up everyday was the community of individuals I had built around me who support and continue to show me love.  Although my former partner was no longer fighting for our relationship, it was the relationships with my peers that remained when everything else went dark.  Relationships are a powerful tool to help us realize why we are not alone and why in our darkest times life really does get better.  Feminism not only teaches us about ourselves but rather the power of relationships and the roles they have in constructing and shaping the individuals we hope to become.  Relationships are the backbone in which feminism is built upon because without our community of love, support, and equality we wouldn’t have anything or anyone worth fighting for.

Maybe I didn’t fail Feminism 101 after all, but rather I had to go through the hardest lesson by myself, with the help of my sisters and brothers, to finally be able to move onto the next and most important lesson of not only loving myself but finding someone to build a relationship based on mutuality, veneration, and equality with.  Although I may have lost something special and an important person in my life, I learned a valuable lesson in not only trusting someone else but also trusting and believing in the relationship I have with myself.
  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

See You Soon

I was always told that is was bad to not tell people what is going on and just disappear.

For now, I am taking a break due to finals, life, and trying to get things in order first personally and then publicly.

I'll be back.  Soon.  I hope. 

xoxo
John

Sunday, April 8, 2012

It's Been a While


To say that I have been busy these last couple of weeks would be an understatement. Life has a funny way of making things difficult but in the end, you have to and must prevail.

Here are some funny photos that have gotten me by these last couple of weeks and some videos that I look back upon and smile.





Monday, March 19, 2012

Honored

I remember when I first applied to CGU and saw all the amazing students featured on the main webpage. I always thought, "I hope I do something one day that will allow me to be one of those featured students."
Well this week, I finally got my wish. Check out the picture and the article that is a part of the overall piece on Activism and Academia. To read the full article, check out the Flame at www.cgu.edu

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"If You Allow Gay Marriage..."

I have been taking an interesting class this semester called Gendering Mormonism. It is both liberating and frustrating but the ability to blog about issues we are talking about on Feminism and Religion have made this class both revolutionary in the study of gender as well as its unique connections to Mormonism. Make sure to check out the blog here and on www.feminismandreligion.com.
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… you have to allow polygamy, bestiality, and everything else!” The title for my post this week is a quote from an individual I used to associate with. This individual, haling from a conservative evangelical background, tried to explain to several others and myself the reasons why gay marriage would eventually lead to the repeal of anti-polygamy and bestiality laws across the United States.

The problems that I have with this particular argument are conflating gay marriage with religious freedom. Activists and scholars can draw comparisons to anti-polygamy cases such as the 1878 U.S. Supreme Court case Reynolds v United States and the 1882 Edmunds Act and 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act that disfranchised and led to the imprisonment of Mormon polygamists. But in the end, gay marriage is not about religious freedom but rather human rights.

I often feel that there is this need both within and outside religious communities to promulgate the idea that LGBTQ individuals want to get married within the sanctified walls of “the church” just as much as heterosexual couples do. Although I do not want to disqualify those who desire to see LGBTQ equality within their faith based communities, buying into a heternormative ideal of what traditional marriageshould look like needs to result in LGBTQ individuals asking why marriage should be performed in sacred spaces in the first place The normative traditions that have often defined marriage have also served as shackles keeping LGBTQ couples in the mindset that to achieve fully marriage equality with their heterosexual counterparts is to fully immerse themselves within the same traditions and practices.

During the fight for LGBTQ marriage equality there has been a rise in the fetishism of polygamy and its inherent natural link to gay marriage because they both work off the defining characteristics that the individuals within these relationships are “in love,” and that people should be able to do what they want when it comes to who or how many people they want to marry. Television shows such as Big Love and Sister Wives have distorted the fact that gay marriage and polygamy are in fact two separate issues. They have turned the discourse around polygamy away from the issues of women’s rights and roles within families consisting of more than one wife into an idea and concept that is hip to be a sister wife rather than be in a plain, old, boring marriage consisting of only one man and one wife. Big Love and Sister Wives attempt to promote the equal relationships that wives share with their husbands in polygamist relationships by furthering the argument that people “in love” should be able to do whatever and marry whomever they want. Shows like Big Love and Sister Wives, while complicating the traditional monogamous view of marriage, actually recapitulate the idea that marriage, even in its “transgressive” mode, is still a relationship of consenting heterosexual adults.

