Category Archives: pop culture

The Day of the Doctor from a Queer Perspective

dayofdoctorToday is the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, and in half an hour “The Day of the Doctor” will premiere worldwide on BBC. I want to take this occasion to share just a few thoughts on what it means to me to be a queer Doctor Who fan, because in my experience there’s more of a connection than you might think.

The Doctor himself may be rather sexually ambiguous, but there is a certain queer ethos to the show that’s easy to see if you look for it. The Doctor values quirkiness and unpredictability. He jumps into new situations with both feet. He never takes himself too seriously. Personally, I think certain Doctors would be a fan of glitter.

In my experience, being queer is a lot about some of these same things. Being a proud geek and a proud queer go hand-in-hand for me, because they’re about embracing difference and letting your freak flag fly.

Though there are legitimate complaints and criticisms about Moffat’s misogyny and the role of women in the show that I don’t want to overlook, I do appreciate the fluidity of recent characters and plots. I will always have a soft spot in my queer heart for Captain Jack Harkness and for River Song. I’ve loved watching the Doctor evolve from a relationship I frankly found a bit ridiculous with the immature Rose Tyler to the utter glee of River and her teasing “Spoilers!” River is, in certain ways, very queer, and I love it.

The story of the Doctor is, like my own queer journey, a story of possibility. All the options are feasible if you go in with your mind open. Fish fingers and custard anyone? Bowties are cool.

Happy Day of the Doctor!

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The Great Twitter Earthquake of 2011: Natural Disasters Are All About Context

The reaction to the earthquake on the East Coast of the US today went by pretty quickly on Twitter.  First, we all ran from doorways to our computers to scream “holy shit, earthquake!”  Then everyone tweeted to make sure everyone else was all right as the magnitude of the disaster became evident from our streams.  Then the jokes began and the West Coasters started making fun of the East Coasters. On my stream, @enterblisstonia pointed out that everyone experiences disasters differently, and laughing about it? Not that funny.

I’ve been through a lot of disasters and weather events—blizzards, hurricanes, a 500-year flood, -49 degree F windchill, tornadoes, two earthquakes, heat waves, record highs, and record lows.  I’ve also seen how people react in seemingly ridiculous ways to tiny weather events, from a few inches of snow to a tropical storm to a few days of 90 degree heat.  But what always strikes me in these situations is how, as those who’ve been through a particular event make fun of those who haven’t, they seem to be missing the context.

Some weather-related actions, like the inexplicable bread-and-milk buying thing us Southerners do, aren’t very rational.  But most of the time, when people “overreact” to a weather event, it’s not about lack of knowledge or understanding.  It’s about lack of resources.

When a disaster occurs in a place like Haiti, it’s not just the disaster that’s a problem, it’s the extreme poverty.  On a smaller scale, that’s true of disasters in the US.  The levees in New Orleans were an obvious example.  Others abound—a Northerner living in the South may be perfectly prepared to go out in a blizzard, but you’re not going to get very far without snowplows.  A lot of us who’ve experienced an earthquake before were naturally concerned today because we have questions about how well DC or New York buildings are constructed to withstand the earth moving.  The same was true when a hurricane hit Maryland when I was in college—I’ve lived through plenty of hurricanes, but my concern was the dormitory walls only built to withstand 100 mph winds.

Fortunately, it looks like the damage today was minimal, so we can laugh at the “disaster” photos of upended lawn chairs and fallen books.  But West Coasters who mocked East Coast reactions to the earthquake, next time you get a foot of snow, you might want to remember today and stay away from Twitter.

Guns, Democracy, and the American Mythos

American culture isn’t something I write much about here, at least not in the abstract, but a couple of things I heard today got me thinking.  First, at a Center for American Progress panel on the African-American vote in 2012, there was a question from an audience member (an older, white, male career soldier) who suggested that those of us who do not vote cannot call ourselves Americans.  Then, this evening, I was having a discussion about the London riots with a British friend who was telling me how Americans online have been baffled at the idea of people defending themselves with pepper spray and the like because “around here if you tried to bring violence like this to our homes you’d  be staring down the barrel of shotguns, hunting rifles, and handguns.”

These two things coalesced in my mind because I think they’re excellent examples of the American mythos that often shows up as a giant obstacle in my radical, gender-bending work.  This mythos is built around masculinity, but in particular a type of American masculinity that is exemplified by the Good Male Citizen.  The Good Male Citizen, or GMC, participates in his society principally by going to the voting booth every four (maybe every two) years.  He believes strongly in his democracy, which he can demonstrate by pointing to that all-important vote.  He knows that law and order is basically on his side, but should a problem arise, he is prepared to defend himself and his family with his shotgun, hunting rifle, or handgun.  The GMC doesn’t envision himself as scary, but as justified in violence where necessary.  He cares about truth, rule of law, and the American way.  See: voting.

