Combating Dystopia.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Theocrats by Any Other Name.

Joe. My. God.: Christians Only At TX Prayer Rally

The lesson? Don't imply your very public, very political "prayer rally" is all inclusive and multi-denominational when it in fact isn't. The glaring problem here....beyond the idea that a standing Governor's spokesman is using obnoxiously biased religious jargon like "Our One True God" and "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" in an official secular capacity, is that people in environments like this wouldn't know how to respectfully and inclusively hold a faith based function if their afterlives depended on it. The language here is a prime example of monotheistic arrogance:

This is an explicitly Christian event because we are going to be praying to the one true God through His son, Jesus Christ. It would be idolatry of the worst sort for Christians to gather and invite false gods like Allah and Buddha and their false prophets to be with us at that time. Because we have religious liberty in this country, they are free to have events and pray to Buddha and Allah on their own. But this is time of prayer to the One True God through His son, Jesus Christ, who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

Sure, we get it, big ol' Christian. The flowery if not mildly cliched rhetoric was the tell there. Whats interesting about the way religious freedom is supposed to work though, is that political figures are not supposed to implicitly endorse one religion over the other. Marketing an event as a Texan Prayer Event speaks to indicative bias on Perry's part, and now that I'm aware of what sort of evangelical Perry is I'm a little ponderous of how the GOP tends to put forward these grinning theocrats while passing them off as objective politicians. Ominous foreboding here.

*Unsurprisingly the event seems to be funded by the ever loving American Family Association, and Perry is being paid for his appearance. Want to bet who's going to be generously donating to his campaign (in exchange for ramping up anti-gay policy?)?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Vandals at the Gift Shop

OneAngryQueer: HRC Store Vandalized, Radical Queer Group Claims Responsibility

Above: The ever rad OneAngryQueer on the happening.
Below: The pithy, snarky, irreverent press release of those claiming responsiblity for this...silliness.

The modern LGBT movement owes its success to three days of smashing, burning, punching, and kicking–all of it happily indiscriminate–and the confrontational tactics of groups like ACT-UP that followed in the decades since. Yet, somehow we’ve forgotten our riotous roots.

Gay Pride, for example, wasn’t always a suburban county fair with less fanny packs and lined with banks and politicians. The first Pride was the 1970 Christopher Street Liberation Day march, a celebration of the riots the year before (and to this day, Pride festivals the world over are celebrated in June).

But we’ve been snorting ritalin and drinking whiskey all night and this manifesto tomfoolery is wearing us down so let’s bring it home, shall we?

Why, you’re asking, did we specifically target the HRC, a massive national gay rights non-profit as opposed to vomiting urine on Rick Santorum or something equally fun?

Put simply, they suck. What do they suck? Cash. Lots of it.

The HRC rakes in something approaching 50 million dollars a year in revenue–their executive director, Joe Salmonellamayonaisemanese pulls in a salary of several hundred grand. What have we gotten out of this bloated carcass? Not a thing worth mentioning and every now and then, they eagerly sell trans people up the river. Seriously, this is an organization that hordes money and does nothing useful. It’s a sad, sick dinosaur.

"We lack a homeless lets attack the few things 'we' actually have." The HRC is incredibly visible, so its faults (sometimes glaring) are fairly visible too. Does this mean we take our eye off the prize and take pot shots at it while we have sworn enemies actively trying to disempower us at every turn? Well, according to this little band of pranksters it does. Way to take a credible argument (in some ways) and make it less relevant than the act that punctuated it.

That said, regarding civil rights movements and activism, there are more than a few ways to skin the proverbial cat and win hearts and minds. Dr. King and Malcom X had differing tactics to be sure, but the end game was always improving the way of life of a disenfranchised people. Similarly, pointing out when the Emperor has no clothes is not the problem as much as the juvenile tactics employed to do so are. Its not easy being an activist. Often there's a thousand legitimate gripes and not enough people self aware enough to even begin to care about them in a genuine and meaningful way. One way to turn people off entirely though? Dull and tactless stunts that damage people and organizations that are far far less odious than those we should be marshaling our energy for.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gender Bombs: Sissy Boys and Security Threats

Box Turtle Bulletin » What Are Little Boys Made Of?

