The Blackwood Research Group

Madisson Whitman and Alejandra Wundram Pimentel, from The BlaRG group have responded to a recent essay titled “Kinsey Was Wrong: Sexuality Isn’t Fluid,” where Daily Beast reporter Samantha Allen includes a quote from Alfred Kinsey, who wrote that “Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual… The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects” (Kinsey 1948). Allen follows, drawing from a recent publication, writing that “the sheep-goats model, it turns out, may have been close to the truth after all” (Allen 2015).

See the complete response here

 

As is evident in Time’s dismissal of the word in November, “feminist” as a label and a movement is the site of contested views over its relatability and utility. While suggesting that 2014 has been noticeably different in the attention given to feminism might be shortsighted, the constant thrum of Twitter hashtags (#YesAllWomen and #WhyIStayed come to mind), Buzzfeed lists, and debate around who is or is not a feminist suggest feminism as a topic as an incessant presence. Year end lists naming “iconic” or “best” “feminist moments” are readily available and are indicative of what I wouldn’t describe so much as a changing conversation but rather varying threads of an embracement of what Roxane Gay might call “bad feminism” and what I am labeling as “Buzzfeed feminism.”

In her book, Bad Feminist, which I strongly suggest everyone read, Roxane Gay refers to herself as a “bad feminist” as a critique of any notion that there could be a proper way of doing feminism or that there can be a “good” feminist. Gay frames feminism as something approachable, accessible, and relevant, which is necessary as there seems to be ongoing dispute over what feminism actually entails. One particular list from Mic – “The 39 Most Iconic Feminist Moments of 2014” – could be read as either proving this point of concern over the disjointed interpretations of feminism or instead that are a myriad of feminisms that can take up that label, or maybe both.

The above list has a smattering of topics ranging from responses to attacks on reproductive health to Laverne Cox’s excellent year to Ferguson protests to Barbie’s changing figure. The list also includes Beyoncé on two separate occasions, Robin Thicke’s failure of an album, and Frozen. Beyoncé’s brand of feminism is the subject of endless critique and is discussed more extensively elsewhere, but the listing of a mediocre music album doing poorly and an inescapable Disney movie do not appear to me as “feminist moments.” In a feminist cultural studies seminar I took this semester, we spent week after week discussing what makes a film, TV show, music, or performer “feminist.” Is it the explicitly assigned label? Is it inherent in a plot? What is the role of intentionality in feminism, especially where popular media is concerned? How are we interpreting feminism? Jack Halberstam, in Gaga Feminism, references a colleague who is working on “Ke$ha feminism”—do Ke$ha’s take on sexual politics and liberatory aesthetic in terms of sex automatically lead us to feminism? What’s feminist about Ke$ha, and who gets to decide Ke$ha’s feminism?

What the list does perhaps unintentionally, and what Roxane Gay does so effectively, is to point out the complexities of doing feminism and that it isn’t quite so cut and dry, which is where what I’m calling “Buzzfeed feminism” comes into play. The list has a few references to Aziz Ansari, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Emma Watson promoting inclusive feminism for everyone. While I have difficulty being frustrated with these celebrities for their promotion of feminism, what their various speeches do is to rebrand feminism as primarily concerned with women’s equality, and surprise!, men can be a part of feminism, too. While it’s hard to complain about publicity that might make feminism a little more accessible to their fans, their feminisms are also reductive. Emma Watson’s expansion of feminism to men was treated as a huge development for feminism, but feminism has long been about fighting sexism on all fronts, along with racism, classism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, among all of the forms of inequality these –isms intersect with. The rebranding of feminism via Buzzfeed clickbait and the packaging of feminism in the form of gifs and memes disregard a history of feminist work and instead we are constantly reinventing the wheel. Feminism’s ubiquity in pop culture conversation is important, but I worry if its roots aren’t traced beyond its existence as a buzzword that, according to Time, has already run its course.

I want to call attention to a exchange that started in npr a couple of months ago. This exchange started with a question: Is Latin America or the Middle East more sexist? I am attaching the first article, a response, and the latter response to criticism by the original author. Part of the original attempt of the first article was to question the way we measure “the freedom of women,” specially the way we might talk about the Middle East as being particularly sexist. However, this article failed as it continued to work inside a discourse that is essencialist and othering. Lourdes García-Navarro finishes her first piece with “even having all the freedom in the world can be its own cage” pointing to what the sexism that she sees in Brazil. We could overlook the obvious problem of creating “the Middle East” or “Latin America” as a concrete unit, or even the issues of using one country, despite its own diversity, as a token to represent an entire continent. Even then, we remain with the question, which both the other pieces left unproblematized: who are we comparing Latin America or the Middle East too. These articles continue positioning the women in Latin America and the Middle East as others and as victims. What is more, a discussion of sexism in Europe or the US speaks through its absence. These discussion continuous a narrative that allows the US to overlook its own issues, because, at least, they are not that bad compared to the Other.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/03/11/289058115/which-place-is-more-sexist-the-middle-east-or-latin-america

