Tag Archives: Homophobia

Fostering Useful Labels

Labeling JD Fox (a blog video supplement)

There is a current nonsensical mantra in the queer and questioning community that chants some variation of “Don’t label me.” Like its equally imbecilic sibling “Don’t discriminate,” it has obvious good intentions with its attempt at breaking down assumptions:

Sexuality is fluid, so don’t make assumptions about my orientation; gender and gender expression are fluid, so don’t make binary assumptions about my gender; my identity is my own, so don’t make assumptions that you know me.

All certainly laudable goals; however, the “don’t” command is misinformed about human nature, misguided in its efforts to improve society, and ultimately self-defeating.

The catalyst for this particular post is the character Jude (nicely played by Hayden Byerly) in the TV series The Fosters. There are many wonderfully ambiguous yet queer positive scenes with Jude expressing his individuality (nail polish) and drawing homophobia out with specifics (what if I was gay?). However, I saw a scene the other night where Jude gave his friend Connor the don’t label me speech that is so common nowadays and walk away like he has made some major higher-ground point.

Such rhetoric misses an important fact about labeling — that we cannot help but label – and takes the conversation into an absurd territory: one of trying to not label rather than one of trying to develop the skill of using labels more wisely and realizing when we are not doing so.

Considering our evolution in simplified fashion helps illustrate this.

A one cell-organism “labels” (in quotes because no neurons yet to actually “think” this) its immediate environment as “hospitable” or “hostile”. Based on this label, it either stays put if the former, or, if the latter, tries to move to a different environment to the extent that its rudimentary locomotive ability allows.

Add some cells to give more specific sensory input. Such inputs have value because of the labels they encourage: In a hostile environment, the original “hospitable” label as being “a point away from here” becomes modified to distinguishing “Over there A” from “Over there B” with one or the other being assigned a label of “better”; i.e. more hospitable.

Onward we move up the life scale. Some of our first labels were sweeping, diametrically opposed ones: Edible, not edible. Will try to eat me, won’t try to eat me. Something I want to screw. Something that wants to screw me.

Over time, neural networks became more sophisticated, allowing labels like good worker, dependable, or that boy over there is hot. It also allows us to see how others might label us and act accordingly: if I do x, my boss will label me as a good worker; If I do y my neighbor will label me as dependable; or if I do z, that boy over there will label me as hot.

We are labeling machines by construction with discerning eyes and discriminating tastes. Our ability to simultaneously make fine distinctions and grand generalizations is one-half the trademark of our intelligence, allowing us to thrive.

The other half, which likely came much later, is the ability to continually revise both. Revision is key to everything. For revision is what allows us to recognize our labels for the expedient means they are and not mistake them for some sort of permanent truth.

Mistaking a label for truth is at the heart of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and any other type of labeling gone awry. It is not the labeling itself, but the inability – whether deliberate or otherwise — to revise such labels in a productive way that is problematic.

Connor, being human, will continue to label Jude in multiple ways, well beyond gay or not gay to encompass labels like “doesn’t want to discuss his sexuality” or “is touchy about his sexuality” or “someone who gets mad at me for trying to understand him” (just like Jude, also being human, will likewise label Connor as “homophobic” or “someone with a father who is homophobic” or “someone who is invading my personal space.”)

When conversations end like the one Jude had with Connor, the labeling doesn’t stop; it can’t in fact stop, which is the main point of this post. But the fruitful potential for revision does indeed get truncated.

What if instead, the conversation played out something like this:

Jude: Don’t label me.

Connor: Okay, okay. Sorry. I wasn’t trying to… it’s just… how do you feel about me?

The conversation – and subsequent label revisions – could go a hundred different ways from this new point of departure. The best path for revision is reversing label direction, going from the original generalization to the specific.

For you can’t tell me that Jude’s adversity here to being labeled by Connor means that he does not have internal labels of his own, such as one classifying Connor as a boy he likes in that certain way or doesn’t like in that certain way.

It is no longer the generalized label of “gay” or “not gay” but instead the specific label of “that particular boy” or “not that particular boy.” Out of such specifics new labels get built or old ones revised. That is why exposure to diversity and conversations about diversity and learning about diverse people transform our thinking — our label making — in positive ways.

“Don’t label me” is as useless as it is moronic. Far better, far more useful, is “Be cautious with your labels as you might mistake them for truth and lose your ability to revise them.” But that is not as sound-bitey as the former.

So maybe we should phrase it another, more inviting way:

“Hi, there. I’m JD. Tell me about yourself.”

New Year’s Gay

Yes, this is another gay-affirming post. But it is also about dark matter, hyperloops, giant drill bits, collecting dung, and English as the dominant language for science.

I just wanted to mention the gay part upfront so that any homophobes who may have unintentionally stumbled upon this blog can flit away to the safety of their sandboxes where they can bury their heads and wait for Fox news to come on.

This post started at the Laundromat.

