Queer Theory vs Lesbian Feminist Theory

March 13, 2007 at 2:28 pm (Lesbian Theory, Queer Theory)

For my final journal entry, I wanted to weigh in on my impressions of the two major theoretical arguments we have covered this quarter: Queer Theory and Lesbian Feminist Theory.  Although I find that Queer Theory is a better approach to the ways that I theorize identity, Lesbian Feminist Theory does have practical applications.

 At the beginning of the quarter, we discussed in class how Lesbian Feminist Theorists thought that Queer Theory was dominated by homosexual men.  How does Judith Butler’s work play into this?  Were the critiques of Queer Theory occuring before Butler was publishing or after?  There do seem to be female theorists engaged in producing Queer Theory, which seems to contradict the arguments of Lesbian FeministTheorists.  Does it matter that QT is dominated by homosexual men?  I would argue that academia, and academic theorists, also occupy a privledged positition within society, regardless of their gender.  Does the fact that queer theorists and lesbian feminist theorists are primarily academic indiviuduals with academic privlege?

On the other hand, the queer theorists seem to imply that lesbian feminist theorists cling to biological notions of gender and sexuality (implying that sexuality is related to gender).  To this, I ask: does it matter?  Does it matter if gender identities and sexualities are linked or not?  I would argue that, whenever we think about gender and sexual identities, we are dealing with physical lived experiences in addition to whatever theorizing we do.  How do we explain how individuals deal with their gender identities in a world that places an emphasis on biological notions of gender?  How do people deal with having a queer sexual identity in a heteronormative culture?

 I think that both lesbian feminist theories and queer theories have their place.  I actually think that the two disciplines are complimentary in nature.  No one viewpoint offers us the complete picture.  We need them both to understand how gender identity and sexuality work together to form a cohesive whole.

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Gay Rights — Just like everyone else?

March 13, 2007 at 2:02 pm (Homosexuals, lesbians, marriage)

The conversation that we had in class about gay marriage last week has really got me thinking.  Does wanting to be “just like everyone else” or asserting that gays and lesbians are “just like everyone else” make a nod towards heteronormativity?  I don’t think so. 

The ideas that are put forth by saying that gays and lesbians are “just like everyone else,” merely serves to say that the gay and lesbian lifestyle is pretty much identical to the heterosexual lifestyle.  We all go to work, do our jobs, come home, go out with friends, pay the bills, have pets, etc.  There is very  little difference in the lived lives of gays and lesbians in comparison with the lived lives of heterosexuals.  In fact, gays and lesbians can be involved in political groups, just like heterosexuals.  They can even have the same values.  I would argue, and maybe this is just an experiential difference —  since I think that I live my life “just like everyone else,” that my existance compared with my heterosexual friends’ existances are pretty much equal.

 So why then, does the granting of rights to homosexuals make a nod towards heteronormativity?  I’m really confused as to where this idea comes from.  My girlfriend argues that we all need to do the same steps — she thinks we should abolish marriage and make everyone go though paperwork to be married.  How does that nod towards heteronormativity?

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What does it mean to be queer?

March 13, 2007 at 1:18 pm (families, queer)

When Judith Halbersham spoke at UC this quarter, she briefly discussed the idea of queering the family.  She said that the family serves to consume queers, and that the idea of queering the family is a fallacy.  This discussion reminded me of one that I had in my Family Theory class in Fall 2006.  We were responding to a chapter in the Sourcebook of Family Theory and Research, in which the author argued that any family structure that differs from our traditional idea of a nuclear family, constituted queering the family.

The example provided by the textbook occured when a woman was sent to a nursing home against her will.  She chose to make the nursing home residents her new family and cut off contact with her immediate family.  The author of this chapter alleged that this woman was “queering” her family by altering the definition of who was in her family.