The problem with this mythos, of course, is that it is a mirage to most Americans.  Middle-class, middle-aged, white American businessmen might have been able to get by on this image of America for most of their lives.  But for many Americans, the cops are not a benevolent force but a scary one.  Guns are a real threat, and they’re not principally used for hunting and storing in a “just in case” spot to protect the family.  Voting isn’t a real option, because there are no viable candidates.  We use the vote as a smokescreen, a proof of this idea of democracy we were all taught in elementary school.  It hides the real problems in society by serving a proxy for justice, safety, and American freedom.

Do not be fooled.  Riots can happen here, too.  Violence happens here.  When families are threatened, protecting them is not always possible.  The police are not always on the side of the one who’s right.  The candidates don’t represent opposing views for many women, people of color, and queer Americans.  If guns and democracy do make you feel safe, I would urge you to think critically about that assumption.  Is it gospel truth, or is it a comfortable myth?

These myths exists to make us feel safe and to blind us to the change that is desperately needed.  If we want to form coalitions and make radical change, we need to push past these myths and accept that a gradual solution is not going to do much for us.  I don’t believe that riots are the answer, but I do believe that critical attention to our myths is desperately needed.  Collectively, we need to tell new American stories.

Independence Day, Cultural Identity, and Patriotism

I don’t celebrate the 4th of July.

I’m an American, but I don’t really understand the point of celebrating independence from Britain.  It seems a little ridiculous to celebrate freedom from a colonial power when you’re living in a country that simply became a separate colonial power, a country that was built on the back of genocide, slavery, and mass oppression.  Too many of our history lessons are whitewashed, and I think it’s important to be frank and honest about that.  Many of our national values are abhorrent.

Does this mean that I’m in no way proud of my culture?  No.  What it means is that I’m proud of certain things, but I avoid expressing patriotism as a whole because I believe that displaying the symbols of American patriotism without talking about what they represent would just make me a part of an often-unthinking mass.  It’s not okay to say “sure, our history kind of sucks, but we’re past that now,” or “I know that we’re culpable in a lot of ways, but the problem is too big for me to tackle.”

Yes, it is a big fucking problem.  It is a big fucking problem.  But that’s not a reason to ignore it.  That’s not a reason to ignore the fact that many of our laws, policies, and programs are racist.  That’s not a reason to ignore the fact that we continue to perpetrate cultural genocide against indigenous cultures.  That’s not a reason to accept the rewriting of history that teaches elementary school students all over the country that bad things happened in our history, but don’t worry, you don’t have to think about those.

I think part of tackling the problem is looking deeper, at what is good and what is bad in our country.  For example, when I look at my Southern heritage, I do feel some guilt.  I hate that my ancestors “owned” their fellow human beings.  I hate the racism that continues in the South today.  So I try to do what I can to fight the problems I see in the South–racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant prejudice, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and the eradication of reproductive rights, to name a few.  At the same time, I look at the good things.  If I hated everything about the South, I wouldn’t be eager to change it.  I’d just hang out up here in Maryland and say “good riddance.”  But it’s my culture, for better or worse–I love that our food kicks your food right in the pattootie.  I love putting bourbon in everything.  I love the mountains and the beach, I love sitting out on the porch chatting and drinking tea.  I love the pace of life, the difference between the rural and urban South.  I love our writers and musicians.

I can say the same about the United States.  I’m an activist because I give a shit about my culture, and I want to be proud of it.  Culture goes beyond government, beyond nation.  If you dig deeper, you find great things to celebrate in the people who live within these borders.  Among all the shitty history, you find great little stories that make you feel a sense of pride and connection to the land and the people who live on it.  I don’t care about our independence from Britain.  I care that we are here, that we are fighting, that we are trying to make our society a better place in which to live.

WAM!It Yourself Blogathon: The Case Against a Battle of the Sexes

Have you been keeping up with the WAM! (Women, Action, and the Media) It Yourself unconference this week?  Today is the last day of the Blogathon and we’re talking about various aspects of gender and the media.  My post for this event focuses on the idea of the “battle of the sexes” and why it presents such a barrier to feminism and gender activism in media.

I got this idea from watching the first few episodes of Celebrity Apprentice Season Four, an endeavor I do not necessarily recommend to my readers.  I started watching because my favorite actress, Marlee Matlin, is on the show, and of course it’s not too surprising that a show like this would piss me off with all its ableism and misogyny.  I do think it provides an interesting example, though, of one place where reality TV consistently goes wrong–and it’s not just reality TV.

