Theatre and Queerness at St. Olaf

By Leilah Kidess

Theatre has always been a place for people to explore different controversial topics. It is often a judgment free place in which audiences are able to form their own ideas about issues based on what they see on stage. In the past, theatre has been used to discuss issues such as wars, poverty, racism, and LGBT+ rights. The theatre community in general is often a place where minorities and those discriminated against can feel welcome. This has included the LGBT+ community and continues to do so.

The inclusivity and ability to talk about issues for the LGBT+ community is true of the theatre department at St. Olaf this year. As a member of the LGBT+ community, I have always felt welcome in our theatre department. There are many other members of the LGBT+ community in the theatre department and the professors of the department go out of their way to be welcoming and respectful to everyone. Many of the theatre productions this year had some queer ideas present and students in the department have also been exploring ideas in the LGBT+ community.

In the fall production of the comedy Love of Three Oranges, written by Carlo Gozzi and directed by Jeanne Willcoxon and Irve Dell, many of the characters were intentionally gender-bent. This created a very queer feel to the show. The prince in the show was played by Shannon Cron. This created an interesting dynamic, especially when the prince married a girl at the end of the show and the prince took of his hat. There was a bow in Shannon’s hair. This little touch created a subtle yet powerful statement about LGBT+ rights and the complexity and fluidity of gender and sexuality. Denzel Belin and Joey LeBrun both dressed in drag for the show. Denzel played a princess while Joey played a witch. They both wore heels and wigs to enhance their characters. Seton FitzMacken also played a man who assisted the villains of the show and wore a baseball cap. Along with the gender-bending, the king’s assistant, played by Nathan Aastuen, and the king, played by Memo Rodriguez had some implied onstage romance. The assistant comically portrayed his crush on the king and they shared some comical romantic moments. All in all, this show challenged the norms of gender and sexuality in a very palatable manner.

In the interim production of Cymbeline, written by William Shakespeare and directed by Gary Gisselman and Jon Ferguson, there was a lot of intentional gender-bending. Lily Bane played Polydore, a son to Belarius and was a hunter that lived in a cave. The character was fairly masculine and engaged in sword fights and even chopped off the prince’s head. Megan Behnke played Belarius, the father of Polydore and a hunter as well. Seton FitzMacken played Doctor Cornelius, a comical doctor that knew all the events of the play. Christine Menge played Caius Lucius, a Roman general that battled the Britains and King Cymbeline. Victoria Green played a French gentleman, a British lord, and a Roman attendant to Caius Lucius.

In the student-directed one-acts this spring, The Twilight of the Golds, written by Jonathan Tolins and directed by Olivia Mansfield, dealt with issues of abortion and homosexuality. The play follows the journey of a family comprised of a mother, father, gay son, daughter, and her husband. The play takes place at a time when prenatal screening has just gotten to the point where physicians can detect almost everything about the fetus with almost-complete certainty, including the fetus’ sexuality. The daughter of the family discovers that she is pregnant and learns that her baby will be gay, like her brother. The daughter and her husband must then decide whether or not to abort their child. The son finds out what his sister is planning and confronts his parents about it and asks them whether or not they would have aborted him if they knew and then confronts his sister. This show was very powerful and confronted many controversial issues without explicitly telling the audience what they should feel. I think that this show very effectively portrayed the subject matter and introduced issues for the LGBT+ community in a very accurate and captivating manner.

For his theatre senior capstone project, Joey LeBrun decided to look at gender as performance. To do this, Joey dressed up in drag for a full week and documented his experience. He called his project “Born Naked” and was looking to start a dialogue of gender as performance on the St. Olaf campus. He went about his daily life dressed as a drag queen and had different costumes each day. He got his inspiration from a RuPaul quote which says: “We’re all born naked, and the rest is drag!”

Pride Reconsidered

By Lilia Escobar

Every year, Chicago hosts its annual gay pride parades. I have, unfortunately, only attended the parade once but I hope to attend again in the future. These yearly events bring out the inner “divas” in all of my friends. Every year, I see countless posts from my friends dressed in the clothes that make them feel sexiest and surrounded by the most colorful individuals. The parade itself is very representative of the sexual liberation in the LGBTQ community. It is an event where it is okay to be who you are and being gay is something to celebrate! It is always a fun time, although it never fails to bring its share of business, traffic, violence, and accidents.

Reading over some articles reflecting on the Pride parade in Chicago, there is a wide array of responses to these events. One blog post, entitled “Crime in Wrigleyville and Boystown”, called the violence and crime surrounding the event “the usual.” In the comments section, one individual weighed in, “Pride? It’s a shame how Chicago has portrayed us in the public eye in sake of the almighty $. Seriously…” This argument isn’t something new. One thing these arguments fail to see is whom these events are created for.