 I’m not entirely sure, however, that queering the family has nothing to do with sexual identity.  In fact, I take offense to the use of “queering” in such a way by the author.  Queering is not simply to make the family different, it is redefining a family based upon lines of sexual identity.  Can we really queer the family?  Can the family serve to let queers in — or is the family, in itself, tied up in heteronormativity and moderately ridgid gender roles?  I’m not entirely sure.  I understand that queer people want to have families and to be part of families, but is a family not a family if it has queer individuals in it?  How do most people define who belongs to their families?  Do we claim biology or do we claim kinship or social ties?

The book for my Family Theory Class was:

http://www.amazon.com/Sourcebook-Family-Theory-Research-Bengtson/dp/0761930655/ref=si3_rdr_bb_product/104-0234468-3498376

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Is Sarah Silverman a Lesbian?

March 13, 2007 at 12:59 pm (lesbians, Television, Video)

I have to admit, I love Sarah Silverman.  I think she’s hysterical.  On a recent episode of the Sarah Silverman Show, she explores her sexuality.  Sarah meets a friend of her sister, Tig, who is a lesbian.  After revisiting the ends of past relationships,  Sarah decides that she is a lesbian.  After raiding her sister’s closet for “lesbian clothing,” and performing an angry folk chick song wearing flannel and a mullet, Sarah has the opportuity to kiss Tig.  However, right before contact is made, Sarah turns aside and makes a face (She did this same thing when she was about to kiss a man, so her actions here are not homophobic).  At the end of the episode, Sarah concludes that she is not a homosexual or a heterosexual (noting that she has failed at both), but a ME-mosexual, someone who is in love with herself. 

 What I find most interesting at Sarah’s identity struggle is that she feels that she has “failed” at being homosexual and at being heterosexual.  What does it mean to fail at a sexual identity?  Is it that she doesn’t feel attracted to men or women?  Or is it the acts themselves that she cannot perform? 

 Sarah’s struggles with her sexual identity reminds me of many of the discussions we have had in class about who is and who is not a lesbian.  Sarah’s insistance that she is, in fact, a lesbian even though she has not kissed a woman begs me the question: can lesbians have close friendships/attractions towards women that they have not acted upon (I mean, here, never having been with a woman).  If we can claim a lesbian identity as a political identity, then does it matter what we do in bed?  If we claim a lesbian identity, as Andrea Dworkin did, and then have a relationship with a man, will it affect our political identity as a lesbian?  Some of our classmates seemed to think that if a lesbian has sex with a man, she is no longer a lesbian, but, to me, that is policing an identity that we don’t need to police — someone else’s. 

Then again, if we are not going to police identity, what does it mean when heterosexual men claim that they are “lesbians trapped in a man’s body?”  Is that mocking and problemmatic or does it lend more support to gay and lesbian rights?

 For more on The Sarah Silverman Show:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Silverman

http://www.comedycentral.com/shows/the_sarah_silverman_program/index.jhtml

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Heteronormative Morning TV

March 11, 2007 at 9:19 pm (gender, Television)

In my house, every morning, we watch the Today show. The Today show appears to provide a mixture of news and cultural information to a wide audience (women, men, people who work and people who stay at home). Every morning, the Today show has a segment called “five things every woman should know.” Sometimes, this segment features fashion or health information, but, fairly often, this segment doles out parenting information (or information about children’s clothing).

I have a problem with the immediate construction of women as mothers/most important parental figure, for two reasons.

First of all, there is the automatic assumption that all women are mothers/want to be mothers. Not all women are capable of having children, and not every woman wants to have children. Motherhood is also not the only identity available to women (the Today show seems to think that all women are interested in fashion, health and children (and nothing else)), women can be business-oriented or money-oriented, too.

Secondly, there is the assumption that men don’t care about their children/want to be fathers. The fact that every woman should know about children’s back to school clothing has an automatic assertion that men don’t need to know about their children’s clothing. What are the “5 things every man should know?” How would they be different from the things women should know?

The way the Today show presents women revolves around the ideas that all women are interested in fashion, health, and childrearing (and only those three things).