Above is some of the most impressive blog journalism I've ever seen related to a given piece.

Anderson Cooper has of late been making the rounds with a story, which by all accounts is a gripping, soul searing testament of how completely the idea of gender and its slightly murkier links to perceived sexual orientation can belabor and ruin the already arduous process that is coming of age. The Cooper story was broken initially by Box Turtle Bulletin, and in tandem both prove to be some amazing, damning evidence against homosexual "deprogramming" touted among the Christian Conservative set.

Every semester to date, when discussing the gender and sexuality chapters of Intro to Sociology, the topic without question veers to the very dicey topic of gender expression. "My four year old nephew likes the color pink...should I be worried?" "I once saw my son playing with his sister's doll, does that mean anything?" It feels as though every month or so we have a histrionic "gay panic" about some parent somewhere "making their 5 year old gay" by "allowing" their child to paint their toenails pink or play dress up, or wear a costume for Halloween.

What follows is usually a fairly profound unpacking of our societal misconceptions about gender and how it relates (or does not) to sexual orientation, and more importantly how socially constructed a given cultures ideas of masculinity and femininity are.

We live in a culture, post cold war conformity, that is still suffering from the hangovers of rigid gender expectation. All boys should like color X (or else something MAY be wrong with them), all girls should like the color Y (or something might be wrong with them). That something, post-McCarthyism was always the idea that gender non-conformity of any sort, the slightest "deviation" meant that your son might be a "sissy boy", much the way homosexuality was linked to such extreme deviance during the period that it was considered a national security risk to have any real or presumed homosexuals employed in a federal capacity. Being gay or even considered gay was so subversive that it was considered a danger to the very American way of life. Those ideas were popularized roughly a generation ago during a time of extreme social conformity, so it should come as no surprise that the original gay panic defense still has lingering implications as many years later.

What is problematic about this misconception is that one's sexuality, even when we're in our most formative years, learning the very socialized aspects of gender expectation- girls have long hair, wear dresses, pet kitties and play with dollies. Boys are "snakes and snails and puppy dogs tails", yadda yadda yadda. And what that fails to indicate, or even adequately express is the idea that sexuality and attraction are phenomena that exist outside of our gender identity/socialization.

As per the experiment referenced in both the Anderson Cooper and Box Turtle Bulletin links, there are several boys who conform to "appropriate" gender roles and still have same sex attractions, plenty of rugged military personnel that just so happen to like dudes. Sexuality does not perfectly dovetail with gender role behavior. If anything, what is evidenced by the extremely horrific results of the "sissy boy experiment" the infamous "ex-gay" reparative therapy guru George Reukers is that when we attach such caustic controls and expectations (i.e- conflating sexual orientation to gender behavior of a five year old) more damage can be done than good. Its utterly heartwrenching, the sort of hurt and trauma this experiment has caused the family the articles and expose touch on. And utterly criminal how people like the junk psychologist/therapist interviewed therein are allowed to further the falsehood that same sex attractions are something that can or should be essentially reprogrammed at God(tm)'s say so. The damage this does to the psyches of young people, living in fear of rejection and shunning based on whether or not their presentation of a given role is "convincing" (and not necessarily on their actual sexualities) is exponential in magnitude.

EDIT: Having just found this rather succinct meme from the APA on NARTH and the Focus on the Family fundies that perpetuate the ex-gay myth, I think the defense can rest safely enough.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

New York States of Mind.

In "In Hope For the World Yet" News, it would be remiss of me as a Jr. level pseudo-social activist not to post an entry in honor of the recently official approval of gay marriage in New York state. Its a great boon for those of us who prefer we collectively work towards equality, and not seem as much the regressive nation we may in fact happen to be when compared to a our allies. The right to marry in NY seems long overdue in ways, as so much of the western world looks to Manhattan as second only to San Francisco as true north when it comes to gay communities and life in general.

It bares noting that this doesn't necessarily mean a sea change regarding the rest of the nations rigidity on the so called issue of same sex marriage. New York state as of last night has become one of only six states in the union who actively seeks (after much deliberation, apparently) to recognize the humanity and equality of all its legal taxpaying adult citizens. Compare that with the number of states where marrying one's cousin is permissible and on the books... and shutter at the sheer wrongness of it all.

