Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Why Do Gay People Have to Look So...Gay?" aka Our Ridiculous Cultural Norms

My father and I went to an Indigo Girls concert a couple of days ago, (It was amazing, thanks for asking), and in a discussion of the goings on, my father told me: "You know what I was thinking? Why do gay people have to look so gay? Amy and Emily (the two women who make up the Indigo Girls) didn't look gay, but if you looked around the audience...."

This lead to a discussion on why you look at some people and they "look heterosexual" (whatever the heck that means) and others seem to go out of their way to stick out as uber-gays. (Or 100 footers, as they say in The L Word, referring to someone who you can tell is gay from 100 feet away.) But then, when you put gay people together, there seems to be a lot of, well, stereotypicalness going on. Here are my attempts to rationalize this:

1) There are lots of straight men and women that dress and act in such a way that, if they came out, people probably wouldn't be surprised, and would announce that these straight folks always looked gay. Our culture likes to label these type of men "metrosexual" and these women "tom boys". (Because, of course, we must label anything that steps outside cultural norms for male and femaleness....whatever the heck that means). So really, this idea that gay people all dress or act a certain way is because we overlook the straight people who appear that way, as well as the gay people who don't.

2) It gives gay people a sense of community. When gay people come out and enter the culture, they see all of these new ways of living and want to try them out. "Gaying it up" when you're around other gay people, makes you feel more like you belong.

3) Sometimes, clothes are a way of escape. When you go to a rock concert, chances are you wear something different than your everyday dress. You try to look more badass. More rock n roll. If you go to a Star Wars convention, again, you want to put on a certain image. You don't want to be the person with stresses or five projects for work due next Tuesday or whatever. You just want to be the x part of you to the fullest and to have a good time. Well, gay people, depending on where you live, get a lot of shit for "gaying it up." But when they can go somewhere safe, they can be themselves, they can be their version of sexy, they can do whatever makes them feel good and gay and proud, because they don't have to worry about judgement. And all they want to do, after all, is to have a good time.

4) My favorite: Don't knock it until you try it. Our culture tells us what's beautiful, but for every subculture, there's different standards of dress. This doesn't mean that every person abides by it, just that it's something new to try. The gay culture, I've always thought, is very varied as far as what it considers beautiful. Is it what's butch? What's femme? What's glittery and rainbow? Regardless, you're introduced to these things and you can figure out whether you like them. I learned from rock culture that I love band t-shirts. From punk culture that I love bondage pants (you know, the ones with all the zippers). From my folk/hippi roots that I like dresses and flowy things. Then, one day, when I was still in high school, I wanted to do something drastic and confident, and so I chopped off nearly all my hair (much to my mother's dismay) and started wearing a faux hawk.  All my life, I had been sweet, pretty, cute, beautiful. Safe things for a woman to be. (Things I still was and always will be on the inside.) But by trying this new me, I felt hot, sexy, badass. It was different, and I liked it. But in the same way that one of my very girly friends would have never realized how good her ass looked in a pair of bondage pants without me giving her an old pair of mine, I would never have known that I made a pretty good "butch" (not that I consider myself that) if I wasn't part of a culture that told me it was okay. So if the ratio of "butch" females and "feminine" males seems higher in gay culture, maybe it's just because we're accepting enough to let more people decide that that's what they like.

Though I still think there's a whole lot of ignorance as for the vast amount of gay people who don't fit the stereotypes: the gay jocks and lesbian cheerleaders, to go with the old high school stereotypes. Of course, it was my mother who said once, when attending a Gay-Straight Alliance forum with me 6 years ago, "I don't understand. But all of the girls... they were so pretty?"


<3 Gina Blechman

Monday, June 20, 2011

How/Why the Media is Helping Bring Awareness of LGBT Issues & Culture

The time I first came out was also about the same time my father bought a new cable package that included the LOGO channel, and I remember my dad specifically warning me about it, saying, "You can watch it, but you just might want to watch it too much. You don't want to let them brainwash you." (This, I might add, would not be the first time that a parent of mine mentioned brainwashing and some medium of gay culture or activism in the same sentence.)

Of course, I rebelled against this at first. But it wasn't until I was older that I really understood what this warning meant.