Polygamy should not be compared to gay marriage because it stems from both a heteropatriarchal and heteronormative narrative where one man can take as many wives as he sees fit. The technical argument for polygamy remains strictly about one man taking many wives and does not promote the idea of a woman taking as many husbands or even a man taking as many husbands as he or she sees fit based off of their doctrinal beliefs. Legal gay marriage is about LGBTQ individuals having the right and ability to live together with their singular partner. Conflating the issue of legal marriage equality with the issue of polygamy opens up a floodgate of new problems. Although polygamists do still exist in the world, tokenizing them on television as a hip alternatives to the idea of one man and one woman only stresses the fact that although we may see a man with two to three wives on television, we still have yet to see any type of show that places married LGBTQ individuals in the same light. Popular shows like Modern Family do have a token gay couple as part of their cast but these characters still remain closeted in terms of actually being able to portray sexuality outside of the confines of heteronormativity. Polygamous marriage has become an acceptable form of viewing on TV, while gay characters and their lifestyles are still forced to show their affection offstage and ultimately out of mind.

Homosexuals and others who a normative culture defines as deviant are scapegoated. We need to start examining the underlying questions of counter-cultural relationships that view one man marrying many women to be hip because we begin to see that although a polygamist idea of marriage may be sexy from a popular culture standpoint, the thought of legally recognized gay marriage always gets the short end of the stick.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sodomy and Gay Men's Lives

Make sure to check out the Feminism and Religion Project where this blog originally appeared!
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How do we begin to deconstruct the word sodomy so that it no longer associates and elicits hateful propaganda regarding the sexual activity of consenting gay/queer adults?
Meaning is often produced, not through a one-to-one relation to things in the world, but by establishing the difference you or a particular group of people have in relation to the activity/object you are distancing yourself from. The word sodomy is inextricably linked to the Old Testament (Genesis 19:1-11) and has become a popular manifestation for conservative and fundamentalist social and religious critics to use whenever they are critiquing why gay men are different or deviant from normal, heterosexual adults. Furthermore, sodomy has been and still is highly involved in constructing both positive and negative sexual ethics that often define and rule over the lives of those who participate not in sodomy but other forms of non-vaginal intercourse.
The word, action, and taboo of sodomy have blurred the real meaning of consensual non-vaginal sex between people of the same sex. Defined as “anal or oral copulation with a member of the same or opposite sex,” sodomy has become the sign that defines the lives of gay men and keeps them in the social and religious shackles that perpetuates the public opinion that sex between men is deviant, devious, and dangerous to society at large.
We all can point out news stories that have involved men, both young and old, taking sexual advantage of innocent, non-consenting adolescent boys. This blog has even been home to articles discussing former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky or the abuses the Catholic clergy inflicted upon adolescent boys for decades. However, what we are looking at is, and has been, the constant recapitulation of the word “sodomy,” through deviant social actions of specific individuals, non-heteronormative sexual acts, and abuses on both national and transnational scales.
The problem with headlines that read “Man Sodomizes Little Boy” or briefs discussing how Jerry Sandusky “sodomized a young boy in the shower,” is that these acts get bundled up and categorized as sodomy without further explanation into the matter. As we saw before, the definition of sodomy, provided by Merriam-Webster, does not provide a negative or positive connotation of the word itself, but nevertheless as a result of these horrible actions, the word sodomy is recapitulated as the deviant and abusive behavior of disturbed or mentally ill men who inflict sexual abuse upon children instead of the social and sexual actions of a larger group of gay/queer individuals who have been longing to define their lives and sexual actions themselves. Ultimately, sodomy, regardless of if it is consensual or not, is always defined and used in a negative light rather than creating or using a new term or sign to describe the perverted and horrific actions of certain individuals and not a larger group of individuals in general.
The word sodomy is used to keep the sexual and emotion lives of gay men in a frozen state and mindset of being. The creation of sodomy has inscribed a blazoned S on the chests of all gay/queer individuals who perform consensual “oral or anal sex with members of the same sex,” as a way to culturally stagnate the positive sexual revolution of ascribing the public opinion that gay/queer individuals are not all deviant or dangerous. Gay/queer individuals are from a community who have had their sexual acts defined for them by heteronormative society at large and who still, to this day, cannot define their own sexual acts without the fear of being labeled a sodomite.