One of the questions introduced by this commenter is, do Pride parades create a positive or negative image of the LGBTQA community? In a survey conducted by City Data, the results revealed a general belief that Pride parades create an overall negative representation of the queer community to both heterosexual individuals and non-heterosexual individuals. Reading through a discussion of the subject on Quora.com, a commenter brought up a new perspective on the question: “The original intent of gay pride events were designed to create neither a positive nor a negative impact…it’s more reasonable to assume that the point was to demonstrate that gays were a group larger and more organized…” This is an interesting point and brings up a concern: are the parades even intended to impact the perception of the LGBTQ community? Thinking about other parades (Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, etc.) these are generally celebration, not a stage for representation of any given group involved. People rarely use the St. Patrick’s Day parade to make a critical analysis of Irish-Americans. The part in the quote where the commenter mentions organization is an intriguing concept I had not thought about in analyzing Pride parades. Sure, the event is a celebration and a public statement of liberation, but it is also a way of proving the movement’s strength, presence, and threat. It makes a statement of “we’re here to stay and we’re not alone,” as countless queer folks and allies walk proudly through the parade.

The place where this sense of resilience and power becomes tricky is when it compromises the rest of the Chicago community and/or violates other city laws. A Chicago news site called DNAinfo addressed the issue of police crackdown on public drinking. A local Chicagoan argued, “There were too many people for police to realistically enforce the rule…” This is where the argument against the parade stops being about gay public representation and starts being about the exemption of city law because there is just too large of a group involved in the breaking of a law. While the argument against Pride parades may become about crime and public intoxication, it does not change the impact and importance of the parade. The same arguments can be applied to just about any other public event, parade, or march.

Thinking back on the concept of gay liberation movements, these parades create an interesting paradox. If the parades are indeed created to show the strength of the movement and/or the organization of the movement, who are they trying to prove themselves to? Queer culture in itself calls for strength and empowerment, so why do they have to prove they can organize an event like a parade?

Even with this, the pride parade still makes a big statement, and that is something that it will never lose. For individuals seeking sexual freedom, the parade is a place to step out publicly in a way that they might never have otherwise. The parade allows for sexuality to be expressed on a spectrum in a way that is not obvious anywhere else. You’ll see all of the letters of the alphabet soup represented, as well as subtle differences from sexual/gender “norms.” This is something special that only public celebrations as this can spark.

With that, the magic and beauty of a Pride celebration should be preserved. If this means enforcing the laws in a stricter way, or assuring the safety of all the individuals involved, so be it. There is a much larger and more important message that should not be silenced by the incidence of violence and law-breaking at these events.

If Canada Can Do It, Why Can’t We?

By Anabel Kapelke

Marriage inequality has had a profound effect on many people in my life, and has consequently resulted in my life being immensely impacted by discriminatory marriage laws. My first encounter with marriage injustice occurred before I was ten. They were the only gay couple I knew, and coincidentally they were the people who first opened my eyes to homosexuality as a social category. Before this, I did not even consider the possibility that a woman did not have to marry a man and vice versa. At the time, of course, I did not really understand the magnitude of the situation.

Tim and Dave lived on a small farm in rural northern Minnesota. My dad met Dave in his office, and the pair became fast friends. Soon the entire family was invited to visit their home. I have fond memories of road-tripping to Tim and Dave’s farm, and even better memories of my time at their house. Spending time at the farm furnished some of my fondest childhood memories. Consequently, even as a child, I started asking myself why American society could not accept them as a couple.

Tim and Dave had been together for years, and finally fed up with America’s prejudice, the happy couple moved to Ontario, where gay marriage was legal, to make their partnership real in the eyes of the law. They had to uproot their lives in the United States for the sole purpose of getting married. Luckily for them, Canada was far more progressive than America, legalizing gay marriage across the entire country just one year later.

America’s progress toward marriage equality began at a later date, and is currently taking longer to make the same developments Canada has already made. Since the 1920s, the idea of homosexual legal union has been an idea on the minds of many Americans. The movement picked up pace in the 1960s and 70s and gained significantly more attention and power in the 1990s. So what were the driving forces behind the acceleration? In Why Marriage?, historian George Chauncey notes that the three most important factors in the level of determination for marriage equality were the progressively expanding acknowledgement and acceptance granted to the LGBT community, the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, and the lesbian baby boom of the 1980s.

Canada’s thirst for gay marriage also heightened in the 1980s, with an increasing level of acceptance. Many couples were living together openly and wanted the same rights be granted to them as to straight couples. Unlike in the United States, some Canadian courts began to grant limited recognition to the couples. Canada also had to cope with the losses of the AIDS epidemic, which contributed to the marriage equality movement as well. The majority of the movement took place in the 1990s. One influential factor was the issue of children. Much like the lesbian baby boom in the United States, gay parents in Canada wanted the same rights afforded to them, including rights revolving around couples adopting. Throughout the 90s, the marital rights granted to couples progressively got better. Cases like Egan vs. Canada and M vs. H display the importance the LGBT community was putting on receiving equal “spousal” benefits. These cases are also representative of the progress being made at that point. Following M vs. H, same-sex couples were granted the same rights as unmarried straight couples based on conjugal cohabitation, or living together for a certain number of years.