Secondly, the victory for marital equality in New York state does not mean that there are not those who will seek to hamper and demonize gay people and this issue of civil rights. The dialog that has been generated around this issue in states where its on the docket is quite simply vitriolic in many cases. Much the way voting President Obama into office hasn't been the harbinger of the "post racial" society I'd heard so much about, the vote here in the right direction isn't going to stop idiots like Archbishiop Timothy Dean of NY from making the hackneyed slippery slope analogies we hear so often:

"That’s what’s going to happen here. You think it’s going to stop with this? You think now bigamists are going to want their rights to marry? You think somebody that wants to marry his sister is going to now say 'I have a right.' I mean it’s the same principle, isn’t it?"

I suppose we could waste valuable time dissecting just how impossibly stupid this line of logic is. If what the good Archbishop implies is correct, the ONLY thing keeping men from this urge to marry their sisters is... a law in place that prohibits this... the man does not much faith in general decency of his fellows it would seem. The ways this analogy fails is tremendous, as two loving (not related) human beings who already share a life or seek to, have no reason to live their lives as though a subjective religious lens. State officiated marriages are offered in a purely secular capacity and in order to assuage some concern of the religious among us, religions can still opt to be highly discriminatory towards those it does not wish to serve or acknowledge. Its just that they cannot entirely control the argument and act as arbiters of social norms for everyone.

I sometimes wonder if all the animus towards gay marriage from christian conservatives does not stem from this fact; the idea that a real or perceived loss of control about being able to be the preeminent decider of who and what unions are valid, and the ability to control the terms through which a couple weds- not to mention the monetary/economic aspects of the ceremonies associated. Perhaps its a more Marxian dynamic than some would be willing to admit in that the ability to control the lines where the in-group and the out-group are divided, and further to dictate the terms upon which a member of the group can change status is being eroded in this particular case...Though it is highly doubtful anyone who has ever wielded any sort of power will abdicate such without a fight.

Its a great, beautiful thing that has been wrestled from the hands of the rigid this day, on the week of NY Pride, no less. To love is a gift, and far as traditions go, has aspects worthy of adhering to as its at least generally a social good. Encouraging more people to conform to standards that we as a society have long held are important, the pinnacle to which any relationship is to be measured against, seems perfectly understandable. Not allowing "conventional wisdom" to hinder people from taking care of their families and loved ones merely because someone else takes exception to whom you happen to love flies in the face of the freedoms that make America's vast potential for humanitarian good somewhat more muted.
Now for something incrementally less exuberant. Matt Pond PA is one of my all time favorite bands, I've always been enamored of the way they meld rock and orchestral sensibilities to get some sweet, lovely layered melody. Midlake is one of my more favorite folksy discoveries of the last year, and "Head Home" is perhaps one of my favorite songs of theirs. (though it seems its hard to choose). Music to read by. Be excellent to each other and have a wonderful (pride) weekend.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

XCOM- Video game characters, social change and the Cold War. Cool.

Below is a post of an interesting article about an upcoming (and impressive looking) FPS/Sci-fi game called XCOM, and more importantly its very interesting take on minority characters you find yourself working with to save the world.

One of the most often repeated, if utterly foolhardy, arguments against gay characters in games is that their sexuality is never a relevant detail to the plot. So I was more than a little curious and delighted to hear a developer put such a strong emphasis on a character's homosexuality in the game's second public showing. Thankfully, Thomas was gracious enough to sit and chat with me about the character of Dr. Weir, and how social commentary is a natural partner for the videogame medium.

"Weir is an Australian," Thomas began. "He's not a citizen of the States, although he came there to study particle accelerators, and already found himself an outsider on that grounds alone simply because of the paranoia of foreigners that was prevalent in the mid-century."

"But on top of that, he is also a closeted homosexual. He has both a sexual and a political opposition to the elite of the country, which are still very conservative - very focused on America as the best and the brightest - and he doesn't fit their paradigm. It is hard for them to acknowledge that one of the best scientists in the world is, in their minds, deviant. So he's struggled with that for a long time."