The Today Show Links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Today_Show
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032633/

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On the Limiting of Marriage

March 11, 2007 at 8:27 pm (Homosexuals, laws, lesbians, marriage)

The DOMA that is working its way along in Washington state attempts to limit marriage to individuals who can/intend to produce offspring. Take a look at the text:

On July 26, 2006, the Washington supreme court cited the “legitimate state interests” of procreation and child-rearing as a basis for preserving the defense of marriage act. The People of Washington find it desirable to place part of this ruling into statutory form and make procreation a requirement for valid marriage in this state.
From: http://www.wa-doma.org/Initiative.aspx

There are so many problems with DOMAs in general, but this DOMA, in particular, is insane.

Some other choice quotes:

The following individuals cannot be married:
(d) When the parties are unable to have children together for any reason

and

(1) All couples married in this state shall have three years from the date of solemnization of the marriage, or eighteen months from the effective date of this act, whichever is later, to have filed with the state registrar of vital statistics or designated deputy registrar at least one certificate of marital procreation as described in section 11 of this act.

(2) Failure to comply with subsection (1) of this section shall result in the marriage being unrecognized as described in section 7 of this act, effective as of the midnight ending the time period described in subsection (1) of this section.

Now, then. What I take issue with here is not the attempts to say that reproduction is the sole and most important byproduct of marriage (although I do find that problematic in itself), but the fact that there are many heterosexual couples who cannot have children and many more who do not have children. The Washington state DOMA would prohibit a large population of heterosexual individuals from getting married, including:

the elderly
couples with fertility issues
couples who choose not to have children
women who are infertile due to health reasons (PCOS, hysterectomy)
men who are infertile due to health reasons or accidents

When we cling to an essentialist construction of gender, we believe that men and women are constructed differently and complementary. A marriage that produces children fufills the essential duty of marriage. However, not all women can have children (or want to have children). Is a woman any less a woman because she is infertile or has had a hysterectomy? This DOMA seems to imply that our gendered roles are fulfilled by our wanted to become mothers and fathers.

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The Criminalization of Homosexuals

February 11, 2007 at 8:38 pm (Uncategorized)

So, we all know that (at one time) many states had (or have) sodomy laws on the books. It seems logical then, after watching Boys Beware and reading some of Paul Cameron’s articles that gay men could, theoretically, be engaging in illegal sexual acts. But what Boys Beware and Paul Cameron are writing about is not just engagement in sodomy, but in a variety of other criminal activities. Let’s take a look at what Paul Cameron alleges about gays and lesbians and criminal engagement:

http://www.familyresearchinst.org/FRI_EduPamphlet4.html — Violence and Homosexualty Pamphlet

These murders fit traditional psychiatric opinion: excessive violence is naturally associated with other forms of social pathology. From this perspective, those who rebel against society’s norms – homosexuals, prostitutes, alcoholics, etc. – are more apt to be violent also. Gay leaders reply that they are not pathological, rebellious, or sexually deviant. They contend that gays are gentle, loving people and that the violence they experience proves that they need special ‘hate crime’ laws to protect them from non-homosexual ‘gay bashers.’

Paul Cameron argues that people who are deviant are more apt to be violent. This is, of course, not a logical argument. Just because someone is an alcoholic, doesn’t mean that they are a mass murderer. He goes on to argue that homosexuals make up 3% of the population, but they commit large % of mass murders and homicides. The problem here, of course, is Paul Cameron’s manipulations of statistics to make them show that homosexuals are criminals. But, he concludes that, Most of the murderers in the lifespan study whose sexual orientation could be determined were also homosexual.


http://www.familyresearchinst.org/FRI_EduPamphlet6.html
The Psychology of Homosexuality.