A battle of the sexes is supposed to be fun, funny, and rile up the audience.  Everyone can root for “their” team, and it’s a clear dividing line that we’re all used to in this society.  You can even make an argument that in this modern, “post-feminist” world, the battle of the sexes is updated and consistent with feminist goals.  Many of the shows that use a battle of the sexes have a strong female team, the women tend to be intelligent and kick ass, and the female viewership supposedly gets excited about this and ratings go up.

But something is seriously wrong with this picture.

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Appropriation vs. Creative Activism

I’ve been thinking lately about cultural appropriation and how to avoid it.  My principle concern comes from the fact that I am fascinated by indigenous cultures and indigenous activism.  I’ve read some really interesting accounts in my study of human rights on indigenous movements and creative solutions to common activist problems. But I’ve wondered if identifying with and being interested in these movements is a bad thing, especially when I’m thinking about how to apply indigenous ideas to activist movements in the United States as a white, middle class individual.

There was a post on cultural appropriation at Bitch Magazine that presented a really helpful guiding line for this problem.  Basically, it’s about attribution.  White people tend to appropriate the ideas of nonwhite people and of marginalized groups in general, whether queer, disabled, indigenous, or something else, and then claim them as their own–directly or through silence.  What this says to me (and correct me if I’m wrong), is that it’s good to recognize the creativity of solutions presented by marginalized people, and to incorporate them into, or use them as the basis for, an activist movement.  But it is essential to attribute those ideas to that group, and to the individuals that have expressed them.  It is not okay to take the ideas out of context, to strip away their origins, and to exclude those who presented the ideas in the first place.

Thoughts?

Competency Kinks, Violence, and Imperialism

A couple of months ago, I had a thought.  I was brainstorming an idea for an urban fantasy novel, one that would feature a strong androgynous superhero whose jurisdiction was over things like stopping rapists, confronting misogynists, and making vulnerable populations feel safe.  But as I was brainstorming this hero, who not only saves your life but has a penchant for cuddling and physical affection, I realized that one of the traits I was using was still “could kill you with hir little finger.”

That got me thinking about competency kinks and how they align with violence.

“Competency kink” basically just means that someone being really good at whatever zie does is a turn-on.  Movies certainly capitalize on this.  Sometimes it’s intellectual competence, or psychic ability, or something else unrelated to violence, but very often the protagonist is competent at killing, injuring, and/or self defense.  Whether it’s competence with weaponry, martial arts, magic, or some other violence-related skill, filmmakers are very good at combining destructive prowess with sexiness.  Think Christian Bale in Equilibrium.  Think Keanu Reeves in the Matrix.  Think of all the bad-ass chicks in films that are unexpectedly very skilled at physical combat.  Kill Bill, anyone?

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Blogging “Yes” Day 26: A Culture Gone Wild

Note: I wrote this post last night, April 30, but for some reason it didn’t go through. Here’s take two.

It’s day twenty-seven of the Blogging “Yes” project, the final day.  Thank you to everyone who dropped by to read the posts, and to everyone who picked up the book and read along with me.  You can see all the project posts by using the Blogging “Yes” tag.  So, today I read Jaclyn Friedman’s essay, “In Defense of Going Wild or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Pleasure (and How You Can, Too).” Not everything in this essay sat well with me, but what I do want to focus on is the correlation between male drinking and rape, and how a particular male-focused culture is partly to blame for our stigmas about girls “going wild.”

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Alison Bechdel Interview at Gender Across Borders

One of the submissions to the privilege carnival that I couldn’t use was an interview with Alison Bechdel, who you probably know from Dykes to Watch Out For. Though the interview didn’t fit in with the privilege carnival, I wanted to make you all aware of it anyway, because it’s a nice long interview and really interesting.  Get the Alison Bechdel interview here.

Stop the Presses, Ellen Called Portia “Baby”

My Google Reader was all abuzz today about Ellen Degeneres and Portia Rossi on Oprah, so I decided to check out the appearance. Now I know Oprah’s kind of schmaltzy anyway, and I’m sure she had the best of intentions, but the episode kind of struck me the wrong way from the opening segment. Oprah talks about a photoshoot where Portia walked into the room and Ellen’s eyes lit up, and how beautiful that was, and how she said “Hey Baby,” and how cute that was, etc. It had a very animals-in-a-zoo feel to me. “Look at the lesbians in their natural habitat!” Yes, Ellen’s eyes lit up when Portia walked into a room, because it’s her wife. I’m just saying.