Posts Tagged ‘creating change’

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Creating Change Tangent 2: Objectification

2010.March.19

[Fourth in the Creating Change series]

Beyond Our Eyes, Beyond Our Mouths

There’s an infinitely long list of things humanity is as yet incapable of comprehending. Some would begin this list with theology (though it never stops people from trying) or cosmology (or cosmologists–who the fuck came up with that superstring nonsense anyway?), but I think there are even more immediate examples of our fragile understanding–like the sheer volume of cues we draw from our senses, process, and incorporate into decision-making without really “thinking” about them.

Take, for example, the complicated relationship between what we see and whom we desire. In our highly sexualized society, every visual cue carries with it a thousand (or a million, or a billion… you’re welcome to count, but I’m not waiting) connotations of geometry, biology, reproduction, morality, entertainment, ecstasy, history, politics, heartbreak, cosmetology, and Friday-night planning. And even the most complex of minds can usually pare it all down enough to rate someone–based purely on visual cues–as a “yes”, “no”, or “maybe”.

I suspect that the visual component of attraction is something we will not be able to overcome so long as we are corporeal beings with visual perception (that’s a long fucking time). To eradicate objectification is a different scope than to reduce or redefine it, and I believe the latter to be much more achievable and desirable. If we cannot completely eradicate female body objectification, then we must counter its prevalence with offsetting objectification of male and gender-nonconforming (GNC) bodies.

My instinct as an activist says that GNC/T/IS/GF/GQ/gender-etc. bodies should not be objectified so soon or so thoroughly as cismale bodies; these persons are significantly more vulnerable politically and most likely to be minstrel-ized by objectifiers (e.g., mainstream entertainment). But then my heart says if someone is an exhibitionist (and most-but-not-all of the GNC people I’ve met are), let them be themselves; and my desire is clear that if a GNC person takes off zir shirt, I damn sure won’t be telling the person to put it back on!

Most importantly, since I don’t identify as any of these myself, I should STFU and let that community’s members decide these things for themselves. This is the difference between developing one’s awareness of societal inequalities and developing solutions for them. I should, in good conscience, be aware of heteronormative discrimination and how it affects real, living people. But I have no business telling the people affected by it how to deal with it. If there is a way in which I can play a role, I should be asked rather than trying to assume The White Hetero’s Burden. I must treat the issue like a friend who wants to cry on my shoulder: until I know for certain that ze wants my help and I can give it, the best thing I can do is pay attention and listen in solidarity.

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Creating Change Tangent 1: Microcosms

2010.March.7

[This is actually my third entry on Creating Change, but the second entry was far more personal than political and I did not share it as widely.]

Are our desires microcosms for the politics, or are politics a macrocosm for our desires?

While exploring my own fear of desire in my last writing, I wandered into a ramble about gender dynamics for those of us who are mostly hetero, sympathetic to feminism, and complete chickenshit. I briefly broached the subject of how bad I am at approaching someone pursuant to dating, but I left out something equally important: I’m just as bad at turning someone down.

Fortunately, I am rarely approached by women or men, so it’s not a problem I have to deal with often–but it is a problem I should be happy to have. I love it when a woman makes the first move–I consider myself a feminist and a coward in this regard. And as for men… well, my desire is rather undeveloped there–not so much new as untested–and it might help to have someone else leading… But since I get most of my desires met by women, it’s just easier to focus on them, isn’t it?

Ah, the slippery slope of polysexuality

No wonder some queer communities are getting frustrated with the rise in “pansexual” events. It may be more okay for people to acknowledge and indulge their same-sex curiosities these days than in the past, but it’s still a hell of a lot easier to just focus on the stronger and/or more socially acceptable end of the spectrum, so many people (and I include myself in this) do. Instead of liberating queer and queer-friendly spaces that build bridges through sexy fun, pansexual events are increasingly flagging into a realm for self-segregation. These spaces can quickly become mostly hetero-normative, overrun with heteroflexible girls giggling their way through same-sex exhibitionism, the boyfriends they’ll be fucking later–in private–standing as far from the other dudes as possible, and a handful of late-coming queers standing around the edges, awkwardly looking for the real action. [I’ve been following a deep conversation on this topic on FetLife, but if anyone knows of another forum that doesn’t require a login, I hope you’ll share a link with me.]

This encroachment hinges strongly with the complicated struggle between queer communities (yes, there are more than one!) over the prominence of sexual liberation within the political movement for equal rights. My interest in promoting politically-charged sexual freedom has long made me feel isolated in hetero communities (even before my self-identification began to shift). As long as you’re not hurting someone (yes, I mean minors, animals, and people who have not given you clear consent), I don’t see why anything should be out of the realm of negotiation.