After the 90s things progressed quite rapidly for Canada, and also took a turn for the better in the United States. In the early 2000s, many others appealed to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms after the decision made in M vs. H. The monumental 2003 Ontario Court of Appeal case of Halpern vs. Canada resulted in the recognition that denying homosexuals the right to get married violated the rights provided to them under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Within two years of that decision, on July 20, 2005, gay marriage was declared legal across Canada.

The 21st century held tremendous progress for the United States as well. The year of 2004 held particular triumph for the LGBT community, with Massachusetts and San Francisco handing out marriage licenses to gay couples. Since then 36 states have legalized gay marriage.

Overall the two countries have showed steady progress and similar reasoning behind their determination to make marriage available to everyone. Evolution of rights and acknowledgement, the AIDS epidemic, and the issue of children all seem to be similar catalysts in both Canada’s and America’s mission for marriage equality. The core issue with the United States’ lack of progress in comparison to Canada’s is due to the level at which the laws are operating. In Canada all marriage laws are decided at the federal level, while in America each state has the power to decide the laws on same-sex marriage. Ontario was the first to legalize gay marriage after the Ontario Court of Appeals decision in the Halpern vs. Canada case, however, some provinces like Alberta rejected the new definition of marriage. Not long after the Halpern decision. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that only the federal government had power over marriage laws consequently resulting in federal legalization of gay marriage. Unfortunately, the federal government is not allowed to place executive power over each state’s decisions. This, however, does not excuse the fact that Canada legalized gay marriage ten years ago, and yet there are still 13 states in the US that have a ban on same-sex marriage. There is still hope for the United States, however, especially in light of the expected Supreme Court decision this summer. The court must determine whether the Constitution grants homosexual couples the right to get married, and if they decide same-sex marriage is legal under the constitution, homosexual couples will be legally able to marry throughout the entirety of the United States.

Although marriage equality has come a long way in America, we are tragically trailing Canada’s progress. Interestingly, the couple that opened my eyes to gay marriage moved to Canada in 2004, the very year that the mayor of San Francisco started issuing legal marriage license for gay and lesbian couples and that Massachusetts first legalized gay marriage. Although this was a momentous break in the fight for marriage equality in the United States, it was just too little too late for two northern Minnesota farmers who still remain in Ontario to this day.

Social Media and the Transgender Community

By Kathryn Reed

As a user of the blogging and social media website Tumblr, I know that there is a large LGBTQA+ community on this site. Many of my followers and the people whose blogs I follow are part of this community, including the transgender community. I’ve noticed how this particular social media site provides a space for transgender individuals to network with each other. Although there is, as yet, no scholarly literature about this particular online community, sociologist Matthew G. O’Neill has discussed how social media sites like YouTube are a space for transgender individuals to express their identity and provide support for other transgender people. In a chapter entitled “Transgender Youth and YouTube Videos: Self-Representation and Five Identifiable Trans Youth Narratives” that appeared in the edited collection Queer Youth and Media Cultures, O’Neill states, “Clearly trans youth have a need for artistic expression, and YouTube offers a valuable performative and discursive space, allowing the individual to become aware of their chosen gender identity.” I think that many of the concepts O’Neill discusses are applicable to the transgender community on Tumblr, on top of the unique dynamics that define Tumblr as a blogging website.

According to O’Neill, there are five basic types of narratives that are produced by transgender youth on YouTube. First, there are the transition videos. These videos consist of pictures from different stages of the transition process, from one’s birth gender through the beginnings of hormone therapy, surgeries, and eventually to one’s preferred gender. Second, there are “DIY Gender” videos, in which the individual gives tips on how to dress and pass as their preferred gender. For example, for a transgender female to male, this could include advice on how to use a chest binder to get a flatter chest in order to present as a cisgender male. Third, there are trans video blog, which are video diaries of daily life experiences. These videos can be on topics like physical changes from hormone therapy, coming out to family and friends, using preferred gender bathrooms, and experiences at school as a transgender individual.

The fourth type of narrative O’Neill discusses is the trans anti-bullying videos. In these videos, individuals talk about their own experiences with bullying and discrimination because of their transgender status and offer tips to other transgender individuals about how to cope with bullying and discrimination. Fifth and finally, there are celebrity trans video blogging videos. These are videos from famous transgender people such as Chaz Bono, who talk about their own personal experiences of being trans. These videos are inspirational for transgender youth who look up to these people as role models not just because of their celebrity status, but also because they understand what young people are going through in terms of the complexities and issues that come with transgender identity.

O’Neill states that these videos “build an empathetic online community which respects the idea that, while every trans experience is different, there is a role for ongoing non-judgmental support for each individual at each stage of their journey.” Each person’s experience as a transgender individual is different, from differences in familial support to specific bodily changes. Through these videos, people can still find similarities in each other’s experiences, which creates a network of support as transgender people realize that they are not alone in their identity and the challenges they face. The videos are a platform for self-expression and community building.