I didn't know what being 'gay' meant until I was in seventh grade. I had never even heard the word until I was in sixth grade. Maybe I was a bit sheltered, but when you think about it: Disney never taught me about being gay, Nickelodeon never mentioned anything about being gay, Cartoon network and ABC family sure didn't.  All of the pop songs they played on the radio were by straight people with straight themes. In health class, being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transexual was never even mentioned until high school. (And I don't mean they said "there's also ____, but we won't talk about them." It was never brought up. Gays didn't exist. Not even my family brought it up. 

So REALLY, it was the heterosexual culture and music and television and books that were brainwashing me. It was the heterosexual culture that was telling me that I didn't (or shouldn't) exist and that, if I did come out, it would be super hard, and I wouldn't be accepted, and I'd probably have to run away. 

When I came out, I became OBSESSED with everything LGBT. I read every book I could get my hands on. I picked up some Melissa Etheridge and Indigo Girls from my library. I watched Ellen. (And not just the talk show, but reruns of the old sitcom. Remember that?) I had been deprived for thirteen years of my life and now I needed to know what other people like me did. Who they were. Were they...normal?

But now, in the past 6 years, things have changed. Maybe we don't have equal rights yet. Maybe schools still shy away from mentioning us in their health classes. But here's what we do have:

1) We have openly gay/bisexual pop artists. Not just the indie and the folk ones that you know you'll never hear on the radio, but people like Jessie J, Tegan & Sara, Adam Lambert, Lady Gaga, etc.
2) We have activism being paired with our media (Lady Gaga comes to mind) even by straight artists
3) We have gay people on YA TV shows. Sure, it's usually the token gay kid. And maybe they're mostly following stereotypes. But if you turn on ABC family and other such channels (or Glee) you'll eventually run across a gay or two. (Of course, it goes without saying, that regular prime time TV is MUCH more gay friendly as well. Grey's Anatomy and Brothers & Sisters are excellent examples of shows with nonstereotypical gay and lesbian characters.)
4) Heterosexual writers are writing LGBT fiction. As a writer, this got me really excited.There's YA writers like Ellen Hopkins (click here for a review of her book Tricks), adult fiction author Jodi Picoult who just came out with an excellent lesbian romance novel (read my review here) and John Irving who is coming out with a gay/transgender themed novel as well. (And yes, luckily, I know there's more.)

There will always be gay people fighting for gay issues and writing about gay people or gay culture or whatever, but if public, heterosexual figures can start doing that, then they can have even more sway over the straight population, which is why it is so awesome to see NY Times Bestsellers and pop icons sharing their stories and opinions on LGBT people and equality.

Essentially, even if we haven't gained much more equality in the past 6 years, we're gaining more awareness than I was able to have as a kid. At least, young people can more of an idea that we're out there and that it's okay to be gay. (Ya know, assuming some other aspect of our culture doesn't ruin it.) But hey, at least we're moving in the right direction.


<3 Gina Blechman

P.S. Might I mention that last month was the FIRST TIME that the gallup pole showed that more than 50% of people support gay marriage? Yup. 53%

Friday, June 3, 2011

Review: Rage: A Love Story by Julieann Peters

Review: Rage: A Love Story by Julieann Peters

2.5 Stars
Rage: A Love Story is a good enough book about two girls--one a goody-goody with dead parents, one a bad seed with parents she wishes were dead--who fall in love. Okay, maybe it's a lot less like love and a lot more like denial and abuse, but get the idea.

As previously stated, Rage is a decent story. The pace is excellent. The story is written in the voice of the characters and is very true to them. Rage brings up the topic of abusive relationships in a realistic way. I had no problems speeding through it. It's these things that make it a 2.5 star instead of a 2 star book.

There were a few things that irked me though.
1) The characters are 18 (or nearly) year old girls graduating high school, but every once in a while the conversation and thought processes seem befitting of highschool freshman or even eighth graders. I could understand this for the bad girl with the drug adled parents, but not from the goody-goody, super genius. She's top of her class, at the very least there should be some sort of explanation as to her sudden extreme plummet in diction. (Of course, I could be biased from my own goody-goody experience with some not-so-goody women,) but it just didn't feel right to me. I kept picturing the girls as far younger than they were.

2) There wasn't a lot of explanation of why the sweet geek would fall for the druggie degenerate. It's not that the event is improbable, but there does need to be a reason. The story begins with the MC already having a crush on the promiscuous, abusive lesbian, when there are plenty of better girls to choose from, and we never really get to know why. We can sort of assume the reason, but there's never a flashback to the first memory of liking the girl and what struck her as so special.

