Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Today I Wear Purple

Today I am wearing purple.

I am proud to tell my colleagues, friends and strangers on the bus that I stand in solidarity with my queer brothers and sisters.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the cultural narrative of "coming out." Events like Coming Out Day and the great meaning that is placed upon that moment of announcing one's sexuality to friends and family come to mind immediately. I am sure I am not saying anything that queer folks or feminist scholars haven't already heard, but I think that the epistemology of the closet is deeply problematic. (Of course, I pay homage to the amazing Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in the use of my language here).

Our cultural understanding of queerness and of homosexuality is based on the notion that they are inherently dishonest unless they are announced fully and openly. In order for one to "come out," one first must be "in." This narrative constructs "the closet." There is a distinct dichotomy set up in this process, wherein one must be either gay or straight. Our cultural understanding of sexuality is either/or. Gay or straight. Boy or girl. In or out. That is it. And of course that is troubling as it leaves no room for anything else, anything in between, anything queer.

Can one be understood to be both in and out, boy and girl, gay and straight? These combinations are deeply confusing to Americans because, even in the language itself, they are contradictory and nearly impossible to reconcile. Still, people do live in those grey areas and sometimes in those combinations. To ask someone to come out is to assume that they are in and that being out is better.

What I hope to say here is that I understand Coming Out Day and I understand the It Gets Better campaign, but I don't know how helpful they really are.

I wish I could tell all of the queer youth in the world that life gets better and people become more tolerant, but that is not always the truth. I know some amazing gay men and women who have overcome seemingly impossible odds to become happy, healthy, successful people. But I also know people for whom it has not gotten easier: people who stay "in" out of real fear for their lives, people who have lost their jobs and their families, who faced public ridicule. And the people who don't easily fit into any of the available categories have no meaningful way to "come out."

These are complicated issues which deserve deeper investment and understanding. I don't know if it will get better, but I fight with every fiber of my being for the day that I can say that it is safe to be gay or straight or anything in between or completely outside.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hey Baby

I've finally come across something about which I feel compelled to write: a video game that offers "feminist commentary." As illustrated in the great Grand Theft Auto debates of 2008 (which remains the most viewed, commented on and spammed of all my posts), I am no great fan of video games. But this I had to see.
Finally, there is relief for women plagued by catcalls hollered from speeding car windows, unsolicited innuendos offered by complete strangers, and proverbial one-liners greasy enough to make you gag.
Most women experience street harassment at one point or another. I can imagine feeling some pleasure at virtually kicking some ass, especially since it doesn't have the same consequences of hollering back in real life. However, a game like this does little to address systemic issues like gender based oppression, violence against women, commodification of feminine bodies or race and class issues that inform street harassment.

As you may know, I am the moderator of the Chicago Hollaback site so I do have some authority to say that street harassment is no laughing matter. A game like this exists for a reason. As Karen Garcia says in the above mentioned article, this is something that we should be talking about seriously.
As much as Hey Baby is ostensibly a shoot ’em up gorefest, there’s way more to it than that. It’s art, activism, and social commentary operating under the novel guise of a recreational pastime, and despite its in-your-face presentation, its underlying message is meant to be discussed seriouslyand it should be.
I hope that this game does create a dialogue, that would be a magnificent result. I fear it is just going to lead to more misrepresentation of feminism as some sort of violent man-hating cult. I also do not like the idea of combating violence with more violence, even if it is virtual violence. I want to have a public dialogue about how catcalling a woman can make her feel terrified, objectified and/or violated. We should talk about how men who harass seem to pleasure in the sense of powerlessness that catcalling can instill in a woman, if only for a moment. And we really need to talk about how power is distributed in society as a whole to understand why certain people are harassers while others are harassed. It is no coincidence that women (or feminine people of all genders) are usually the victims of this harassment. This is all about power.

I have not played this video game, but I have a feeling power is not discussed in that particular way. It leaves a lot of things ambiguous. What is the gender of the shooter? Does it matter? Why is the harassment sexual? What are the implications of class and racial identity when it comes to street harassment? And, perhaps most important, why do some men publicly harass women on the street at all?

I sincerely hope that this game does create a public discussion about these topics. If it does not, than it is just another violent video game.