Structurally, Tumblr is different from YouTube because instead of creating videos, transgender users create written blog posts about transgender-related issues. They can choose to post pictures and videos as well, but the primary content is written because Tumblr is a blogging website. However, content of these written narratives is essentially the same as the five types of transgender YouTube narratives that O’Neill describes. These Tumblr posts act as a form of digital literature that explores transgender issues and experiences. With the “archive” feature on Tumblr, one can look back at past posts and see the progression of an individual’s narrative overtime, like a personal digital storybook. The online dimension of these blog narratives also makes them accessible to a global audience, which is not the case with traditional print literature.

Tumblr also allows for an aspect of anonymity that is not as feasible with YouTube videos. In a video one’s identity is very much out in the open unless the creator decides to use a fake name or to alter their appearance. But on Tumblr, it is easier to maintain an anonymous identity because you do not have to include any identifiable information about yourself or show your physical appearance if you do not want to. Moreover, Tumblr has the feature of being able to ask other bloggers questions anonymously. This aspect of anonymity is a good way to stay connected with the transgender online community without “outing” oneself to the world, especially if the asker is not open with friends and family about their identity, or lives their life as “stealth” to the people around them.

Taking part in an online social media community like YouTube or Tumblr does come with some risks. Online bullying because of their gender identity is a risk that transgender people face when being open about their identity in a public space such as the internet. However, the sense of community is strong enough that people still feel like they can access the online transgender community as a safe space to be open about their gender identity without worrying too much about online bullying.

Overall, social media sites such as Tumblr and YouTube are unique mediums for transgender individuals to express their gender identity, discuss their personal experiences, and provide support for other members of the trans community.

The Gay Brain

By Emily Dzurak

I was raised as a Lutheran in an ELCA church. I was taught that good Christians were compassionate, forgiving, accepting, and loving; not self-righteous or hateful. Yet I have met many members of the latter group of Christians–most of whom subscribe to the Christian Bible literally. I have always found these Bible literalists to be an interesting, yet misguided group. Specifically, I mean those who pick the couple of Bible verses that condemn homosexuality as a basis for persecuting the LGBTQA community. This seems incredibly hypocritical: how could these so-called Christians overlook the hundreds of verses about compassion and acceptance just to focus on less than ten verses that vaguely disapprove of homosexuality? If they were Bible literalists, didn’t they then also believe that women were inferior to men (according to the dozens of passages stating so) and that marriage ought to be between a man, a woman, and a couple of concubines? I guess you cannot rationalize irrational thinking.

I was confronted with some of these literalists early in my high school career. They were two of my friends, actually. Both of them believed that being gay was a sin and a choice. I was appalled. A choice? Really? Not quite yet tactful in my argumentative tactics, I simply responded that that was “the dumbest thing I have ever heard.” We aren’t friends anymore. But while my argument rested on my personal experience (I did not choose my own sexuality, so others surely could not choose theirs), I lacked scientific evidence to strengthen my point.

There has been a lot of evidence in recent years, however, that being gay is, indeed, not a choice. In 2008, the National Academy of Sciences journal published a study from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden comparing 90 adults’ brain sizes in order to garner evidence that sexual orientation originates in the brain during fetal development. The research team focused on measuring brain parameters that were fixed at birth, and couldn’t be altered by learning or cognitive processes. The study was based on the relationship between hemispheric dominance in the brain and whether a person is gay or straight. Hemispheric dominance refers to an individual showing preference towards using one hemisphere, since the two hemispheres of the brain are specialized to perform certain tasks. In this Swedish study, a group consisting of healthy gay and heterosexual men and women underwent brain scans to measure the volume of their right and left hemispheres. The results of the study showed that heterosexual men and lesbians share a “particular asymmetry” in their hemisphere size, with the right hemisphere being slightly larger than the left. Heterosexual women and gay men had no significant difference in size between their hemispheres. This suggests that the brain structure of gay men are more similar to heterosexual women, and gay women’s brain structure are more similar to heterosexual men. Scientists, however, are still trying to find out what this data means.

Furthermore, studies of the amygdala show other significant differences in gender and the brain. In heterosexual men and gay women, the right side of the amygdala has more nerve connections than the left. The reverse was true in gay men and heterosexual women, with more neural connection in the left amygdala. The amygdala, known as the emotional center of the brain, plays a primary role in processing memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions. The findings that gay men share connectivity patterns with heterosexual women and heterosexual men with lesbians could lead to a better understanding of how that brain is connected to sexuality and gender.

Time magazine reflected on the Karolinska Institute study in an article called “What Makes People Gay?” In the article, Dr. Eric Vilain, a professor of human genetics at UCLA, asks “if the brains of gay men are different, or feminized, are there regions other than those connected to sexual preference that are gender atypical in gay males?” Vilain hypothesizes that the brains of gay men “possess only some ‘feminized’ structures, while retaining some masculine ones,” which is “reflected in how they act in their sexuality.” He further explains that men, regardless of their sexual orientation, manifest “masculine” characteristics in their sexual behavior. For example, both straight and gay men tend to prefer younger partners, while women tend to prefer older partners. Vilain supports this example by saying that he expects “some regions of the brain [to] remain masculine even in gay men.” Well, duh. To summarize, scientists have found that an individual’s brain structure may determine and explain their gender and sexual preferences.