Monday, January 30, 2012

New and Old Queer Frontiers - Redefining Sacred Space

I am continually honored to be a part of the Feminism and Religion Project. Below is my newest blog post for FAR. I hope you enjoy and take part in the ongoing discussion of the f word in Religion.

To take part in the discussion visit: Feminism and Religion

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Queer. Sacred. Profane. Bar Culture.

One might not easily associate all four of those words in the same category, but Dr. Marie Cartier, a Professor at California State University Northridge, has crossed numerous boundaries in her search for the sacred in the pre-Stonewall Butch-Femme/Gay Women’s bar culture in twentieth century America.

A radical queer pioneer in the fields of both Women’s and Queer Studies in Religion, Marie has become a hero of mine during my time at Claremont Graduate University and my personal journey as both a man, queer, and scholar in these fields.

As an activist, Marie has concentrated a majority of her work on activism and its involvement in shaping one’s identity as well as the world in which we occupy. Although the majority of Marie’s work concentrated on her personal interactions with butch, femme, and gay women, her interactions are transcending from being strictly personal to digital.

Unable to find the language to describe Marie’s topic, she coined the new term Theelogy. Theelogy is a religion of friendship or way for gay people who were alive during the pre-Stonewall period to view their lives as having sacred meaning during that period even if all they did was “go to a gay bar.” The word puts more meaning on that activity than has previously been ascribed to it.

Below is an interview I conducted with Marie throughout a period of personal interactions to open up the discussion relating to theelogy and its important contribution to both the fields of Women’s and Queer Studies in Religion.

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John: What is “theelogy” and how does it open up new avenues in queer scholarship in religion?

Marie: Theelogy is a religion of friendship or way for gay people who were alive during the pre-Stonewall period to view their lives as having sacred meaning during that period even if all they did was “go to a gay bar.” It puts more meaning on that activity than has previously been ascribed to it. Since gay people were considered the nation’s highest security risk, mentally ill, felons and sinners in all major and minor religions—the gay bar became more than a bar for them. It became a place where they could perhaps for the only time-- know that they could first be a friend, and also have friends. I created “theelogy” from the words “thee” -- as in the line from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “How do I love thee? Let me count the way,” and “logy”—or “word of.” We think of “theology” as “God” and “word of”—word of God. But, since gay people prior to 1975, or pre-Stonewall were considered sinners in all major and minor religions (with the exception perhaps of the newly formed in 1968 by Rev. Troy Perry the gay friendly Metropolitan Community Church) they didn’t have access to the word of God—yet. They were exiled from the word of God. But the gay bar, as it was the only accepting public space (accepting—among the community itself, even though very dangerous—i.e., regularly raided by police, etc.) was a place where gay people could do the first step in finding meaning—they could begin to create community.

John: What got you interested in studying Butch-Femme/Gay Women’s bar culture and community?

Marie: I became interested in studying this from the point of view as part of the community myself. In 1997 I premiered a play, Ballistic Femme, about myself coming into butch-femme identity and struggling with being attracted to it as well as having issues with it as a feminist—but clearly being attracted to it—and butch women! The play premiered at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica. It then went on to productions in Denver, San Francisco and upstate New York as well as other venues in Los Angeles, among them UCLA. It was a very contemporary play about at the time contemporary issues within the lesbian late 90’s community—and the end of “sex wars,” among sex positive feminists as they were called, among those would be leather dykes and butch femme lesbians and lesbian feminists. I was in both camps and that was what my play was about.

However in San Francisco the lighting designer came up to me – right before a show—and said, “You don’t talk at all about the history!” And I was literally walking on stage at that point—literally. I stepped back from the opening to the stage and again literally stage whispered to her,, “And I’m not going to do it now!!” But after that night I did some research and I incorporated a section into the program that “Queen Ezmeralda” (a character in my show) recommended that you “Read More About It”—like they used to have at the end of PBS programs, etc. And I also “read more about it”—and realized that this whole “butch femme thing” that I was dealing with in late 1997 actually had this amazing rich history that I knew nothing about!! So I started learning about it.