Well, technically, significant parts of it started way before that, but I will say it started at the Laundromat just for the sake of narrative clarity. Regardless, I found myself stuck there with the horrible misfortune of not having brought anything to read.

Now the nice thing about places that often require a great deal of waiting is that they tend to have reading material strewn about. It may not always be the preferred choice of such things, but it is there. As such, I can typically make do, having an eclectic enough yearning for learning that I can find things of interest from a variety of sources.

Just the other day, I read a most fascinating article by a biologist on the abnormal shift in the rutting patterns of deer. This was at the Mazda dealership, in a hunting magazine outside my usual perusing of periodicals called North American Whitetail.

As luck would have it, the Laundromat had something more straightforwardly in align with my tastes: the November 2013 issue of Popular Science.

Sad to say, I’m not smart enough to do science, or at least do it justice. Lot of the math behind the cutting edge leaves me in question mark land. But I can usually — somewhat — grasp the significance and implications of, say, a discovery, even if some (much) of the technical part goes over my head. If nothing else, I can go “ohhh” and “ahhh” as my understanding, dim as it may still be, is illuminated.

Dark matterDunkle Materie — is an entire intellectual orgasm worth of Ohs and Ahs. If you study philosophy and/or religious studies, you should want to pay some serious attention to it. Basically, it would seem, based on things like galaxies rotating faster than what would be expected and other gravitational effects that would require more mass — more material — in the universe than what is visible, that something is missing.

Something that takes up about 85% of our reality.

Another way of putting this would be that we are woefully ignorant — in the dark, to squeeze in a lame pun — of 85% of the universe. That’s a mind-tripping large amount of an invisible something making up the vast majority of, well, everything.

The way the article describes the current hunt for the elusive dark matter is too good an analogy not to share. It is like going after the invisible man. Say the invisible man were a jogger. You believe he is likely to jog down a certain street that has other joggers on it. So you watch the street. Watch and watch and watch. Because it is probable that at some point at some time during his daily jogging, he will happen to bump into another jogger, thus giving evidence of his presence.

You watch, and hope, and pray for that bump.

Other articles didn’t leave me quite as spellbound, but were nevertheless fascinating:

The fifty-seven foot wide drill bit tearing into Seattle ground with a force that would bring tears of joy to Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor’s eyes.

A proposed Hyperloop transportation system that seems like something straight out of science fiction, but is close to becoming reality. I could be wrong in my imagining here, but I’m thinking of the contestants in The Running Man traveling down those high-speed tubes and ejected onto the stage.

Profiles of some of the worst and best jobs for scientists. Worst were things like Dead Moose Dissector and Bush-Meat Market Data Collector (i.e. collecting dung). One of the best, and my personal favorite, was Extreme Product Tester, which should be self-explanatory.

The short bit on English being the current international language of science made me think how we evolve as a human race and how easily it could go in some other direction. We who speak English as a native language tend to expect the world will always understand us. What if we suddenly found that to be taken seriously as thinkers we had to write in Chinese?

Okay, so, that’s the science bit of this post, and on to the gay content.

But a prelude to the gay content is straight content, as the contents are linked. And it’s from the same magazine I’ve been talking about here: Popular Science.

As I flipped through the pages I came across an ad for Lee jeans. Now this was Popular Science, not GQ or Sports Illustrated, so the heterosexual context was more low-key. But still, in the picture, hanging on to the male model’s arm, was a woman, looking up at the jeans-wearer with adoring, relationship eyes.

They were not doing anything sexual, yet the image clearly indicated a heterosexual predisposition. A predisposition subtle enough that people with a similar predisposition might not notice it any more than right-handed people regular notice that the majority of desks in classrooms are designed with them in mind.

But I notice.

And I try to remember this when my culturally-instilled self-loathing tries to emerge and tell me I’m “too out” or “flaunting it” or in some other way acting in a fashion deserving of restraint. I try to remember this and think “Are you kidding?”

If anything, I’m not out enough, not forward enough, not yet bold enough in my proclamation of self.

We soak in heterosexuality. It is flaunted in subtle and not so subtle ways. So much so, it is not recognized as the flaunting that it is, or even that it is. Instead, it is typically absorbed without awareness into our subconscious and sweated out in policy-making that might seem at first glance — which is far too often also the only glance — as neutral, objective even, but actually isn’t.

So what is to be done about this? What can be done? What should be done?

Well, for starters, we of the LGBTQ community can speak out more. I don’t mean speak out more against the status quo of heterosexuality or against the subtle pervasion of homophobia. Although of course we can do those things, and we have been doing those things, and we should continue doing those things.

Rather, I mean we need to speak out more for ourselves.

We need to move away from being a persecuted class into being that of a liberated one. We need to become less concerned about how others view us and more concerned about how we view ourselves. Acceptance by others is a benefit, but acceptance of ourselves is a requirement.