But why does that matter? Would this evidence really convince my Christian ex-friends that being gay wasn’t a choice, when they also rejected other scientific findings in lieu of their religion? Would the LGBTQA community feel empowered that the connection between their innate brain structures and their sexuality was legitimized or saddened that it needed to be legitimized in the first place while heterosexuality is fully accepted?

John Lauritsen has ridiculed scientific research trying to prove the relationship between the brain and homosexuality, writing that:

“Attempts have been made, at least since the beginnings of ‘sexology’ in the 19th century, to explain ‘homosexuality.’ Almost as soon as ‘homosexuality’ was coined in 1869, the term acquired a clinical character based on the false assumption that only a tiny minority of human males are erotically attracted to each other. Male love (comprising sex, love and friendship) does not need to be explained. When males have sex with each other, they are expressing an ordinary, healthy component of male sexuality — something phylogenetically inherent in the sexual repertoire of the human male, and thus a product of evolution.”

Lauritsen’s article reminds me of the argument I had with my friends many years ago. I remember trying so hard to come up with a counterargument to the claim that being gay was a choice. But maybe I didn’t need to. This does not mean that the findings of the studies previously mentioned are irrelevant. Simply that scientific evidence is less important than the human compassion and decency needed to understand that sexuality is not a choice. If the Christian community does not need scientific evidence to legitimize their beliefs in creationism and a talking snake, the LGBT community certainly doesn’t need scientific evidence to legitimize their sexual preferences. Sexuality doesn’t need to be explained. What does need to be explained, as Lauritsen notes, is sexuality’s condemnation.

The Most Heteronormative Thing Since 50s Magazine Ads

Anonymous

I went to an event last month that was presented and paid for by a Catholic student club on campus, along with the Pastor’s Office. I am choosing to remain anonymous in posting this, since the last time someone publicly critiqued it, they were met with a very hostile and patronizing response from one of our college’s pastors.

A speaker named Sarah Swafford came to St. Olaf and gave two separate talks, the first for women only and the second for both men and women (I suppose that the non-binary folks aren’t welcome to either?). I went to the first one, which was titled Perfectionism and Competition and focused on the tense relationships that sometimes exist between women.

She talked about a myriad of topics after spending the first 15 minutes talking about her family, and the next 10 about how she got her start giving talks. With nearly half of her time gone, she began discussing her experience working with first-year college women as a “dorm mom.” Her first group was comprised of 142 women, with whom plenty of drama came along. “Where there are 142 women there are at least 142 men right?” she joked before talking about the “fallout of hooking up.” As someone who is as sex-positive as I am gay, I cringed.

She went on to talk about body positivity. Things were looking up when she showed us pictures of the different beauty standards of America’s past, displaying pictures of what we would now consider “plus-size” models in swimsuits. This glimmer of hope was quickly crushed when she described these women as “curvy girls. Like, normal girls.” I am twig-thin with small breasts — am I not normal?

Another thing that stood out to me was the quote, “Women spend 90% of their time worrying about how they look in a bikini.” I’m surprised that she was even able to stand up there for an hour long talk if that’s what was on her mind the whole time!

It got worse when she explained her reasons for why we need body positivity. She said that “The men who truly want to get to know you and might be future spouses someday don’t care about [your flaws].” That’s fair! In the end though, her message of self-love boiled down to “men don’t care, so you shouldn’t either.” She is highly overestimating how much I value the opinions of men about my body. Or anything, for that matter.

She concluded by talking about solutions. Her solution is for every women to make good male friends, but she also notes how incredibly difficult that can be. “It’s almost impossible in our generation for men and women to just be friends,” she explained. “You can’t even have them interact without it turning into a giant flirt-fest!” God, straight people are so weird.

In short, it was the most heteronormative thing I’ve ever seen.

skeletons

Yes, even more than this.

After the talk, a couple of friends of mine went up to talk to her while I hung back and joked around with some classmates (“I know it’s hard to talk to me when 90% of your brain is dedicated to your bikini body, but try to focus!”). One of those friends is a trans woman, and she told Swafford that she wanted to be a psychologist for LGBTQIA+ youth when she is older. “That’s wonderful,” Swafford replied, “those people need a lot of help.”

Maybe it’s somewhat obvious that I wasn’t thrilled about the college’s investment in this particular speaker. Maybe they didn’t know what the talk would really entail, though? Perhaps her website gave the Catholic organization and the pastor’s office the impression that her talk on female competition would address the larger patriarchal systems in our society that teach women to see each other as competition. Since she did push her websites pretty heavily, I figured that I would check them out to get a better idea of the bigger picture.

The first place I clicked on chastityproject.com was the “homosexuality” icon on the front page, denoted with a rainbow flag. It contains many videos, some of which offer hesitant acceptance of marginalized orientations, gender identities, and intersex (MOGAI) people after spewing some pretty blatant homophobia. One of them literally uses the phrase “the gay agenda” while demanding that gay people remain abstinent in order to live out God’s will. In contrast, there is another video under the “‘Safe’ Sex” section (please note the scare quotes) titled “Cultural Imperialism” with horror movie music that states that the government advancement of LGBTQIA+ rights is “manipulation.”