When I entered the Ph.D. program at Claremont I was still also performing my show and the very beginning research that I had done was the basis for my very first research paper. Dr. Anne Taves wrote in the margin of that paper in 1998 that this subject could be the basis for my thesis for my Masters in Religion…and the rest is herstory!

John: How has your activism influenced your work?

Marie: Activism, or the movement for social change has influenced me greatly. I have been an activist in many movements for social change and the need to do that has influenced almost every decision I have made—both academically and artistically.

John: A professor once told me that I had to choose to be either an academic or an activist and that I could not marry the two. Do you believe that academics can be both activists and academics?

Marie: Yes, because I am one. In fact I believe that by definition academics and professors are activist. There really is not something that is inherently more activist than influencing another through teaching.

John: Is it our duty to be activists in order to create the type of change that we want to see in the world in our writing?

Marie: Almost a leading question! My answer would be yes, at least it has been true for me. But the movements that I am currently involved in--- among them Amnesty International, and the Occupy movement, gay and lesbian equality issues and feminism –especially freedom of choice for women—would attest to that more directly. I believe social change starts form the ground up. When we are on the ground we have to stand up. I have been on the ground in many ways – and I have chosen to stand up and to help those around me stand up. I always tell my students—it may not happen in your life time, but selfishly it feels better for me to fight for my rights than to lay down and play dead. Susan B. Anthony did not get to vote in her life time, but I think selfishly she felt better fighting for suffrage than just sitting around complaining about it or worse letting it eat her up inside and being silent. I definitely subscribe to the ACTUP MOTTO—“silence EQUALS DEATH.”

Adrienne Rich wrote, “I have to cast my lot with those who, age after age, with no extraordinary power reconstitute the world.” I agree with that, and I live by it. And—I don’t think that I have extraordinary power obviously—I associate mostly with folks who do the same thing. I come from that school of feminist thought where you “push or pull or get out of the way.” And I have chosen to push or pull mostly --rather than get out of the way.

John: What influences do you hope your work and “theelogy” have on feminism, queer studies, and religion?

Marie: Mostly I hope that people see that the bar culture pre-Stonewall is worth investigating. And this is already happening as I am asked to collaborate on projects that investigate the bar culture in ways that has not happened before. I mentioned that I am presenting with Dr. Wendy Griffin at the upcoming Pagan Conference at Claremont in February, and we are looking at how the structure I created – theelogy-- can be used to look at the women’s land movement as possibly a movement towards sacrality.

I also believe that many women that migrated to women’s land were coming from bar culture as many of the women were lesbians who went onto women’s or womyn’s land and that became a space for them—and prior to that for most lesbians the only space would have been the gay bar.

So I am looking for investigations into theelogy—the idea of creating sacrality through an examination of space. But mostly I want to present a prism through which we can see the gay women’s bar culture as having a deeper meaning than it has before. And on personal note I want to re-frame the lives of my informants—so that they themselves can view their pasts with perhaps deeper meaning than they have before.

John: What shifts have you seen in feminist and queer communities being online now?

Marie: The biggest shift for me is how much activism takes place online. And how much networking and how important social networking is. I did not have a Facebook account until about 8 months ago and just in that short of a time I cannot imagine conducting business—especially the business of being an activist—without it! That’s scary—but it’s true.

John: One last question: How important is blogging and blogs like Feminism and Religion that bring about scholars and activists from diverse backgrounds?

Marie: Well, considering that we are conducting our conversations more on-line than as my wife says in “face time” I think it’s very important that those of us who want to converse with each other do so in the ways we can. I personally hang out a lot at coffee shops, etc. And I think my favorite coffee shop is now my “favorite bar” in the language of theelogy—but I have to converse online to converse with many of the folks that I need to “want to stay in touch with. I am very, very proud of the Claremont flaks that I know, you among them!, who have created this amazing networking tool and I honestly feel very privileged to be part of it.