These are not unrelated or incompatible notions. For the more rock-solid view of ourselves we have — and the more we assert our natural right to express it — the less damage the fickle weather of the majority can cause us. What does a mountain care about either sunshine or thunderstorm?

My 2014 goal is to market my writing, and myself, with the artistic honesty and integrity both deserve. With that in mind, I have created New Business Cards.

New Business Cards

Let the New Year begin!

He’s My Husband Not My Couch

Language is an arbitrary system of articulated sounds made use of by a group of humans as a means of carrying on the affairs of their society (Francis 1958:13) [my emphasis]

I think that’s close to the definition my mom shared with me over three decades ago as we discussed reading, writing, and the power of both. I was in elementary school then and am relying on memory now, but the impression it made on me has kept 80% of her exact wording intact despite no active effort on my part to remember it.

We are so used to using words, we sometimes forget that words in and of themselves have no inherent meaning. One doesn’t go digging out in the desert and uncover the word “Dog”, or even “Sand” for that matter. Rather we develop a system where we can make an utterance that another fellow user of that system will understand we are talking about dog and sand if that is what we are needing to convey to them.

Persons who oppose marriage equality often accuse me of redefining marriage. But that’s misunderstanding how language works. Definitions, like cultures, are never static. They come out of society’s need to communicate certain ideas, not the other way around.

This need is society dependent. As such, between any two societies there can be whole swaths of words that are utterly absent from one or the other, or are at the least quite cumbersome to translate if they can be translated at all.

For purposes of this blog entry, the Yanomamo tribe of Indians comes to mind. Familial relationships are important to them in carrying out their affairs. So where we use the generic word Aunt and Uncle to describe a sibling of either our mother or our father, they have a separate word for each, instantly letting the listener know with a high degree of specificity what the person’s exact relationship is to them.

Likewise, when I am allowed to use the word husband to describe Gary — which I am prevented from doing so in the course of filling out any number of heterosexist forms, such as taxes — any listener or reader in my culture instantly knows where he fits into my life.

They know we are not shacked up. They know I’m not referencing a business partner. They don’t think he is just one of many others in my life who are significant. Nor do they think I am referring to a fellow member of a union that requires dues.

And they sure as heck don’t think I’m talking about the davenport in my living room, the Internet, or cell phones.

Only someone being deliberately ignorant would claim to be confused by my use of husband. Only the slyly disingenuous would say they do not know what I am meaning when I say, He is my husband. Only those who are being maliciously incendiary would assert that I’m using the term husband in some wholly foreign way comparable to using it to refer to a tree or a rock or a box turtle.

For we as a society have a common bond of shared language that allows this effective, and wholly unambiguous, piece of straightforward — and honest — communication:

I am married.

I have a husband.

His name is Gary.

Three simple sentences that you don’t have to be smarter than a fifth grader to understand. Nor do you need a dictionary for comprehension.

The Necessitation of Sexual Orientation Revelation

EMT Timothy McCormick was killed Saturday night.

He was gay, an eagle scout, and on duty. Those three words — gay, scout, and duty — are important ones and should be said loud and clear, in that order, over and over again.  They need to be Klaxon loud until deaf America hears.

To do so is not playing politics, pushing an agenda or showing disrespect. To NOT do so would be more accurately described as possessing such attributes and is exactly the kind of subtle inaction anti-gay factions promote in their fabrication of reality.

We are having discussions of the discriminatory sexual orientation policy of the Boys Scouts of America in the unreal world of there being no gays in the scouts. The real world is where gays are already there and have shown their mettle rising up through the ranks from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout. You’re damn right it is important that Timothy was an Eagle Scout AND gay.

We are having discussions of marriage equality in the unreal Micah Clark world of gays not caring about anyone but themselves. The real world is where gays not only care about others but are actively engaged — on duty — in jobs that serve and protect adults and children alike. You’re damn right it is important that Timothy was an EMT AND gay.

We are having discussions of sex education in the Stacey Campfield unreal world of gays wanting to recruit children. The real world is where self-identified LGBT children are being bullied and it is society as a whole that needs better sex education.

The fact that in the real world Timothy made an It Gets Better video empowering such kids is damn important, too.

A crucial step in disenfranchising a class is rendering that class invisible in the social sphere. This allows malicious artists of the unreal the opportunity to paint broad brushstrokes of generalizations. The best counter to such sweeping statements is specificity.

The kind of specificity that necessitates constant, continuous, and unrelenting revelation of sexual orientation.

Such call for action might be construed as a call for gays being in your face about their –and others — sexual orientation. You’re damn right it is such a call.

For It has to be that way as long as blind America keeps on turning its head and omitting us from obituaries, wedding announcements, and any other normal societal frame of reference that humanizes us and the people whom we love.

Timothy’s death was a tragedy, make no mistake about that. But to not draw attention to his sexual orientation would be a travesty.

Timothy McCormick, may you rest in peace.

And may the world in which you lived keep on getting better.