Other parts of the site talk about why BDSM is wrong (because Jesus is the only one who should be whipped and beaten — I am 100% serious) and give false information about condoms, saying that you should opt for natural family planning as a contraceptive choice instead. They even have little misogynistic commercials — “I’m a Mac” “And I’m a PC” style — that offer up inexcusably false information about hormonal birth control while promoting the NFP method, which has a failure rate of about 24%.

What I’m saying is that the website is trash and that what Swafford had to say was trash. We deserve so much better than this.

We as a student body deserve programming that is positive toward and supportive of MOGAI individuals. At the very, very least, I believe that the programming presented to us should not be actively exclusionary towards marginalized groups or reinforce the toxic gender binary that is already actively dividing our society.

Or , if we are absolutely required to have programming that is extremely heteronormative, I would be willing to set aside my morals and stand for an hour next to the skeleton picture for a few hundred dollars.

Isn’t It Bromantic?

By Cosimo Pori

What is a bro and how does it relate to my queerness?

How do I even begin to comprehend the bro culture?

It started out with language. A few years back, I found myself in the throes of the popularization of the phrase “no homo.” Straight men would use this tagline following anything from compliments to opinions to jokes. Most vividly, I remember overhearing someone at a concert telling his friends: “We should go in deeper [to the crowd]…no homo!” By gendering and sexualizing an act so innocuous, the context obviously became extremely sexual and tawdry. Basically, it went from “no homo” to “very homo.” The phenomenon of straight men gendering and sexualizing everything while simultaneously acknowledging their own potential queerness was unwelcome to my closeted self.

Once I arrived at college, the linguistic became more physical. I was swallowed into the abyssal and perplexing sea of bro culture and politics. The close friendships I established with men were often referred to as adorable “bromances.” This exposure to bro culture and bromances opened me up to concept of the homosocial desire.

Literary theorist Eve Sedgwick, who coined the term homosociality in her 1985 study Between Men, describes this phenomenon as “a kind of an oxymoron.” Sedgwick explains that homosocial desire shares a close bond with other forms of connection including mentorship, friendship, and even rivalry. Homosociality, on its own, implies neither heterosexuality nor homosexuality.

I began to wonder what bromances and homosocial desire meant in relation to queer and gay identities. For a while, I had admired men who acknowledged their “queer tendencies,” as it were. I even felt grateful that there was a form of queer representation in straight society and media. I believed that the widespread use of the term “bromance” was a boon to the queer community, because it acted as another sign of acceptance from our straight allies.

But then I started thinking more deeply: how does this usage reflect on my relationships and connections to other people? Is the idea that my male friendships contain at least a hint of romance detrimental to my identity as a queer person? Since the coining of the term “bromance,” how far has the queer community really come? Through asking these questions, I started to realize that homosocial desire and the idea of the bromance are actually unique forms of oppression.

A bromance, in essence, is an appropriation of a gay relationship. Straight men with any form of friendly connection have the ability to take on a semi-romantic mantle without any of the discrimination and stigma queer couples often face. By appropriating a gay or queer relationship in literature, media, and film, the bromance entails several equally intriguing and toxic viewpoints about queer identity. The bromance is also a two-way street, as a strange type of institution that acknowledges a person’s queer potential or suppressed sexuality even as it implies that there is absolutely no way they could be anything other than straight.

The bromance’s acceptance into mainstream culture has come with its evolution into a form of sick joke or punchline on the queer community. The long existence of the “buddy film” shows that this joke has been in the media for a long while, though in the last decade it has become more toxic. The bromance’s depiction in film has become accessorized and branded as comedic, because obviously there is no way in hell that a man could ever have deep feelings towards another man. This punchline isolates the queer community while basically saying that the entire existence of queer romance is laughable, foreign, and unacceptable in straight society.

The expression of homosocial desire ties in with the ability to shrug on and shrug off a queer identity. Herein lies the systematic oppression of queer people, because for most straight people, the very idea of acting homosocially is so unlikely that it is laughable.

This ridiculous trend of appropriating queerness has spread to all realms of contemporary American life. Celebrities have begun to make wildly ridiculous claims about identifying as “queer,” while being hailed as “friggen cool” at the same time. For instance, Oscar winner Jared Leto claims that some of his “straight friends have begun to define themselves as queer without it being a sexual term, but a cultural one,” and saying he identifies with “people who are different.”

So what does all of this mean for the queer community?

In essence, this phenomenon showcases the beginning of a loss of queer identity. Rather than being forced to assimilate, cisgendered heterosexual people have begun to identify as “culturally queer” without any of the real burden that comes with being queer. At the same time, queer folks still face constant discrimination for being too much of their own sexuality (too femme, too butch, and so on).

Because of the apparent innocence of bromance relationships and the structure of homosocial desire, appropriation is seen as commonplace and innocuous when in actuality it is a greater hindrance than people are realizing.