The reason this still gets that extra half star (and yes, this was well thought out) is because you feel like you're right there with the characters. Even when it's unrealistic, even when you want to know why, even when you're angry at them for being stupid, you feel what they're going through. Still, the plot isn't original enough to give it that midpoint push to make it 3 star material. You can't just add lesbians into the mix and act like the whole scenario hasn't been done before. As much as I usually enjoy Julieann Peters, I can't completely back this one.

Would I suggest adding this book to your summer reading? I wouldn't dissuade you from it. However, I think the books to be reviewed next week will be far better.

<3 Gina Blechman

P.S. Pet peeve: I was looking at the Amazon ratings for this book and noticed the average was 4 stars. Then I looked at the comments which were full of people saying "OMG, this book was so great, because it totally opened my eyes to the fact that lesbians can be in abusive relationships too. I never thought of a woman abusing another woman before." Okay, it's fantastic that this book helped to make some people more open-minded, and I'm grateful for that. And if we remove the iffy, occassionally unrealistic age thing, it is a pretty accurate portrayal of what an abusive relationship looks and feels like. BUT just because a book is trying to promote a certain cause that may or may not be highly discussed does NOT make it a good book. I'm not saying Rage is a bad book, (it certainly isn't), I'm just saying that I have a very high standard; therefore, the controversy of a book's topic does not play into it's rating.

I also think that sometimes LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) YA books get higher ratings from LGBT teens than they should, because many LGBT teens are starved for media that relates to them. I know whthat I used to be so excited at any chance to get my hands on a book with gay, bisexual, or transgendered characters, being so regularly bombarded with hetero media, that even the books that weren't that great seemed at least pretty good in my eyes. Of course, now I rate much harsher than I did when I was 14.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tennessee's 'Don't Say Gay' Bill

Last Friday, the Tennessee Senate passed a bill to prevent teachers speaking to elementary and middle school students about homosexuality. The argument behind the bill is that since homosexual couples can't naturally reproduce together, then health and sex-ed classes should be "limited exclusively to age-appropriate natural human reproduction science." The discussion of homosexuality is therefore meant to be limited to the home and only brought up by children's parents when the parents feel it's appropriate. At least this is perhaps slightly better than the originial write-up for the bill, that there would not be "any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality."

Now, I hope that most people would understand how ludicrous this bill is, and I'm pretty positive that it would never be allowed to pass into law, as it violates some lovely 1st ammendment rights. Still, I can't stress enough how harmful it could be.

Over the past few years, the murders and suicides of young kids due to bullying for sexual orientation and perceived sexual orientation have risen in the public eye. In 2008, 13-year-old Lawrence King was shot in his school by one of his classmates for being openly gay. In 2009, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker Hoover hung himself after being consistently bullied for his perceived sexual orientation. Jaheem Herrera, also 11, hung himself as well during the same year, only a month later, also due to being bullied for his sexual orientation. I could go on for pages about the statistics and incidents and how for every pulicised incident, hundreds go unnoticed. But what these tragedies are telling us is that homophobia starting early. I remember the first time I heard my cousin, an elementary schooler, say "that's so gay" and call a kid a fag. When I was his age, I remember hearing my teacher tell the class not to say such things, and though I wasn't fully aware what either the phrases or being gay meant, it settled things down and made me feel safer.

When kids are so young, I don't think they even grasp what they're doing, nor do they have any idea of the realities of what being LGBT is. The only way to stop the homophobia is to start from the ground up, to start from the younger kids onward, and that starts with educating them early on, and showing them that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, are equal. A bill like the one in Tenessee would make that impossible, and for those kids, by the time high school comes around, the worst will have already been done.

Something I've noticed over the years is that our health classes are generally not teaching students the right things. Just putting aside the discussion of the sexual orientation, school health education tends to skirt around the issues and wriggle away without telling kids the truth. I can't say how many times (as the open-minded lesbian psych major that everyone goes to for advice) I've heard people I know claim they think they're oversexualized, or that they're dirty and can't talk about sex, or even augmenting what sex is, because, as we all know, everything becomes grander once let loose in one's imagination. Plus, there's the rebellion factor and the ignorance of the psychological factors of sexual relationships. Sex ed is nearly pointless as it is, offering very little useful information, except for, possibly, how to use a condom. Do we really need to make it downright harmful?