To some extent, I imagine it was the marginalization of gay communities in the past that encouraged their members to explore and embrace less standard forms of sexual expression–for that alone, even french vanilla heteros should be donating to LGBT causes in droves. Once you’ve created a safe, comfortable niche outside the mainstream, why not expand it? But now that conservatives have successfully re-framed the political focal point to the very specific and contentious notion of gay marriage, gay communities are facing an identity crisis. Social moderates and even many liberals are quite comfortable lobbying for gay votes with promises that gays will be able to marry! Some day. Or at least, um, unite civilly. You know, as long as they talk about love, but never sex. And leave the trans people at home. And there’s only two at a time.

To be sure, there are people in the gay community who are just as monogamous and vanilla and gender-normative as your grandparents on their fiftieth wedding anniversary (if they made it that long before death or the degradation of the institution of marriage got to them first)–and it’s a positive thing that the rest of the country is seeing that these people exist. But there are fears that if this group gets what it wants politically without bringing along at least some broader notion of sexual liberation, the rest of the communities will end up with an even further uphill struggle for visibility, respect, and political power.

A couple years ago in D.C., activists in other campaigns were promoting the notion of a broader “human rights initiative” to promote progress for all people by shifting our attitudes on what it inherently means to be human (I’ll give away the ending in as few words as possible: participatory self-articulation). Right now, most movements for political equality are fighting a war of attrition for the members of that one group to gain exceptional acceptance: “We’re okay. We’re just like you, except that one thing. We’ve been contributing for generations, you just weren’t ready to acknowledge it. Let us prove that the one thing doesn’t really matter any more and then you can let us in!” And the unspoken oath of assimilation, “We promise to be just as discriminating as the last group.” I think class is the most obvious example (volumes have been written about how the bourgeois and the elite trade places over political cycles without class values really shifting much), but there are also resonant patterns in race, education, immigration, partisanship–pretty much any demographic box any politician might ask you to check.

Fighting for the right to assimilate, no matter how staunch one’s terms (even fighting for gay marriage carries with it expectations for some adjustment to hetero-normative laws on discrimination, obscenity, and sex practices), is not the same thing as promoting a human rights initiative. The former benefits only the people explicitly implicated, and can actually create new forms of discrimination against those who complicate the assimilation. Those who blur the lines that are comfortably overcome are vulnerable to exile after assimilation. For example, while Black Americans have made huge strides in legal and cultural acceptance since the Civil Rights Era, Black/White bi-racial people are still often overlooked or treated differently by both communities, since they don’t fit into either side of the resultant racial truce. Similarly, while queer communities have yet to attain such a “truce”, they are at great risk of leaving behind bisexual people (who could “pass” more easily, but at the cost of having their identity even more debated and allegiance more questioned by both poles), to say nothing of trans and other gender-non-conforming (GNC) people.

Envision the eventual orientation truce treaty as an assimilation waiting area; a sign that reads “Mainstream acceptance through this door!” hovers over two lines: a fast-track if you’re hetero, a slower-but-still moving line for gays and lesbians. Do bisexuals have to choose to get in? Do they have to pretend to be one or the other? For how long? And people who are uncomfortable with their external sex–if and when they can get into the gender acceptance waiting area, will they be able to change lines between “male” and “female” as they transition? Will they be welcomed in the line they choose? Will they forever have to sacrifice any of the joys of androgyny or genderfluidity?

The human rights initiative necessarily leave no one behind. You teach yourself and others how to support the right of every individual to define zirself. Instead of pulling individuals or small groups out of the margins, you focus on shifting the margins–the paradigms behind their marginalization– that put them there in the first place.

It is easy to sell out our allies by working for exceptional acceptance instead of striving toward a paradigm shift. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but between my politics and my desire, I know that I am much more likely to sell out my desires. Values, left inactive, amount to hypocrisy, while desires, left inactive, are supposed to be a sign of responsibility and even respectability. That’s why so few American politicians can survive a sex scandal. We’re not supposed to respect someone whose desires aren’t in complete check at all times, no matter how many times we ourselves have succumbed to less than ideal temptations.

Vanilla, heterosexual, monogamous, love-driven desire focused on people you already know may just be more respectable, but when you pick the fastest line out of convenience, you will miss meeting the interesting people on the other side. You miss the fuller experience of knowing yourself, of having your desires understood, fulfilled, and, yes, respected by others, and of creating new paths where others might follow while defining the most important label of all.