In conclusion, straight people: there is absolutely nothing wrong or abnormal about your relationships with cis-het people of the same gender. It’s all right for you to have close ties with people of your own gender, but don’t call it a “bromance” and don’t rob the queer community of its validity because you’re insecure about your own emotions.

Mental Health in the LGBT Community

By Michaela Banz

As a student who is extremely interested in issues regarding mental health, I have chosen to explore the accuracy behind the claim that LGBT young adults have a greater incidence of mental health issues. Up until 1973, homosexuality was considered a diagnosable mental illness in accordance with the guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Prior to the elimination of homosexuality as a disorder, homosexual people around the world were diagnosed as mentally ill, which resulted in thousands of prescriptions for conversion therapy to change their sexual orientation to heterosexual. As soon as empirical data could demonstrate that homosexuality was not a disease, the board of the American Psychiatric Association removed it from the DSM. However, it is important to acknowledge that gender dysphoria, or the feeling that one’s gender does not match one’s biological sex, is still considered a mental disorder according to the current DSM. Therefore, people who are transgender would technically qualify for a diagnosis of mental disorder.

Why do people suspect that people within the LGBT community have greater instances of mental health problems? One answer may be that homosexuals and transgender people have historically been considered mentally ill for simply existing. Another possibility is that because homosexuality is stigmatized around the world, people assume that homosexuals should have higher incidences of mental illness because of the discrimination they face. Theoretically, these claims make a lot of sense. It seems logical that young LGBT adults who are ostracized by their peers would have higher rates of anxiety and depression than their heterosexual peers. However, in the early 2000s, the American Psychological Association released new data on lesbian, gay, and bisexual mental health that complicated these assumptions. Their findings suggest that while gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals appear to have higher rates of certain mental disorders than heterosexuals, these rates are not to a level of a serious pathology or a statistically significant difference.

A recent study at San Francisco State University surveyed a group of 245 Hispanic and white LGBT young adults, ranging from 21 to 25 years old. The researchers used data from the Family Acceptance Project’s survey and were particularly interested in the findings of questions about disclosure of LGBT status at school, self-reported past LGBT school victimization, young adult depression, and overall adult life satisfaction. The goal of this study was to uncover whether the benefits of coming out at a young age outweighed potential health risks resulting from discrimination. This study found that coming out while attending school is strongly and positively correlated with life satisfaction and negatively associated with depression. Conversely, hiding one’s sexual orientation is correlated with a greater likelihood of mental health problems as a young adult. Interestingly enough, there were no significant differences in responses found between males, females, and transgender participants. As you would probably assume, the researchers did find that being out is positively associated with victimization, but the positive psychosocial effects of being out typically outweighed the negative effects of victimization.

The findings of this study challenge the notion that the perceived consequences of coming out, such as increased discrimination and victimization, lead to higher rates of mental health issues. Stephen Russell, the study’s principal investigator and the director of the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families at the University of Arizona, asserts that the findings of this study should not be too surprising. According to Russell, “This is clearly aligned with everything we know about identity. Being able to be who we are is crucial to mental health.” The changing attitudes of Americans regarding LGBT issues over the past couple decades likely contributed to the results of this study. These changing attitudes have had profound and positive effects on the lives of LGBT youth.

There is a fairly large body of research that would contradict the findings of the San Francisco State University study. For example, in 2001, the National Survey of Midlife Development found that perceived discrimination of the LGBT population in the United States was positively associated with harmful effects on the quality of life and psychological problems. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that LGBTQ individuals are three times more likely to qualify for a diagnosis of a mental illness such as depression and anxiety disorder. Furthermore, a literature review of studies about mental health and the LGBT community found that gay men and lesbians were more likely to receive a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, or develop a substance abuse disorder. Almost all of the studies cited in this review suggested that social stigma and victimization were likely the leading risk factor for a diagnosis.

The question remains whether or not being LGBT puts one at a higher risk for the development of a mental health disorder. After looking at a multitude of studies that have examined this question, I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is simply conditional on people’s experiences after coming out. People whose families and friends would not be receptive to the news and would instead disown, abuse, and torment them, would most likely be more at risk of developing a mental disorder if they came out. However, the development of a disorder would be based largely on circumstances. People who have a good support network of people around them would definitely benefit from coming out because they will be supported by these people. A supporting piece of evidence for the former claim is the finding that individuals who faced rejection after coming out to their friends and family were more than eight times more likely to attempt suicide than someone who received positive affirmations. Assuming that all members of the LGBT community are at a higher risk of developing a mental disorder is too simple an answer to a question that requires complexity.

The Politics of Blood Donation

By Natalie Mironov

Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.

More than 41,000 blood donations are needed every day.

A total of 30 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S.

These are the first three facts about blood needs on the American Red Cross website. And yet the site goes on to explain that although an estimated 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, less than 10% actually do each year.

Given the clear need for blood donations, shouldn’t we be taking every donation we possibly can?

Despite these staggering statistics, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still imposes strict limitations on men who have had sex with other men (MSM) from donating human cells, tissues, and cellular and tissue-based products, which include blood and bone marrow donations. These policies began in 1983 when HIV and AIDS started to gain a reputation as a “gay disease,” because they were more prevalent within the category of men who have had sex with men. The FDA claimed that due to the possibility of missing an HIV diagnosis during the screening of these cells and tissues, it was safer to impose a lifetime donation ban on any man who had had sex with another man after 1977, when the AIDS epidemic hit the United States. At that time, little was known about HIV/AIDS and there were many limitations surrounding the ability to test blood for infection. Given the limitations of testing at that time, maybe this policy made sense at one point, but with the technological development and the advances in scientific ability to screen for HIV and other infectious diseases, why is it still in place now?

Dr. Steven Kleinman, the senior medical adviser to the American Association of Blood Banks, believes the issue is related to the social stigma surrounding homosexuality. In a 2010 article in the New York Times he was quoted as saying: “You wonder, if this wasn’t about gay men, would the rules be applied in the same way?” The FDA claims that it is not an issue of discrimination, but what else can it be attributed to?

Merriam-Webster defines discrimination as the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people. If current HIV and infectious disease screening practices, which are mandatory for every single blood donation received, are good enough for heterosexual blood, why are they not good enough for homosexual blood?

I understand and agree with the importance of patient safety and the need to protect from transmitting infection. The last thing anybody wants is for a patient to become infected with HIV through a blood transfusion. But if the blood testing protocol presents this much risk, maybe we should start being more cautious rather than less. There are many other categorizations that can be correlated to an increased risk of HIV that are not currently used as reason for deferral, so maybe the FDA should start investigating these further. (I am being intentionally provocative here.)

According to the 2010 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in terms of racial divides, the category of Black/African American, both specific to males and as a whole, was most affected by HIV. So should we start banning black people from donating blood? No, because that would be considered racist. Why, then, is it still okay to discriminate based on sexual preference? If anything, donation should be decided based on the level of risk and exposure of an individual. Maybe a higher prevalence of infection in certain sexual preference groups factors into that on some level, but more important would be safe sex practices and number of partners. Why should two men in a long-term monogamous relationship practicing safe sex be banned from donation, while a promiscuous heterosexual person who does not engage in safe sex is not even questioned about if he or she should be able to donate?

A letter written by John Kerry in 2012 pointed out that, “healthy gay and bisexual men continue to be banned for life, while the FDA allows a man who has had sex with an HIV-positive woman to give blood after waiting only one year.” While the FDA recently removed its lifetime ban on men who fall within the MSM category, reducing it to a one-year deferral since the prospective donor last engaged in sexual contact with another man, it still seems unreasonable to say that every man who falls under the MSM category presents a comparable risk to a confirmed, HIV-positive, heterosexual woman. This still prevents men in long-term monogamous homosexual relationships who would carry low risk of infection from ever donating blood or bone marrow, unless they choose to abstain from sex for an entire year.

They can take the #celibacychallenge — it can’t be that hard, right?

The celibacy challenge is a campaign that was created by organizations including GLAAD and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis with the aim of changing the FDA’s regulations surrounding MSM donations. The use of satire by Alan Cumming presents the challenge still faced by men in the MSM category today who wish to donate blood or bone marrow. The campaign is effective because it speaks to the very human nature of sexual desire and appeals to people on a more personal level, rather than coming off as a lecture about human rights. The humorous video allows the viewer to put themselves in the shoes of an MSM individual, and try to imagine what it would be like to remain celibate for an entire year in order to donate blood. The celibacy challenge’s aim is to pressure the FDA to further reconsider the one-year deferral for MSM and to base donation qualifications on level of risk rather than sexual preference.

Isn’t it time for blood and bone marrow donation requirements to be based on the risks of individual behaviors rather than stereotypes?

Dear Students

Twelve weeks isn’t much time to explore the lives and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people and their allies, both here in the Midwest and around the world. Our syllabus is necessarily selective, and the questions you are most interested in exploring may be addressed only peripherally, if at all.

So this blog is an opportunity for you to write a short, focused reflection (800-1000 words) on a topic of your choosing. Current events that unfold during the semester are a good option, as is a review or critical reflection on a text that does not appear on the syllabus. Personal essays are a possibility, and so are manifestos. Think expansively about format: what about an image gallery or a playlist, which you would then annotate? What about a letter to the editor? We’re looking for diversity at the level of both content and form.

Here’s how this will work: by Sunday, March 1, I expect you to email me with an idea for a post, however preliminary. We’ll work together to refine the idea, and once I’ve approved it, you’ll work with our TA, Josiah Mosqueda, on your first draft. He’ll give you comments, you’ll make revisions. I will look over each post before it is published, and I may ask for additional revisions. All posts must be published, in their final form, by April 16.

This post is worth 10% of your final course grade, and it will be evaluated against the following criteria: originality, timeliness, and ambitiousness of the topic; clarity and novelty of the post’s argument; effective use of supporting evidence; fluency of writing.