<3 Gina Blechman

Sunday, May 22, 2011

LGBT Issues Meets Racial Issues

One of my lovely, awesome, schnazzy blog followers recently left a comment saying that she has a lot of investment in "integrating the issue of racial inequality" into the GLBTQ movement. She gave me a link to Urvashi Vaid's, the former President of National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, address to the Center of Gay and Lesbian Studies.(

After skimming through the address, (it's qutie lengthy), and thinking on the subject, I've decided that the discussion of racial issues is something that GLBTQ people should think about. Here's why:

1) Yes, I think GLBTQ people and allies should be focussing their energy on GLBTQ issues, but what use is this if GLBTQ people only have support from the GLBTQ minority group and the people who have GLBTQ friends?

2) If you think of it reciprocally, if people of other races who are also supporters of LGBTQ equality, regardless of their orientation, only focussed on the issues of their race and decided not to support GLBTQ people in any other place than their own minds, then we'd be low on support.

3) So if you put these two things together, you'll find that by sticking together and merging LGBTQ issues with racial issues, that our combined support will help bring equality on all fronts.

4) At first, I found myself thinking, "Well, what if people only want to support LGBTQ issues and not racial issues? Will that limit us?" But then I decided that as people who are fighting for equality we should be trying to make people less ignorant about all forms of equality, and should therefore push for both types of equality, instead of ruling out the option due to fear of a lack of support.

5) I still think that, despite all of this, both groups should be able to have their own identities, but only because I think if the issues blend too much, people on the outside won't pay as much attention to them. There will be too many things happening at once under the same name for people to look at. This is in the same way, that if you follow a lot of blogs, you may only read 2/5 posts from each blogger every week. I also think of it as one might two friendly clubs or businesses or social groups. They do their own thing while supporting their allies, and then, they also come together at pivotal points, and have mixers or group discussions or what have you.

6) I believe that regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, personal ability, or any other differentiating factor, people should support each other. You shouldn't just support people because you want them to support you, you should support them because all of humanity is equal. It's fine to say, "as a lesbian" or "as an ally" or "as an activist," but why do we have to explain why? Why can't we get to the point where "as a human being I feel ____"?

Just something to think about.

What do you think? What's your stance on the issue?

<3 Gina Blechman

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: The Night Watch

It's no secret. I love Sarah Waters. I adored her after picking up Affinity years ago, dreamed of having her talent as I quickly and excitedly flipped through the pages of Tipping the Velvet, and now, The Night Watch has only reminded me, once again, of her skill.
The Night Watch is set in post-WWII London and is told from the points of view of the four main characters: Kay, Helen, Viv, and Duncan. In true Sarah Waters fashion, two of the women are lesbians, whose need for secrecy makes the story even more intersting. Their relationships are complicated and deep and interesting, sometimes sexy, and sometimes filled with confusion and disappointment. It's not the thrilling erotic tale that Tipping the Velvet is, but more of an intruiging character study.

What I love about this novel is not just that it's magnificently written with original, honest characters or that every scene and setting is vivid and real, but that the story is told backwards through time. The novel starts in 1947 and goes backwards to 1941. Just as in real life, Waters' characters don't give everything away. Sometimes they lie or exaggerate or say just the flicker of a thought in a silent voice pushed in the back of their minds. But, by going back in time, you get to see the stories behind the secrets and the yearnings, the fears and losses brought by the war. Not to mention, Water
It's no secret. I love Sarah Waters. I adored her after picking up Affinity years ago, dreamed of having her talent as I quickly and excitedly flipped through the pages of Tipping the Velvet, and now, The Night Watch has only reminded me, once again, of her skill.
s leaves nothing unsaid when it comes to describing, if not the facts and truths, the gritty emotions of her characters.

The one problem I had with the story, which is more ofna personal issue, is that, because there were so many characters coming in and out
of the story, and because all of the characters came to know each other in some way, I often got confused between some
of the characters' stories and relationships. Though, honestly, this only made me want to read the book again, just to get it all straight. There's just something about it, particularly in the beginning of the novel, before things got explained, where everything just seems intense and confusing (at least to me, who always has trouble grasping characters early in novels), and I found myself thinking "I have no idea what's going on...but know I really like it and have to finish."

All in all 4/5 stars.

<3 Gina Blechman

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Awesome New Blog Badge

See that beautiful badge in the sidebar? Well, guess what? You can have one too! Spread the support and show your own by placing your very own Everything LGBT badge on your blog page. You can even link it back here to spread the looooove! :-)

<3 Gina Blechman