Tag Archives: society

“But I’m Otherwise In Compliance With Your Bigoted Cultural Norms!”

NB: “gay marriage” is a bit of a misnomer since not everyone getting “gay married” is, in fact, gay. And do marriages really even have sexual orientations? Suspect. However, that is the term most commonly used for legalizing marriage between two adults of the same legal sex.

It’s a sentiment that crops up a lot, especially in the gay marriage debate, but also in the is-it-okay-to-call-yourself-a-feminist debate (“but I shave my legs and have a boyfriend! Feminists aren’t all ugly, socially-awkward dykes you know!?!?”) and—apparently—the can-we-stop-pretending-that-all-sex-work-should-be-criminalized debate.

Pro-sexwork legalization poster

As in, “guys! This sex-worker is middle class pays her mortgage! She has heterosexual privilege children and a nuclear family! She is, very explicitely, “not so different,” after all! Maybe we should think about not throwing her in  jail, then?” Many, many sex workers are queer and trans*. Many of them are young; many were kicked out of their homes. Many are very, very poor. But you won’t find any of those people represented in the “Turn Off The Blue Light” campaign, because who gives a fuck about a transgender teenager who moved out of an abusive home? There are cis women with mortgages and husbands and athletic children and middle-class lives to lead!

The gamble is a cynical one: people would rather hear about the most privileged in a group, the people who would benefit the least from social change, than actually put up with stories about the least privileged sexworkers, for whom it’s this or starvation. But, we’re told, it works. And so POC shut up about how the anti-prop 8 advertisements were overwhelmingly white, and LBGT youth don’t speak up when referred to collectively as “gay,” and I guess it fits that people engaging in survival prostitution allow themselves to be spoken over by the reassuring intonation of presumably-straight, middle-class, cisgender white ladies who are “not too different” from the way every bigot in the West would like them to be.

After all, gay marriage should be legal, some representation is better than no representation, and consensual sex work should not be equated with criminal activity. So in that sense, I’m not ready to start shaking my fist at commercials that say (implicitly), “we’re two white, cisgender, monogamous, middle-class, college educated gay men, so please don’t devalue our relationship.” Because the rights of white, cisgender, monogamous, etc. gay men are important to me, and holding minorities specifically to a higher standard than the majority generally is bigoted. (Confidential to white queers who complain about “black people’s intolerance” as though it is more offensive to you than white people’s intolerance: STOP).

But a big part of the reason gay marriage should be legal is specific to the ways in which heteronormativity (which is already objectionable in and of itself) can coexist with bigotry against things like disability or poverty or immigrant status or some kind of “social deviance.” Because that coexistence tends to bring fears like “will my kids be taken away from their home and forced to stay with my abusive parents when I die?” or “will my wife be able to stay in this country?” and not just “will everyone please recognize that my marriage is valid?”

I think that similarly, questions like “how can I support myself now that my parents have kicked me out of the house?” and “will I be killed in jail for being trans* after I’m arrested for being a prostitute?” are being ignored in favor of “how can I put myself through college?”

And I’m loath to tell marginalized people that their narratives aren’t marginalizedenough for them to deserve space on a poster. I think that becoming a sex worker because you have kids and a mortgage is really fucking valid, and I wish more people could understand that.

But I would also like to see some recognition of the people who would most benefit from social change, not just the beneficiaries who are most “acceptable.”



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Suicide Isn’t Pretty, Much Less an Appropriate Marketing Strategy

[Trigger warning for discussion of suicidality]

The porn company named “suicide girls” puts me in a fit of nausea every time I hear it.  And they’re not the only trigger: tumblr is rife with photos of thin, fragile-looking women lying on train tracks; Hot Topic sells fingerless “cutter” gloves. Judging by what you’re liable to be sold (be it products or beauty standards), it almost seems like the last thing you would expect suicide to entail is a removal from society.

Tragically, one of the biggest tip-offs that you are dealing with a marginalized minority is when you realize that the minority’s rates of suicide are disproportionately high. It’s a terrifying, terrifying thing to realize that, for some people, this world is a very inhospitable place. This whole re-fashioning of suicide-related imagery as desirable is really just a way for the immature to divorce the possibility of suicide from its ramifications. Death is cute now! We don’t even have to worry about our own feelings and those of our peers! Nothing bad can happen because even the word used to describe something bad that could happen is now just an unoriginal artistic statement!!

When I volunteered for a suicide hotline, we used to get a couple prank calls every month. They were always from a group of teenagers, and they usually started off with some ridiculous, obviously false story like “everybody hates me because I’m an evil racist.” And, honestly? I don’t think the prank callers are evil people who are deliberately tying up phone lines that would be better used communicating with people in crisis. I think the problem is that those teenagers just weren’t ready to understand that suicide is an all-too-common and all-too-immediate problem for kids much like themselves. (Possibly kids exactly like themselves; who’s to say that they weren’t so threatened by the idea of suicide in part because they found it a little appealing?)

Of course, this juvenile attitude towards suicide makes it all that much harder for suicidal people to get the help they need. We–as a culture–need to replace our discomfort and eagerness to ignore the issue with determination to confront the societal ills that drive many people to kill themselves. Not because of aphorisms like “suicide is wrong/selfish” but because any living conditions that are capable of convincing a group of people that they’d rather be dead are not acceptable. We need to be able to do better.

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“Maxie Allen” by Gwendolyn Brooks

Maxie Allen always taught her
Stipendiary little daughter
To thank her Lord and lucky star
For eye that let her see so far,
For throat enabling her to eat
Her Quaker Oats and Ceram-of-Wheat,
For tongue to tantrum for the penny,
For ear to hear the haven’t-any,
For arm to toss, for let to chance,
For heart to hanker for romance.

Sweet Annie tried to teach her mother
There was somewhat of something other.
And whether it was veils and God
And whistling ghosts to go unshod
Across the broad and bitter sod,
Or fleet love stopping at her foot
And giving her its never-root
To put into her pocket-book,
Or just a deep and human look,
She did not know; but tried to tell.

Her mother thought at her full well,
In inner voice not like a bell
(Which though not social has a ring
Akin to wrought bedevilling)
But like an oceanic thing:

What do you guess I am?
You’ve lots of jacks and strawberry jam.
And you don’t have to go to bed, I remark,
With two dill pickles in the dark,
Nor prop what hardly calls you honey
And gives you only a little money.

Without doubt, this is one of my favorite poems. I like, especially, how the nursery-school-like  rhyme scheme is aided by complex, nuanced words like “stipendiary.” The whole point, I think, is to show how simplicity is forced on childhood by adults like Maxie, who creates this very corporeal narrative for her daughter to follow. Meanwhile, the truth (or something?) that Annie’s searching for is much more advanced, though not unconcerned with specifics like “two dill pickles” as they relate to her position in life as a whole.

ETA: This poem is also very gendered, though I ignored it in my original comment. Specifically, Brooks juxtaposes overly-simplistic and saccharine references to Annie’s gender (“little daughter,” “sweet Annie”) against the complexity of her situation (“stipendiary,” “tried to teach her mother”). This method, much like the one discussed above, mocks the oversimplification of young females’ experiences. The title of the poem, “Maxie Allen,” is as intentional as that of the section it is found in, “The Childhood and the Girlhood.” Annie’s age and gender play huge parts in her experience (having her “heart to hanker for romance” explained so pedantically, for example). But it is also clear that this unsophisticated construction is not dependent on Annie’s capabilities but rather her mother’s–and by extension, her society’s–unassailable doctrine on how children should be raised.

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