“Me.”

I contend it is a disservice to any authentic movement to be anything less. Is this not integral to the activist’s credo to “Be the change you want to see in the world?”

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Everything I Know about Desire I Learned from Politics

2010.February.10

[First in a series of Creating Change follow-ups…]

It’s only natural that the scope of my desires should expand as I am feeling more politically active than at any time since I left D.C. Both inclinations were squelched during my time in college, then redefined as I worked for social justice in Washington. By the time I left that job–that life–it was because I was as sickened by my own acting out against monogamy as by the self-righteous gridlock down on Capitol Hill. I learned “transparency” as a political term before I applied it to my relationships, and I learned “polyamory” from a political mentor long before I had embraced the concept of having multiple (even conflicting) political loyalties.

It was maintaining the politics and sex I already had that took me to D.C., but it was searching for the politics and sex I wanted that brought me back to Texas. In the four years since, I have found the sex I want, found the words I need, found the love I deserve, mostly while acting like politics was not pivotal to my being. When I was hired on by a campaign, I did not tell my employers that I was poly or sex-positive or a former condom-slinger, even though they were openly gay and (rumor has it) had at one time run a “novelty” shop themselves.

Campaigning helped me feel connected to politics again–to the extent that I could considering how annoyed I get by political parties, even (especially?) while working within one–but this time sex became secondary. Politics became a convenient excuse to resign myself (yet again) from confronting tough questions about my fulfillment (what would those sweet little old ladies for Obama think?). Only in 2009, after the elections were out of my purview, could I once again take up dating in earnest. I had many prospects in mind, but I kept politics out of my sex and vice versa.

After attempting a political hiatus for the year, fate drew me back in as an old friend got bitten by the activist bug himself and started calling on me for fledgling advice while organizing for LGBT equality. I was honored at the chance to be useful and to strengthen my role as an ally, but I consciously remained in the shadows. I was straight, and this was clearly a place where I should have as little input as possible–it had to be community-led, I told myself. I helped my friend get on his feet as an organizer, attended a few marches, and accepted (without being told) that I had to be a silent partner because I didn’t sleep with men.

2009 was the Year of Queer, though, because even as I was scaling back involvement with my friend’s organizing, I was trying to be more active in preparing the upcoming Creating Change conference, to be held in Dallas. Creating Change had been pivotal to my time in D.C.: I had made some of my first contacts around the conference, did some of my best outreach, and forged important friendships–without having ever attended. Concurrently, the mentor who had first taught me about poly fell in love at Creating Change and expanded my fly-on-the-wall education by sharing tidbits of the courtship.

By 2009, four years after I had last seen her, that mentor was working and facilitating for the conference, so I had to get involved if only for the chance to catch up. I joined the host committee and helped them build an outreach database, but I forswore sending any communications myself. “I’m straight, so it wouldn’t be authentic.”

If there’s a third leg on which my desire now stands, it is community. I joined the DFW Poly group early last year and have always found it to be supportive, but my later encounters with the Austin Poly group were nothing short of empowering. There were large, multi-layered poly families with integrated childcare and unashamed sex parties and political awareness–and not from divergent corners, but overlapping, integrated, enthatched, with roots throughout a broad and active community. Lovers old and new gave me the strength to go places I wasn’t sure I belonged and seek out my own niche. I was safely and patiently invited into a relationship that blurred those clearly defined boundaries of straightness further. I had by this time started calling myself “heteroflexible”, but it seemed woefully understated. Who knew that I was so dependent on labels? Standing in so many gray areas had me at a complete loss for self-identification.

As 2010 began, with Creating Change and other political opportunities dominating the horizon, I was struggling with relationship structures and–more importantly–with my tendency to create them unnecessarily. I recognized in myself a fear of freedom that had been squelched by focusing on more formal relationships rather than untethered connections (even as I knew I craved both). I stopped worrying about how others would see me (including my political employers and even my own partners) and resolved not to try to turn every connection into something that is deep and emotional in a mono(gamy)-normative way.  Most of my ongoing relationships thrived, and more time became available to explore. My eyes were wide to all the new possibilities, and I celebrated many of them over a timely weekend in Austin.

Back home, I was invited to work another campaign, solidifying the role of politics in this year once again–but first I was going to Creating Change. You’d think with all these affirmations flying left and right, I would have been relaxed and open to anything, but when I entered the Sexual Liberation Institute on the conference’s second day, I was a wreck. I was set off by mere questions of identifying desire and almost cried when another terror-struck attendee spoke on the malleability of words. The mentor mentioned above was facilitating, but I forced myself to focus inward, sit through everything patiently, and to deal with it alone or with the strangers around me rather than count on her for shortcuts.