"But all of sudden this alien invasion hits and they need him and they have to put it aside. But then you see those tensions come to bear in the base. There are characters who don't like working with him. They are people of their time. And so you'll see different positions represented amongst the core cast. But he is - he is a man with true grit. He's able to weather it pretty well, and the player kind of gets to decide where they fall on that continuum. You can basically decide how to treat him."

Of course, homosexuality wasn't the only civil rights movement making headway in the 60's, and XCOM will explore other socio-cultural tensions of the time.

"As a narrative guy, it's the reason I'm excited to work on the game. The setting was chosen very specifically because I feel that the socio-cultural tension was about to come to a head. It was an old America and a new America kind of locked in a mortal combat, and it was very interesting for me to start exploring what was going on at the time."

"Agent Barns, for example, the African American guy who runs the agent operation and recruits for you, he was working COINTELPRO in the FBI - and that was a bureau program to run surveillance on the American people, not known by anybody - and Dr. Martin Luther King was his assignment. He was supposed to infiltrate that movement and discredit King by finding evidence that he was Red. He didn't find anything, and he was asked to fabricate it. He refused, and was almost going to be kicked out by J. Edgar Hoover and his cronies, but at that time the alien invasion happens and XCOM snaps him up."

I commented that it sounded like XCOM was really more of a 60's period piece that happened to use aliens as a catalyst to bring out the social climate.

Between these two characters mentioned, this game sounds fascinating. Whats the idea many a dystopian story has suggested? When confronted with bigger problems (i.e- world threatening invasions etc) there's nothing like a threat of an apocalyptic scale to unify people and (at least temporarily) forget our collective "differences". Marginally at least.

There are of course incidences to the contrary: Alan Turning was a gifted British mathematician that proved to be influential during WWII by code breaking and using his considerable talents to counter the threat of Nazi Germany in England. In the 1952, Turning was convicted of "indecency"(for being proven to be a homosexual) and subsequently chemically castrated, and committed what is believed to be suicide two years later.

It stands as one of the most galling examples of how moral "correctness" and rigid expectations regarding sexual conduct/sexuality can lead to the ruin of otherwise brilliant people. Much about homosexuality during the time period XCOM is set in is still wrapped up in the idea that gay= defective and that its a national security risk. Of course, the way the culture demonized gay men and women it somewhat became a self fulfilling prophecy...

The other compelling bit about the argument is what the US Government, especially in the Jim Crow south, did to black servicemembers, Treating them with distrust and genera purpose malaise. The heavy scrutiny and intel conducted by the FBI against Martin Luther King Jr was done in the interests of finding something to damage his credibility or discredit him (and prove the idea that black people were "agitated" into activism by Communists and otherwise fine with segregation*).

*See note #168.

XCOM's character details, coupled with this pretty amazing looking trailer released at E3 last week puts it waaaay wayyy higher on my list of must have video games this year. I'll be keeping a very close eye on this one.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Lovings and Marriage.

Joe. My. God.: 44 Years Later: <i>Loving Vs. Virginia</i>

Without question, this is one of the most important legal cases in United States history. Every semester this is brought up in class when discussing race, or social change, or marital equality and each and every time younger students sit agape- amazed that something like interracial marriage was illegal in their parents lifetimes and not some ancient, distant age where pilgrims wore funny hats. 44 years ago these two good and noble people drew a line in the sand and simply by loving and contesting an archaic law taught us how utterly wrong conventional wisdom can be.

While its refreshing that youth culture seems to be disconnected over the recentness of the changes that grant persons to marry of whatever "race" they choose (I hope to marry a human someday, myself) I always find it a tad alarming that most people in a class of freshmen aged students are so oblivious to the fact that less than a generation ago this was a big deal, that segregation was not only social thought, but legally binding institutional discrimination.

I've heard it said a great deal lately, from thoughtful young trailblazers in their own right, that we'll collectively look back at same sex marriage, Proposition 8 and its subsequent banning and conservative pushbacks as wrongheaded and horrific, the same way many look at Loving v. the Supreme Court of Virginia. As a horrible dinosaur from another age. A reminder of how awful and alien the past can be, and in its own way, how recent and transformative the power of love can be. Its because of the Lovings that I'm convinced the right to marry the human of your choosing is worth changing the world for.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Caught on Tape: Police "Overzealousness" to Cover Their Collective Assi.