See also:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/03/20/npr_asks_if_the_middle_east_or_latin_america_is_more_sexist.html

http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/03/24/293855961/a-few-more-thoughts-on-sexism-in-latin-america

The Decline and Fall of the ‘H’ Word – The New York Times

On Friday, the New York Times published an article professing the approaching end of the use of “homosexual,” describing it as a “pejorative” term better left in past decades. According to Jeremy W. Peters, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has “homosexual” listed as an offensive term. Others steer away from it because the location of “sex” in the term itself, where “gay” and “lesbian” do not contain a blatant reference to sex the composition of the words. Further, anthropologist William Leap has indicated that the “clinical baggage” of “homosexual” detracts from its functionality, noting that he does not use it in his courses and redirects students who do.

While I think this turn is not unexpected, I think the implications of this shift might not be as realized, and the academic legacies of the term might not be as flexible as the more general changes Peters discusses. As anthropologists, how do we update our vocabularies and terminologies to reflect the people with whom we work? What about people who actively identify as and use “homosexual” in their day to day lives? I am reminded of David Valentine’s interrogation of “transgender” as it pertains to people who do not relate to or utilize the term.

Further, as researchers, how do we rework our approaches to adapt to such changes? How do we shift our terminologies to be more representative of our interlocutors? For example, what do we say instead of “situational homosexuality”? What do we say to encompass activities that do not fit neatly into “gay” or “lesbian”? Alternatively, should this movement away from “homosexual” prompt us to ask different questions and leave some of these frameworks behind? Is a critique on “homosexual” also necessarily a critique on its contingencies? The future trajectories of the term will undoubtedly be interesting.

A week or so ago, one of my good friends sent me a link to a sports story about a special kind of golf putter. Now, I’m not really a huge fan of golf, in fact, I’m more the type to spend an afternoon on the course cursing the grass, trees and my own athletic ability than one to find it relaxing or fun. Also, pretty quickly I realized that the article contained some  specific engineering jargon about what makes this putter superior to other putters. I figured that my friend, a very talented engineer, had sent this to me because of the interesting science it contained. I previewed the link, and after noticing that the story was pretty long, I put it aside for another day.

But then, every day I would check my social media sites and found that this story was blowing up in my gender variant networks. There were links and blogs and critiques and general chatter all over the place. So I decided to sit down and finally read this piece. Here is the link to the original article:

http://grantland.com/features/a-mysterious-physicist-golf-club-dr-v/

Let me summarize it for all of you who might be similarly disinclined to read about sports, engineering and physics. Essentially, a young sports writer discovers a new and different kind of putter, starts asking around and finds out that a woman who happens to be a brilliant physicist with little-to-no golf experience developed it and had been marketing it on a grand scale all the way up the the main media magnates of the golf industry. Naturally, the writer seeks out the inventor for an interview at which point he is told he can ask questions about the putter and her company but nothing about the inventor. The writer AGREES (which is an important point for later).

After several months researching the putter, golfers who use it, and the company marketing and selling it, the writer sets about doing some fact checking about the inventor’s credentials. He discovers rather quickly that most of those credentials are false and eventually learns that the inventor is a transgender woman with almost zero experience with engineering or high principles of physics like she had stated. The writer then goes on to OUT the inventor as a transgender woman to her business investors. At this point, Dr. V learns that she has been outed and asks the writer to cease and desist and to sign a non-disclosure agreement and not publish his story. He refuses in spite of his initial agreement not to discuss the inventor in his story.

We then learn rather abruptly toward the end of the story that 3 months before the article was published Dr. V committed suicide. A tidbit that the writer just kind of tacks on at the end with ZERO reflection about his possible role in or culpability in the loss of a human life.

While Dr. V had a long history of battling suicidality and depression, I don’t believe that it is very hard to imagine that the  knowledge that she would soon be outed as transgender to the whole world but also for committing some serious deceptions in her business endeavors played a role in that. It is also not very hard to imagine that the writer is involved in her decision to commit suicide which should have caused him to pause, reflect and feel some pangs of empathy, compassion or dare I say guilt. However, the writer’s attitude summarizes the American cultural attitude towards transgender people as a community – that they are not deserving of privacy, respect, or even in some cases their very lives. Many within the non-transgender communities, as this story clearly indicates, continue to equate a transgender person’s living in their preferred gender with being a con artist out to deceive everyone they meet. Until this idea changes, the rates for suicide attempts (41%) and harassment (97%) will continue. I can only hope that Dr. V’s story and death will help to educate some to the very real challenges and difficulties that come with being who you are as a transgender person.