Halfway through the morning, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to lunch, but by the end of the day I didn’t want to leave. I liken the experience to being a hard-boiled egg whose shell was cracked, cleared away, and then reconstructed. It was the cracking that was most terrifying, the clearing that was most nourishing, and the reconstruction that was least inhibiting. It still took a few days for me to feel comfortable being myself at the conference, but it was always about how I saw myself, not how I saw others or how they saw me. It was one of the safest spaces I have ever known, which only encouraged me to further confront my own ambivalences.

Embracing the term “Questioning” as not only encapsulating the moment but perhaps also identifying the path ahead, I discovered a lot about my desires each day. I look forward to writing more about them somewhere down the line, but for now, I need only add this:

The more comfortable I felt with my own sexuality/orientation/expression (however ill-defined), the more open I was to the political moment happening all around me. My desires, embraced, translated into clearer thinking, better planning, and exponential rejuvenation of my writing, my relationships, and my dedication to understanding, inside and outside the political sphere.

Talk about transformative…

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The National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change

2010.February.3

Why am I going to Creating Change?

  • To see one of my mentors from D.C., and hopefully other contacts from my time working there.
  • To get in on the first real activist development opportunity that has presented itself in the Metroplex since I left D.C.
  • To develop better awareness and skills around gender and sexuality at a time when DFW seems primed for thoughtful action.
  • To recognize that after blurring the lines for years, I have now clearly stepped outside simple heterosexuality and to own this deliberate process.
  • To celebrate sexual diversity very close to my home turf and strengthen local ties between the LGBT and poly communities.
  • To learn how to be a better ally to friends and colleagues and, in turn, to take these lessons back to other allies who don’t always know how to express their support.
  • To see some really hot activists talking about “really lascivious things, like communication“.
  • To identify lessons and opportunities on the periphery of queer activism that may be useful to my book and my campaign work.

…and because hetero people don’t generally talk about sexuality as candidly–whether it’s related to love, pleasure, or politics–and I simply need more.

What will I be doing  at Creating Change?

Wednesday
DAY-LONG INSTITUTE 1: Challenging and Transforming White Supremacy in Our Work: Our Vision, Our Roles (anti-racist workshop specifically for Whites)

Thursday
DAY-LONG INSTITUTE 2: Sexual Liberation Institute (topics of sexual freedom discussed by the afore-mentioned mentor, her partner, and Tristan Taormino, author of my favorite poly manual)
OPENING PLENARY (followed by a Poly speed-greeting)

Friday
WORKSHOP SESSION 1: Class Matters (identifying issues that cross communities, featuring story circles!) or The Art of the Schmooze (because I need it)
WORKSHOP SESSION 2: Integrating New Media into Your Organizing Strategy (to enhance my existing communications skills) or What Your Parents Never Taught You About Sex  (including discussions of demographics, risk, and practices, because I’m due for a refresher)
PLENARY
WORKSHOP SESSION 3: Strengthening the Connection: Racial Justice and LGBT Rights (presenters include Rinku Sen, a personal hero) or Storytelling for Social Change: Gathering LGBTQ Stories (because personal storytelling is pivotal to my approach to nonfiction)
WORKSHOP SESSION 4: Reaching Out to the Blogosphere (a strong need if my writing is to gain traction)
CAUCUS 1: Young and Poly (if 29 is not too old… definitions vary greatly, so I’ll be asking in advance) or Transitioning Beyond the Boxes (on expanding gender identities beyond male/female)
RECEPTIONS

Saturday:
WORKSHOP SESSION 5: You Lie! Right-Wing Race Backlash: What It Means for Queers (because anti-racist and interdisciplinary discussions make me happy)
WORKSHOP SESSION 6: Mapping Your Desire (very timely for me)
PLENARY
WORKSHOP SESSION 7: Kink, Race and Class (the presenter’s definition of kink includes multi-partner relationships, so all I can say is Hell yes!)
WORKSHOP SESSION 8: Talkin’ Bout My Generation: Intergenerational Storytelling and Dialogue (more relevant to my book) or The Future of Sexual Orientation (expanding beyond gender and gender preference, and also featuring Tristan Taormino)
CAUCUS 2: Designing Useable Research (this is also pivotal to my book) or Polyamory/Nonmonogamy Caucus (if I am, indeed, too old for the Friday Caucus)
ENTERTAINMENT
Sunday:
BRUNCH PLENARY
CONFERENCE FEEDBACK

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