Miami Police Destroy Cell Phone Camera : Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

I really hope Mr. Brayton keeps this sort of content up. It is of course disconcerting to watch innocent bystanders become a 'collateral damage' argument, and it pains me to make the weak case, but sure, accidents happen when it comes to law enforcement and firearms at the cost of human life.

Where this goes WELL and grossly beyond an 'accidents happen' argument is when law enforcement officers aim their guns at bystanders, confiscate evidence they assume is incriminating and destroy it. It goes well and disgustingly beyond any possible reasoning that "mistakes were made" and delves into corrupt cops moving to cover up whatever wrongdoing they know they've engaged in at the expense of the liberties of those who just happen to be on the unfortunate scene of the crime. In the attempt to cover up one crime they've created dozens more. Some days, its pretty easy to be troubled by the so called "free republic" we're told we inhabit.

Monday, June 6, 2011

This is NOT what Democracy Looks Like.

Barber: Obama is Anti-Semitic : Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

Matt Barber of the absurdly named Liberty Counsel says that Obama is anti-Semitic because he opposes some of Israel's policies, one of the dumbest and most common accusations against anyone who dares to criticize Israel. To know how stupid this argument is, all you need to know is that a poll in Israel after Obama and Netanyahu each gave their respective speeches recently found that 57% of Israelis agreed with Obama and thought Netanyahu should have agreed with him too.

Are 57% of Israelis anti-Semitic too? Really?

I've been having a hard time grappling with this issue. To say that making Palistinians refuges is morally or ethically problematic is to be anti-semetic? To say that its wrong for a group of people to apply institutional cruelty to another group and praise 'democracy' while doing it is somehow a slight. I've noticed this trend when the issue of Israel comes up and I don't know how to effectively discuss the topic of protest and opposition of policy (and then the shooting of said protesters) with people who are pro-Israel (or Zionist) without being...indelicate.

One of my closest friends during undergrad was of Palestinian dissent and much of what he divulged about his experiences and those of his family were heartbreaking and eye opening. In an effort to better understand/confront this in which (as Ed Brayton rightly suggests above) dissenters = anti-semites, I'm posting BBC's primer on the subject. Educate yourselves. Blinders and rafters in this case do more to rationalize the suffering of others based on nationality than anything else. Any nation that considers itself of the modern world cannot patently justify prolonged, institutionalized discrimination (and horrors of this nature) without reprisal, and yet we seem to see this happen in Israel consistently. Its troubling, the lack of accountability. It is becoming clear that when it comes to Israel's treatment of Palestine this is NOT what democracy looks like.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Celebrity Deathmatch: Unreality Version.

Counter-protesters confront Westboro Baptist Church at Arlington -

Perhaps the apocalypse really IS a-coming, after all. Here we have the Klu Klutz Klan counter protesting the Westboro Baptist Church. Yes, one group has been historically the most repugnant blight on American culture (since...well, technically the Europeans landed and performed gradual genocide centuries ago), the other has through sheer mean spirited "fire and brimstone" spitefulness, made a name for itself protesting funerals of gay people, military soldiers, and anyone with a slightly elevated profile that may be somehow..."endorsing sin that deserves God's Fury". Or something. And they're FIGHTING each other!!!
Not since those rather ridiculous claymation Deathmatch epsidoes on MTV have I wanted to see an actual throwdown. To be fair, The Westboro Baptist Church finds that its NOT an abomination that needs to be protested at funerals to be black or female. Just gay. Or a soldier who happened to die at war. Which vaguely (though not actually) doesn't outright condemn the homosexual to death. So they're sinners too!!! (Or something). This is like if the Legion of Doom squared off against the Storm Troopers from Star Wars. Except, in reality, is slightly more jarring and a little pathetic.

Don't worry. My head hurts too.

Speaking of religious interpretation and big obnoxious overreactions. I'm posting the video to Lady Gaga's "Judas" which the Christian Anti-Defamation League called a bunch of foul things before either the song or the video were released. You KNOW you're controversial when you get pre-emptive pearl clutching...