In The Psychology of Homosexuality, we get right to the point. Paul Cameron alleges that homosexual men engage in the following criminal activities:

– homosexuals were about twice as likely to have been arrested for a non-sexual crime and about 8 times more apt to have been arrested for a sexual crime;

– homosexuals were about twice as apt to have been convicted of a sexual crime and about twice as likely to have been jailed for a crime;

– homosexuals were about three times more likely to admit to having made an obscene phone call; and

– homosexuals were about 50% more apt to claim that they had recently shoplifted, cheated on their income tax, or not been caught for a crime.

also:

Saghir & Robins (12) compared 146 gays with 78 heterosexuals and reported less stability (more lovers, more job-changing) and more criminality among homosexuals. Bell & Weinberg (5) contrasted 979 gays with 477 heterosexuals and found more instability (psychiatric, marital) and more criminality among gays. Cameron & Ross (13) questionnaired 2,251 randomly-obtained respondents and reported that heterosexuals evidenced more social cohesion (numbers and kinds of intimate relationships), less self-destructive behavior (smoking, drug use, suicide attempts), and less endangerment of others (via driving habits, deliberate killing).

We can see here all of the criminal activities in which homosexuals allegedly engage. We know practically nothing about the samples that yielded this data, we are simply presented with data without context. I would wage a guess that we are dealing with either a) small sample sizes or b) ambigous definitions of homosexuality which results in the criminalization of gays and lesbians.

Although Paul Cameron’s work is not very influential (it used to be, but since he has been kicked out of the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association), the “homosexual as criminal” rhetoric is still repeated in some circles. It is really not clear to me if homosexuals are criminals simply because they engage in sodomy, or if homosexuals are criminals because of drug use and bath house sex (funny, when heterosexuals engage in drug use or public sex, we don’t criminalize them), however, the criminalization of homosexuality has been pervasive in American society over the past 50 years.

(I would just like to point out that homosexuals are always singled out in the media whenever they engage in dubious behavior, too)

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The Mainstreaming of Transgendered Identity

February 5, 2007 at 12:18 pm (Homosexuals, lesbians, Television, transgender)

Recently, there has been an influx of transgendered characters in fictional TV shows and transgendered individuals on documentaries. I think this is a good development. In fact, I find the mainstreaming of transgendered individuals to be a step forward in the right direction. The media is so powerful that it has the capacity to make people more confortable with people of different sexual orientations and gender expressions.

Take, for example, the appearance of gay and lesbian characters on mainstream television shows in the past 10 years or so. If we grow accustomed to seeing gay and lesbian characters on television, does that make us more confortable with gay and lesbian individuals? I think that the answer is yes, especially for younger viewers. I would argue that growing up watching more diverse characters on television makes people more tolerant. So, what does this do for transgendered individuals?

The transgendered character on tv’s All My Children introduces a transgendered character to the daytime viewing audience. However, Zarf (the character in question) is strange at best. From what I have seen, Zarf’s eloquent speeches about being in the wrong body is coupled with a very strange personality with multiple identities. Another show that is scheduled to air a transgendered individual showcases a transgendered (MTF) woman with her wife (they were married before the husband transitioned) with a family of Wiccans and a variety of differently-abled individuals. Do these portrayals of trans individuals help or hinder the transgendered case? Is any publicity good publicity?

This hearkens back to discussions we’ve had about radical lesbian feminists. If Andrea Dworkin and her anti-porn legislation (or bra burners or protesters) are the only face a movement has in the media, does that make them more legitimate or less? Is mainstreaming even a good thing? Are we trying to build legitimacy within mainstream society for lesbian/gay/transgendered identity or do we want to embrace the full spectrum.

Links to TV shows with transgendered characters/individuals:
All My Children: http://abc.go.com/daytime/allmychildren/index.html

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Lesbian Pulp Fiction

January 28, 2007 at 3:52 pm (books, lesbian pulp fiction, lesbians)

Lesbian Pulp Montage
Lesbian Pulp Montage from Duke University

Lesbian pulp fiction (most popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s) portayed lesbian women in a variety of unhappy situations (except a few notable exceptions, including Prince of Salt, ). Many of the lesbian charaters in these novels, due to the prohibition of mailing literature that appeared to support a homosexual lifestyle (or to counter the popular idea that homosexuals were not mentally ill individuals), married men. If a woman were to remain a lesbian in these novels, she always met an ill-fated end, hospitalized in an institution or even death.

What I find most interesting about these novels is not the ways in which lesbian women are portrayed. Who were the writers of these lesbian pulp fiction novels? Who was the intended audience? Lesbian pulp novels were written by both men and women. From what I can tell, the women authors are both heterosexual and homosexual, and the male authors appear to be largely heterosexual. Audience-wise, lesbian pulp novels appeared to be widely read by heterosexual and homosexual individuals. According to the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University, lesbian pulp novels appealed to lesbian readers who were desparate to find a representation of their indentity within popular culture, while providing a moral lesson about the proper place of lesbians within society.

For heterosexual readers, however, lesbian pulp novels satisfied their curiosity, as well as providing a “scientific” study of lesbian culture for the uninformed. This curiousity in the actions and lives of lesbians is reflected today in American popular culture, seen on MTV dating shows like Next, and Date My Mom. Let’s face it, people are intrigued by lesbians.

What is it about lesbians that people are so interested in? Are the things that lesbians do really that different from the things that heterosexuals do? Supposedly, heterosexual men are interested in lesbians because of what lesbians do in bed (and perhaps the hope that they can join the lesbians in bed?). But, truth be told, not all lesbians look like the lesbians on the L-Word or on the MTV daing shows. Are lesbians inherently different from heterosexuals because of their sexual orientation? Does what we do in bed distinguish us in other aspects of our lives? (I can’t answer these questions, but they are interesting!)

More on lesbian pulp fiction: http://library.duke.edu/specialcollections/bingham/guides/lesbianpulp/

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Sid Davis and 1950/60’s Anti-Homosexual Propaganda

January 27, 2007 at 11:58 pm (Family Research Council, Homosexuals, Paul Cameron, Sid Davis, Video)

Sid Davis’ film career was sparked by the 1949 murder of six year old Linda Joyce Glucoft. Urged by his desire to protect young childen (his daugher, Jill, was six at the time of Linda’s murder) from the dangers of strangers, Davis began to produce 10 – 30 minute ‘educational’ films for young people (150 in total). Boys Beware (1961), is a 10 minute film intended to educate young boys about the dangers of homosexuals.

Here’s what Boys Beware tells us about homosexuals:
Homosexual men prey on young boys.
Homosexuality is a sickness.
Homosexuals are criminals.
Homosexuals can engage in violence and murder.

This film clearly portrays homosexual men as child molesters (A similar film called Girls Beware sets out to inform girls to watch out for strange men, too). Of course, the 1950’s and 1960’s are a time in which homosexual men are portrayed as predators and dangerous to young boys, and homosexuality is still considered a mental illness (and is included in the 1963 verison of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Ok, we now know that children (both boys and girls) are more likely to be molested by men (pedophiles) in heterosexual marriages who consider themselves to be heterosexuals, however homosexual individuals (especially men) are villanized as predators even today.

This homosexual-as-pedophile rhetoric is seen in the literature of many anti-gay groups, most notably Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. Paul Cameron, the head of the Family Research Council, has published numerous ‘statistically driven’ articles that support the hypothesis that homosexuals are more likely to be child molesters. The problem with Cameron’s research is that he classifies any man who has sexual relations with a boy as a homosexual, ignoring the context in which the molestation occurs. So a heterosexual man in a heterosexual marriage who molests a boy is, according to Cameron, a homosexual. Paul Cameron actually rejects the term pedophile for these men, preferring to classify them as homosexual. Research from the Family Research Council has been used in court cases deciding custody issues when homosexual individuals are involved. So, perhaps we are not too far away from the views put forth in Sid Davis’ videos.

What is even more disturbing is Sid Davis’ (and Paul Cameron’s) assertions that homosexuals are criminals, a topic that I will return to on a later date.

Some useful links:
Background on Boys Beware: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boys_Beware
Some information on Paul Cameron: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_cameron.html

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