Below are some of the other critiques and responses to the publication of Dr. V’s story that I found particularly insightful or relevant. The first link is to one of the official responses from grantland which was written by a transgender woman who writes for ESPN (the parent company of grantland).

http://grantland.com/features/what-grantland-got-wrong/

http://espn.go.com/blog/ombudsman/post/_/id/305/dr-v-story-understandable-inexcusable

http://beautifulterriblestrange.tumblr.com/post/73685185431/dr-v-caleb-hannan-and-grantland

What do you all think? Should the story have been published at all? Should they have left out Dr. V’s transgender history? Should the author have left it as is?

Image

This is a common Hong Kong wet market scene. Unlike supermarkets in the United States that open 24/7, wet markets in Hong Kong open within a certain time frame, usually from 8:00 in the morning until noon, and then open again at 4:00 until 7:00 in the evening. Wet market is a place embodying family time: kids go to school before 8:00, so moms and domestic workers are free to go to wet markets after 8:00. Family dinner time should not be later than 8:00, so wet markets close at 7:00. As defined by Judith Halberstam in her book In a Queer Time and Place, family time refers to the normative scheduling of daily life, and queer time refers to specific models of temporality that leaves the temporal frames of bourgeois reproduction and family. According to the definitions, shopping at a wet market is a family time because it orients to the normative schedule of most ordinary, nuclear families. 

But, is family time always neatly distinct from queer time? Can family time produce a queer moment, let say in the wet market? My research on female same-sex relationships among Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong provides me a window to re-think the notion of “queer temporality.” It also enables me to recognize the productive effect of family time in producing queer time. Let me explain it.

As live-in domestic workers, the Indonesian women are required to stick to the family time—early to rise to finish household duties and not allowed to leave the apartment without employers’ approval. Through understanding how they worked out their same-sex relationships on weekdays, I found that the women managed to queer family time. I was told that it was not uncommon for them to date an Indonesian woman, who was also a domestic worker and lived nearby, when they went shopping at wet markets. The family time of shopping at wet markets enables Indonesian domestic workers to gather at a certain time, i.e. 5:00 in the afternoon, at a certain spot, i.e. wet market.Shopping at a wet market is not necessarily a mundane daily routine, but may be a queer moment–seeing a woman she is longing for. 

Family time and queer time are not necessarily separate or distinct categories.

Family time may produce queer moments.

 

 

 

Ok, so I’m a little peeved right now so bear with me. And this post is probably going to make some of you mad.  Huff Post Gay published LGBT History Month 2013: 21 Influential Black LGBT Icons which I saw on my Facebook feed. The National Black Justice Coalition shared it with the missive to “know your history” as in your Black LGBT history. I clicked the link and was pleased to see the likes of Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Bruce Nugent, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Alvin Ailey, Alice Walker and E. Lynn Harris, who I absolutely consider to be a part of Black LGBT history. However, I was bit dismayed to see the likes of Frank Ocean and Snoop, or even Don Lemon, who are not “historical figures.” They may be popular, and even talented. But “historical icons?” Come on people! Did you just  put Don Lemon in a category with Bayard Rustin and Jimmy Baldwin? Coming out publicly as gay does not make you an historical icon. It is certainly brave and admirable, and for those of us who are always searching for community among those that share our skin tone, it’s almost like meeting a new family member.

However, I’m also bothered by the fact that they claimed Snoop from The Wire as an historical figure, but left out Barbara Smith, founding member of The Combahee River Collective and the Black lesbian credited with the first ever theoretical statement on the creation of a Black feminist criticism. In 1977 no less. Or what about Ann Allen Shockley, credited with publishing the first Black lesbian novel in 1974? Or Doris Davenport, Pat Parker, or Stephanie Byrd, Black lesbian poets from the 1970s and 1980s? Or Black lesbian filmmakers Cheryl Dunye and Yvonne Welborn, both who have been making and producing films for decades?

It seems to be that our claim to LGBT history seems to be invested in the young and sexy, or the spectacle of celebrity, much like the rest of the world. Or maybe the author of the piece was stretching the limits of his knowledge to come up with 21 Black LGBT folks. I don’t know. Regardless, no shade whatsoever to the current group of Black LGBT gamechangers, but I think categorizing them as “historical icons” is a bit disingenuous, since in my book you have to do more than put out one or two hit records, star in one show, or make a lot of money and look good to be an historical figure. It would also seem to me that you would need to be around for a while, since you know, history is about the PAST, not the present.

The struggles of Rustin, Lorde, Nugent, and Baldwin in particular are substantive and have been tested over time.  They truly paved the way for this current batch of folks to do what they’re doing right now. Maybe it would be better to look back on the work of folks like Snoop, Polk, and Ocean, and take note of the ways in which they use their celebrity OVER TIME, to expand our notion of Black LGBT history. Or maybe we need to understand that pop icon and historical icon don’t necessarily mean the same thing. Until then, if you need the names of people who have actually changed history for the good of Black LGBT folks over the past forty years, let me know.

 

%d bloggers like this: