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.

Native Americans in Queer Politics

By Justice Galvan

The place of Native Americans within queer communities is one that is often shoved under the rug. It is only recently that I have discovered a set of combinations about this topic. Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees deals with the harmful influence of scientific experiments on indigenous peoples. What I did not expect to find in this book were discussions and debates of sexuality, particularly in relation to a Native American character. Never before had I seen these two identities come together. It is true that queer identities are typically associated with middle-class white men and that Native Americans receive very little attention in any form of media, but I began to wonder why I did not see more attention placed on Native American characters who might follow two-spirit traditions. Two-spirit is an “umbrella term” that is used to encompass various gender and sexual identities, traditionally of spiritual or cultural significance in Native American tribes.

Professor LaFlamme pointed me in the direction of Spaces between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization, by Scott Morgensen. While I did not finish the book, it soon became clear that I was looking in the wrong place for Native American identities. Morgensen discusses the queering of Native American people by white settlers. When settlers arrived in a foreign land with their own heteronormative patriarchal system, they used this power against Native Americans. By forcing these standards on a people that did not ascribe to them, settlers effectively queered the tribes they came into contact with. They enforced their own sexuality by arresting and executing those who strayed from norms the settlers had created. The word “berdache” came into use as a negative descriptor of two-spirit people. The etymology of the word comes from the French “bardache,” which refers to a man who is passive in homosexual practices. Of course, this ignores the complexity of the two-spirit system, as well as female sexuality.

When settlers realized that the best way to destroy native culture was through the indoctrination of children, boarding schools came into place. These took children from their families and tribes to educate them in a way that would cause them to forget their language and practices. Morgensen concludes that the nail in the coffin of indigenous sexuality is the way it has been deemed primitive, much like the rest of indigenous culture. This strategy allows native culture to have existed as a relic, a representation of life before civilization arrived; it essentially becomes a dead structure in the eyes of settler society.

White settlers queered native sexual practices, and today these practices and identities are lauded as aspects of queer politics. People who have no Native American heritage take on the two-spirit identity. The culture that was once killed by immigrants to the land is revived by the same people. Even so, this revival is not to allow native peoples to practice the way they once did or to encourage them to regain a sense of cultural pride. The adoption of the two-spirit system was at first a form of activism by Native people against berdache, which had been used by non-Native peoples to speak for sexual minorities. However, the two-spirit system was then taken up by non-Native peoples in much the same way. This is the most basic form of cultural appropriation, and part of a very clear pattern about the way Native Americans are treated. People with no Native American heritage (or who are 1/35th Native American, descended from a Cherokee princess) wear stereotypical clothing or sweatshirts with offensive sports logos on them. These images, which native people were once killed for, are now accepted only for their place on non-Native bodies.

Another problem with the cultural appropriation of two-spirit identities is the way certain aspects are chosen while others are excluded. To pick and choose from an identity that is not one’s own is to mutate it into something that it was not intended to be. At least in some tribes, a person may be designated two-spirit at birth.

An interesting aspect of Morgensen’s description of boarding schools is his account of native children. He explains that two-spirit children would be punished for the ways they dressed and identified. Modern sexual politics rarely focuses on children, and it is commonly thought that children cannot decide their own identity until they reach a certain age. Rather, they are straight and cissexual until proven otherwise. This is perhaps an aspect of the two-spirit practice that can inspire modern politics. While not necessarily designating a child two-spirit, children can be given the choice to identify as they please, whether or not this is something they wish to be later in life.

It is a starting point for cultures to take inspiration from another culture without appropriating it. We can see poor examples of this in those who claim a two-spirit identity without actually being part of the culture. Not only is it harmful to take an identity without knowing what it entails, but it is all the more harmful to take an identity that was once queered by settlers and wear it as a queer identity. This perpetuates the cycle of settler-colonialism in regards to Native American culture. I think the queer community has the ability to become more welcoming to Native American cultures. It is not welcoming to wear Native American culture as a fashion piece; a better approach is to allow Native American people to speak and practice what they wish.

Enduring the Kremlin

By Kevin Jackson

Within the past three years, the Russian Federation has managed to capture a growing amount of global media attention. A majority of this spotlight is due to the nation’s domineering response to instances of civil dissent and leftist activism. More importantly, the international community has voiced concern regarding the potential human rights violations connected with the publicized conduct of Russian authorities.

In 2012, conservative candidate Vladimir Putin won a third-term victory in Russia’s presidential election. In the wake of his re-election, thousands of protesters took to the streets to vocalize their opposition to Putin’s policies as well as scrutinize his extrajudicial political demeanor. Putin has affirmed his executive role in Russian politics since 2000 by occupying both presidential and prime minister positions as well as being the chairman of the current ruling party “United Russia.” The reactionary anti-Putin demonstrations were quickly subdued after as series of clashes between protesters and police that resulted with numerous arrests. Simultaneously, the anti-Putin effort found alternative momentum after members of the punk-rock group “Pussy Riot” were arrested while performing an unauthorized show in an Orthodox church in Moscow. The band consists of several female Russian musicians who rely on shock value and social media to spread their music, which both scrutinizes Putin and advocates for social liberalism. Their highly publicized trials and eventual imprisonment made worldwide headlines and brought global awareness to socio-political issues in Russia. More specifically, they exposed discriminatory laws and intolerant behavior towards LGBT people.

One year later, Russian authorities were accused of harassing foreign journalists and hindering press freedoms during the controversial construction of Winter Olympics facilities in Sochi. The international community also scrutinized a new law that would make advocating for gay rights to minors illegal. Putin publicly defended the ban by claiming that the intentions behind this legislative effort were to stop the exposure of “propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia” to minors. A 2014 Al-Jazeera article highlighted the fact that Putin further clarified in the same press appearance that the ban would not prohibit “nontraditional sexual relations,” even though the text of the ban specifically mentions “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations”.

The ban has since produced serious ramifications disproving Putin’s original media assertions. In 2014, Russia experienced a dramatic increase in social homophobia. The iconic rainbow flag has historically been a symbol for supporting gay-rights, and its public exposure is now considered illegal due to the anti-propaganda ban. GQ reporter Jeff Sharlet found neo-Nazi stickers that read “Stamp Out Faggots” in public areas across Moscow and Arkhangelsk. The ban has acted as a pretextor city authorities to ban gay-pride parades. The gay-rights demonstrations that do manage to surface come to a halt within minutes from police arrests, or in some cases, by violent, homophobic counter-protesters. In June 2013, a “kiss-in” protest was dispersed by a mob of adolescents who violently clashed with the gay rights supporters. The same Sharlet column reported that homophobic activists supposedly organized the mob because “kiss-in” protesters would be unable to fight back and would be disheartened, since young people are seen as the next generation and represent the future. This position has also been sanctified by the Orthodox Catholic Church, which is why some believe that committing violence towards LGBT members is vigilante justice. New homophobic Russian organizations have taken form over the past two years, which actively seek out LGBT members in order to publicly expose, humiliate, and occasionally beat them. These groups commonly defend themselves by claiming that their actions and intentions are meant to preserve “traditional” Russian values.  The ban’s vocabulary conflates homosexuality with sexual offenders, partially explaining why the LGBTQA community in Russia has experienced such explicitly violent attacks. It may also explain why the attackers are never legally confronted and the perceived lack of sympathy for those who are protesting.

More recently, Russian diplomats have been battling U.N. policies that would provide benefits to gay U.N. employees. The U.N. has been an international platform that participating states have used to openly criticize Russia’s approach towards LGBT citizens. Writer Colum Lynch covered this story for Foreign Policy and suggested that Russia may be adamantly against this new policy in order to justify their own national policies or further promote their controversial ban on “nontraditional sex propaganda.” Either way, their denunciation of the new policies incited immediate criticism. The U.N.’s representative for Human Rights Watch, Philippe Bolopion, urged other member states to “push back hard against Russia’s backwards efforts to impose on the U.N. the same kind of homophobic attitudes Moscow promotes at home.”

When digesting this narrative timeline of LGBT issues in Russia, it is worthwhile to think of what might come next. With regards to this, journalist Mark Gevisser suggests in a New York Times column that a majority of Russians are far more tolerant of LGBT lifestyles, which defies global Western perceptions. If this majority were to speak up for and along-side the LGBT minority, this could justify queer identities as well as destroy the perceived association between sexual offenders and homosexuality.

Works Cited


Gevisser, Mark. “Life Under Russia’s ‘Gay Propaganda’ Ban.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 Dec. 2013. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Lynch, Colum. “Russia Tries to Block Benefits for Families of Gay U.N. Employees.” Foreign Policy Russia Tries to Block Benefits for Families of Gay UN Employees Comments. Foreign Policy, 2 Mar. 2015. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.

Mullins, Dexter. “LGBT Rights May Eclipse Winter Games.” LGBT Rights May Eclipse Winter Games. Aljazeera America, 15 Jan. 2014. Web. 09 Apr. 2015.

“Putin: Russia Isn’t ‘going After’ Gays with New Propaganda Law.” Putin: Russia Isn’t ‘going After’ Gays with New Propaganda Law. Aljazeera America, 17 Jan. 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.

Sharlet, Jeff. “Inside the Iron Closet: What It’s Like to Be Gay in Putin’s Russia.” GQ. GQ, Feb. 2014. Web. 05 Apr. 2015. <http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/201402/being-gay-in-russia?currentPage=1>.

Speri, Alice. “Russian Government Repressing Journalists Ahead of Sochi.” Russian Government Repressing Journalists Ahead of Sochi. Aljazeera America, 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.


Can Jazz Be Homophobic?

By Jay Carlson

The word jazz has long been a stand-in for individuality and personal expression. Rooted in African rhythms brought to America on slave ships, jazz became one of the most important cultural developments of the 20th century. Jazz gave a voice to Black Americans and, as its popularity increased alongside the Harlem Renaissance in the early quarter of the century, its players were thrown into positions of cultural influence that they scarcely could have imagined beforehand. The Beat poets of the 50s, who lived simply and wildly and who traveled the country living like beggars, dug jazz. Everyone who was anyone dug jazz. But jazz didn’t dig nobody except itself. Jazz especially didn’t dig gay jazzers.

How is it that an art form so thoroughly enmeshed in the belief that each person had something to say, was an individual, deserved rights, has been so unwelcoming to a group of people looking for an outlet in jazz?

Jazz and masculinity have a long and intertwined history, and nowhere is this more evident than in the advent of bebop in the 1940s. Bebop was badder, faster, louder, more complicated, more sophisticated, more masculine than its predecessor, swing jazz, had been. Bebop took off in isolated areas and with an isolated group of musicians taking center stage, largely a result of the frustrations of virtuosic jazzers at the number of less-than-virtuosic hacks (who were able to handle swing music) on the scene. As tempos increased and musicians became more nimble, ensembles were broken down to bare-bones combos to lose the dead weight of mediocre musicianship.

This exclusivist attitude was a product of patriarchal interpretations of masculinity; the desire and ability to assert superiority over others has long been a trait associated with successful men. Jazz musicians of my generation are passed down story after story from our teachers about the sex- and drug-fueled lives that our idols led. It was not uncommon for band members to scramble to find a horn for their leader after he sold his for drug money. It was not uncommon for jazzers to pimp out their girlfriends for drug money. And yet we uphold their legacy because they were dominant, and indeed many of the same terms that describe the doers of heroic or athletic feats are also used to identify premiere jazz musicians. But when womanizing was the post-gig talk of the night, a not insignificant number of players got left out. What of gay jazz musicians? Where were they?

As it turns out, there were quite a few gay musicians in jazz, and some were among the most lauded and innovative of the last hundred years. But as a direct result of the mentality that jazz was, first and foremost, a fuck you display of domineering intellectuality, virtuosity, and masculinity, most gay jazz artists remained closeted almost until the turn of the century, and even today many remain closeted to protect themselves from discrimination by other jazz musicians.

James Gavin’s 2001 piece “Homophobia in Jazz” looked into several influential jazz artists’ accounts of what it was like to be a gay jazz musician. Among those were pianist Fred Hersch and vibraphonist Gary Burton. Both musicians came out to the public in the early 90s and have received relatively little backlash for their sexual orientation since then (no doubt a result of their fame and influence in the jazz community).

In a landmark gathering of gay jazz musicians and friends at the Village Vanguard in New York, Fred Hersch and Gary Burton participated in a panel to publicly address the issue of homophobia in jazz for the first time. Writer Francis Davis had a question for them that they were unable to answer: How does being gay affect their jazz?

While Davis suggests that their inability to answer that question is a product of them still working out the details themselves, I would like to turn the question back on itself.

How does being homophobic affect jazz?

And so I repeat my first question: How is it that jazz–freedom, individuality, self-sufficiency–was so unwelcoming to the gay community?

Maybe what we’re listening to isn’t jazz.

Normal: A Review

By Rachel Jackman

normal [nawr­-muhl]

  1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual
  2. serving to establish a standard
  3. Psychology:
 free from any mental disorder
  4. Biology/Medicine: free from any infection or other forms of disease or malfunction, or from experimental therapy, or manipulation
  5. of natural occurrence

The word “normal” has existed for centuries–originating first from Latin and then being incorporated into a myriad of cultures and languages. While a dictionary can contain a valid definition of the word, can anyone truly know what it means? After all, what is normal? A standard and natural occurrence can vary cross culturally, but also individually. Normalcy is never static and is incredibly personal. However, often the established standardization of normalcy overrides the individual complexity of it. It seems that in recent years, within the United States especially, gender binaries and heteronormativity have become increasingly relevant issues: in particular, our definitions of “normal” gender and sexual identities. While the vast majority of the population is cisgender, meaning that an individual’s experience of their own gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth, a minority of transgender individuals struggle to express themselves completely in our society that views gender in binary and immutable term. We have created a standard that gender expression is expected to match sex; anything other than that is abnormal and wrong. However, this expectation is unrealistic, due to the fact that normalcy is dynamic and greatly influenced by individual perspective and experience. The 2003 HBO film Normal pursues the question of what normalcy actually looks like not from a societal perspective necessarily, but rather an individual and familial level.

The film begins at a local church with the celebration of the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary of Roy and Irma Applewood. At this celebration, the pastor emphasizes the love this couple has for each other and that no one could have such love. Yet, suddenly during this speech, Roy passes out; in the next scene, the audience sees Roy coming out to his wife and pastor, announcing that he is transgender and stating his desire to become a woman named Ruth. Initially reluctant to accept Roy’s identity, Irma files for divorce in an attempt to separate herself completely from her husband. However, while attending a celebration for Roy’s father’s birthday, the father tells a story of Roy as a child getting caught wearing his sister’s clothing and being forced to strip down and sleep in the barn. Brought to tears, the adult Roy takes refuge in the barn and contemplates suicide when Irma finds him and realizes the agony he must be suffering. Eventually, Irma comes to a deeper understanding of her husband and helps Ruth through her transition. Their tomboyish daughter, Patty Ann, is fascinated by her father’s transition and even pleads with Irma to “let [Patty Ann] off the hook for being the woman in the family.” However, Ruth’s son does not accept her transition initially and reacts with hostility. Ultimately, despite finding general acceptance from her family, Ruth is ostracized by many of the men at her workplace as well as her entire church community.

As the title of the film suggests, established normalcy is likely not what normal actually looks like. The film begins in a church setting, suggesting that the standardization of heteronormativity began with religious influences and persists because of the Christian faith, in particular. This is still true today: most often, trans rights are opposed by religious organizations. For example, in a recent article in the Miami Herald, opponents of a ban on discrimination against trans people likened the South, if it accepts such a ban, to Sodom and Gomorrah. Unfortunately, in our society, religion is so closely linked to morality that, in many situations, it limits freedom of expression for minority groups. Normal precisely captures the isolation and damnation that Christianity places on the very people it is supposed to incorporate and love.

The opposition between religion and gender expression continues throughout the film, beginning when the pastor tries to fix the marriage between Roy and Irma based on Ephesians 5:28: “for no man hath hated his own flesh.” This passage suggests that men need to look to women to satisfy themselves, and thus need women for completion. According to the pastor’s perspective, Roy is being selfish in his attempt to fill the role of the wife as well as the husband. Yet, no one in his church community can truly understand. This disconnect is ever-present in the film, as in another scene where Ruth and Patty Ann are asked to leave a service and the congregation even refuses to accept the offertory from Ruth–as if the money she offers to the church is tainted because of her “abnormal” gender expression. As Ruth continues her transition, the pastor and the rest of the congregation begin to treat Irma as if she is a widow: is there anything she needs help with around the house? Maybe they should bring her meals? As far as the church is concerned, Roy is dead. Normalcy is established through shared practice, such as religion, but if it becomes tradition, it can also lead to oppression of those individuals for whom established normalcy is abnormal.

Even though Roy desires to embrace his true female identity and finally match his sex to his gender, thus feeling complete and normal, at the start of the film he admits that his gender identity is not in conjunction with the majority of people. He proclaims that he “prayed for years for [these feelings] to go away,” and even refers to himself as having a condition called gender dysphoria. The need to describe what he is feeling through the terminology of a disorder illustrates the societal imposition of gender and sexuality norms. If anyone strays from standard gender binary, the only explanation is that they must be diseased. This belief in established normalcy is so powerful that even those individuals whose personal definitions of normal differ from it believe themselves to be wrong or diseased even when that has never been, nor will ever be, the case.

Normal is incredibly successful in capturing the difficulty trans individuals face in our society here in the United States. Because religion has fettered heterosexuality and cisgenderism to established norms, anyone who exists outside of those norms is fated to oppression or condemnation from society even if they are able to find love, understanding, and happiness within their family as Roy was finally able to do with Irma. However, as the film illustrates, normalcy is dynamic and personal to every individual and his or her closest relationships.

The Right to Intimacy

By Bridget Novak

In the article “Privacy, Dependency, Discegenation: Toward a Sexual Culture for People with Intellectual Disabilities,” Rachel Adams concisely states, “While desire may be instinctual, the rules governing its appropriate expression are cultural.” For non-heterosexual couples and for individuals with disabilities, social and legal institutions limit sexual expression. It is by society that these identities are constructed and their sexual expression restricted.

Robert McRuer, in his introduction to Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability, discusses the constructed nature of heterosexuality and able-bodiedness. The construction of these categories is evidenced in their definitions, which incorporate the “opposite” identity–for an identity cannot occur socially without an opposing one. “The OED [Oxford English Dictionary] defines able-bodied redundantly and negatively as “having an able body, i.e. one free from physical disability, and capable of the physical exertions required of it; in bodily health; robust.’” The “physical exertions required” of the body are culturally determined and used to distinguish the “able-bodied” from the “disabled.” The OED Supplement definition of heterosexuality includes a normative evaluation: ““pertaining to or characterized by the normal relations of the sexes; opp. to homosexual.”” Again, the incorporation of the opposite identity in the definition emphasizes the constructed nature of the identity category. These constructions and their social reification must be acknowledged in order to understand how the labels “disabled” and sexually “abnormal” determine how people’s livelihoods are dictated by society.

People with disabilities are often desexualized or assumed to be asexual. “American Able,” a photo series by Holly Norris, draws attention to this assumption. The photos imitate American Apparel ads, but incorporate a model with disabilities. Norris describes her inspiration for the project: “I chose American Apparel not just for their notable style, but also for their claims that many of their models are just ‘every day’ women… Women with disabilities go unrepresented…in most of popular culture,” The model, Jes, is posed in the same positions and outfits as the able-bodied models in American Apparel ads, drawing attention to how rarely images like this include people with disabilities. The photo series may result in many questions for the viewer. Is it shocking? Why? Is this an effective method to challenge stereotypes? What are the concerns people have in regards to people with disabilities participating in sexual acts?

There are systems and organizations in some countries that successfully provide sexual services to the physically disabled. In the Netherlands, an article in VICE notes, the national health system provides “a grant scheme for people with disabilities to receive public money to pay for sexual services up to 12 times a year.” In Taiwan, the NGO Hand Angel provides opportunities for sexual experiences, namely handjobs, for the physically disabled. To determine the eligibility of clients, Hand Angel assesses the client’s level of disability: “The person has to be recognized by the government as having a serious physical impairment, but can’t be mentally disabled. Once they’re cleared, the service is totally free, but each applicant can only receive three bouts of sexual stimulation.” Hand Angel provides a safe, comfortable environment for their clients to experience sexual pleasure. One client reported, “I didn’t feel I was the target of pity. The whole process was full of respect and equality. This might be deemed as controversial by society, but as long as you’re willing to look into it, what we desire is no different from others.” Organizations can provide safe, consensual environments for the physically disabled to act on their right to sexual expression.

The sexual rights of people with intellectual disabilities are restricted with this classification. Sex education and privacy are regulated, limiting opportunities for safe sexual experiences. These limitations prevent the fulfillment of what Rachel Adams calls “fundamental needs for companionship, intimacy, and the right to self-determination.”

Sex education for people with intellectual disabilities is often inadequate, which prevents them from fully consenting to participation in sexual acts. Again, in Adams’ words, “the differences of people with intellectual disabilities are cognitive, as well as physical, and claims about their sexual rights will need to account for atypical ways of perceiving, understanding, and navigation the world,” Improving sex education for people with intellectual disabilities is an important precursor to their giving of consent. Otherwise, Adams points out, “a vicious cycle arises when inadequate sex education leaves people with intellectual disabilities ignorant of the mechanics and repercussions of sexual activity, rendering them unable to establish their competency to consent,”  There is no rule to determine suitability for sexual experiences that applies to every individual with intellectual disabilities. Currently, however, deprivation of sexual experiences is the norm.

Opportunities for people with disabilities to engage in sexual acts are practically nonexistent due to a lack of privacy. For people with intellectual disabilities, Adams notes, there is “the possibility of lifelong dependence,” This often places them in the care of someone (typically a group home or a relative) who may not grant them privacy. This lack of privacy prevents people with disabilities from encountering the circumstances in which it is socially acceptable to perform sexual acts. Ultimately, Adams concludes, “sexual experience rests on political determinations about who has the right to enjoy intimacy in private.” In order to fully satisfy the basic human right to intimacy, something must change in the way people with disabilities are categorized and treated. Like other sexual minorities, Adams suggests, “the sexuality of people with disabilities is queer in that it confounds bourgeois notions about the appropriate settings and circumstances in which intimacy may occur.”

The Truvada Debate

By Heidi Beckman

There may be a one-word solution to the HIV/AIDS epidemic: Truvada. What is Truvada, exactly? It’s a pill that is highly effective at preventing HIV infection. If taken daily, this FDA-approved pill can be up to 99 percent effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorses Truvada, also called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), as an efficient way to prevent infection in those who don’t have HIV but are at risk. Essentially, the answer to the HIV/AIDS crisis may be close at hand, and its name is Truvada.

In terms of affordability, Truvada can be quite expensive. Most private health insurance companies will cover PrEP; however, these companies often charge a high co-pay for Truvada. Without private health insurance, Truvada costs approximately $13,000 per year at $40 per pill. However, Gilead, the company that manufactures Truvada, offers two different programs that help cover the cost of the drug. Despite Truvada’s expensive price tag, Gilead aims to make their product more affordable and accessible to its users.

A drug as revolutionary as Truvada, however, is bound to cause commotion. While Truvada is available to heterosexual couples, its main target is gay men. Certainly, there are mixed reactions from gay men in regards to the development of a successful HIV-prevention drug. That is to say, the availability of Truvada has changed perceptions of risk, as well as sparked gay men’s opposing attitudes towards PrEP.

According to Truvada’s website, there’s a strong recommendation to follow the comprehensive HIV prevention strategy, which includes the following: getting tested regularly for HIV and STDs; practicing safer sex; knowing partner(s)’ HIV status; not sharing needles; and using condoms all the time. This last recommendation–always using a condom–has sparked quite a controversy within the gay community, and it’s worth exploring.

Some gay men who are on Truvada refuse to use condoms, as the pill protects them from HIV. Does this philosophy encourage a change in sexual behavior? Yes, it can. In fact, some Truvada users embrace the bolder, unapologetic sex that the drug has to offer. Truvada has been called an accessory to promiscuity.  In November 2012, David Duran coined the term Truvada Whore in an article written for the Huffington Post. Duran believes that “a good number of those running to get the prescription are gay men who prefer to engage in unsafe practices.” Duran’s use of the term “whore” isn’t a direct reference to sex work; instead, it’s a negative term describing those who abuse or misuse Truvada. In March 2014, Adam Zeboski’s reclaimed the term with a hashtag that took the gay blogosphere by storm: #TruvadaWhore. In this case, #TruvadaWhore illustrates support for Truvada, as it allows men to have risk-free sex. These “#TruvadaWhores”–proudly wearing their slogan on t-shirts–view the drug as their liberation, their ability to have condom-less sex with whomever they please. Zeboski and his counterparts argue that sex without condoms is “old school, natural, [and] kind of amazing.” The TruvadaWhore movement emphasizes the appeal of promiscuity; however, this opinion isn’t shared by all gay men.

Certain opponents of Truvada believe this medicine’s sole goal is to promote promiscuous sexual behavior. While Truvada may grant sexual freedom, this is not the medicine’s main purpose. Truvada isn’t the end-all and be-all. It can’t cure STDs or HIV. However, Truvada’s capabilities are still significant: it’s a medicine that prevents HIV infection. What a great stride in the fight against HIV/AIDS! Also, Truvada encourages the use of condoms during sex; in fact, a link is available on Truvada’s website to “order condoms discreetly by mail.” If anything, Truvada aims to both prevent and contain HIV/AIDS.

Interestingly enough, the dispute regarding Truvada varies between generations of gay men. As already noted, some young men embrace Truvada to the fullest, becoming full-fledged #TruvadaWhores. Other younger men, however, refute the of idea of promiscuity: Truvada simply assures a peace of mind, as there’s one less factor to consider before having sex. Older gay men–most of whom experienced the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s–offer an intriguing stance on Truvada’s availability. Larry Kramer, now 79 years old and HIV-positive, wrote the influential play The Normal Heart in 1985. Kramer’s play, now an HBO film, documents the initial moments of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Kramer strongly opposes Truvada: “Anybody who voluntarily takes an antiviral every day has got to have rocks in their heads. There’s something to me cowardly about taking Truvada instead of using a condom. You’re taking a drug that is poison to you, and it has lessened your energy to fight, to get involved, to do anything.” Not all older gay men share Kramer’s opinion; others believe that the gay community has suffered enough already. Why should such suffering continue?

All in all, there are many drawbacks and benefits associated with Truvada. As Truvada becomes more and more prominent, the conversation surrounding this medicine will evolve. Nonetheless, it’s important to acknowledge the main advantage of Truvada: it prevents HIV infection, which in and of itself is a bit miraculous.

Are Lesbians Real?

By M. Huemoeller

An evident answer: yes, definitely. Catch them at your local grocery store buying snack foods; see them walking their dogs at the park. Maybe they’re taking the local bus, attending concerts, or visiting friends. Beginning rather recently, one can now sometimes encounter lesbians and their relationships on mainstream television shows during primetime, with hundreds of thousands of viewers – a huge amount of queer exposure. That’s pretty good, considering the first mention of homosexuality on TV only focused on males, and the first female-female relationship depicted was in a show with a one-season run that portrayed celibate lesbians in 1988.

But here’s another question: is the representation of lesbian sexuality on mainstream television accurate?

Art reflects society — issues and people that cause tension in our world are reflected in the alternate realities that are offered to us through media, from references to events (such as 9/11), important individuals (like the current President of the United States), and social movements (the Civil Rights Movement). Plenty of television focuses on polarizing situations and people like these; it is of no surprise to viewers when they appear, and it’s no big shock to production companies when they sell. So it’s easy to see why the number of queer folks in television has skyrocketed in 2014 alone — the Gay Rights Movement has been a hugely covered event with people from all over the globe tuning in as the campaign rises in popularity and media attention. There are many, many lesbians on TV to reflect this movement — but do they reflect the people?

With a few exceptions (such as the interracial lesbian relationship found on the ABC show The Fosters), the heavy majority of television lesbians are feminine, thin and white, which obviously does not coincide with the wide spectrum of any minority group. Still, that’s not exactly what we’re looking at. Representation doesn’t just mean appearance, it also refers to the way characters are portrayed, as the way that they’re written mirrors societal bias. Some overwhelming lesbian representation stereotypes on TV are: a curiously chaste relationship, girlfriend just died, and one-time temptress.

The first of these stereotypes can perhaps be better explained with pure numbers — screentime devoted to lesbian intimacy is simply miniscule in comparison to on-screen heterosexual activities. This might be explained away with a wave of the hand by “there aren’t as many lesbians — therefore they don’t have as much screentime.” Not quite. We’re talking lesbians hand-holding and an Eskimo kiss or some less-intimate nonsense — maybe just implied homosexuality, such as the ending to Legend of Korra — in direct contrast to a full-on sex scene for a heterosexual couple, perhaps even in the same episode. Alternatively, as in the Canadian TV series Lost Girl, the main love triangle is between a bisexual woman, a man, and another woman, but on-screen affection is heavily weighted towards the heterosexual relationship. Why does this censorship happen? A good thought hypothesis might be the fact that the Gay Rights Movement has been pushing for a more “relatable” gay — a homosexual is just like a heterosexual, except the sex part — and by reducing obvious sexual activity between people in gay relationships, it subtracts the obvious difference between gay and straight. Clearly this does not represent actual lesbian relationships — many lesbians are, in fact, sexually active. It is, however, damaging to depict lesbians as universally chaste. It devalues the highlighted differences between sexuality and is, quite frankly, just wrong.

Another queer representation stereotype is so common that TV tropes has a page for it. Occasionally called Dead Lesbian Syndrome, especially in older media, representation for lesbians sometimes just ends with a dead partner. Anyone remember Willow and Tara, one of the first impactful primetime lesbian couples on the popular show Buffy the Vampire Slayer that captured the hearts of many young lezes, until Tara died and everyone cried? I could list so many more. Why should this awful trope embody lesbian relationships on television? The reasons are ridiculous. Certainly losing a girlfriend to death is not the most common way to end a relationship, so it’s kind of weird to see it so frequently on TV. It feels like a cop-out, a lazy pattern of writing that could be attributed to some sort of quiet homophobia by the writers that refuse to allow their lesbians a “happy ending.”

One final trope that borders on offensive in media is the one-off lesbian fling for previously straight characters in a blatant attempt to boost ratings. Bisexuality is a valid sexuality, but throwing characters into a lip-lock that really isn’t integrated into a more overarching plotline or even mentioned again – that’s a bit insulting. The existence of sexual minorities is not a joke — leave us out of your punchlines.

So what can we do to end these trashy forms of representation? Perhaps the inclusion of openly queer writers in the storylines that intend to feature lesbians would be an obvious first step — we don’t throw white writers at shows that feature minorities, because they don’t know what it’s like. Certainly lesbians can attest to the accuracy of lesbian experiences portrayed in media — (look at the success of Orange Is The New Black!), so let’s get some of them in the drafting room. Also, let’s quit burying gays characters in weird plot twists to hide homophobia — it’s not subtle, guys. Finally, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to simply include more diverse sexualities in general on mainstream TV — it would give critical reviewers more to discuss, and offer a better base of comparison for new representations, as well as hopefully branch out from tired tropes.

Gender and the DSM

By Amanda McKelvey

Gender identity and psychology have historical, intricate relationships with each other. The medicalization of homosexuality created individual, societal, and global effects that persist even today. These effects extend into physical, emotional, and political realms, and many of these effects stem from official medical statements concerning homosexuality.  One source of such statements is the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the official manual that North American clinicians and researchers reference when discussing mental disorders. Clinicians outside of North America usually reference other diagnostic systems—particularly the International Classification of Diseases (IOS; Johnson, 2013). While some countries may utilize alternative diagnostic systems, the IOS and the DSM are the most widely used diagnostic systems of mental disorders. This post focuses on the DSM. Jack Drescher and John Merlino, influential psychiatrists who witnessed the evolution of the DSM, explain that in the 1950s, psychiatry had indescribable influence over homosexuality (Drescher, 2010). According to these psychiatrists, homosexuality was viewed as a dangerous force that needed to be corrected in order to protect individuals and society. Cures for homosexuality included forced stays in mental hospitals, lobotomies, and aversion therapy (Drescher & Merlino, 2007). By today’s standards, official medical claims about homosexuality as a sickness were shamefully unscientific, based not on facts but on opinions.

In order to understand the source behind the DSM‘s first description of homosexuality as pathology, one must first understand Freud’s ideas concerning sexuality. Freud believed that both heterosexuality and homosexuality are products of individuals’ environments. That is, Freud argued that people are born with both heterosexual and homosexual tendencies; as the individual lives his or her life, one type of sexuality becomes the dominant form of sexuality (Clarke, Ellis, Peel & Riggs, 2010). Interestingly, both allies and opponents of LGBTQ identities used—and continue to use—Freud’s work to reach their own goals (Clarke et al., 2010). Freud’s ideas concerning homosexuality were widespread by the time the DSM-I was published in 1952. The DSM-I defined homosexuality as “a sociopathic personality disturbance” (Drescher, 2010). This description of homosexuality stays close to Freud’s description; the diagnosis implies that homosexual individuals developed an illness due to some aspect of their upbringing.

The American Psychological Association (APA) made slight modifications to the homosexuality diagnosis in the DSM-II, published in 1968. This version of the DSM defined homosexuality as “a sexual deviation” (Drescher, 2010). The year that the APA published the new manual, gay activists began conducting research on homosexuality with the goal of removing homosexuality from the DSM (Clarke et al., 2010). Finally, on December 15, 1973, the APA voted against the inclusion of homosexuality in the DSM, and the diagnosis no longer appeared in the DSM (Clarke et al., 2010). However, a new disorder—ego dystonic homosexuality—was introduced to the list. Ego dystonic homosexuality was defined as “[failure] to accept [one’s] homosexuality, [the] experience [of] persistent distress and [the desire] to become heterosexual” (Clarke et al., 2010). Ego dystonic homosexuality remained in the DSM until 1987. However, throughout the time that ego dystonic homosexuality appeared in the DSM, the APA stated that “homosexuality, per se, implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities” and instructed “all mental health professionals…[to] take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations” (Clarke et al., 2010).

In 1980, the APA published the DSM-III. This version of the manual did not include ego dystonic homosexuality, but the manual did introduce two new diagnoses including gender identity disorder of childhood (GIDC) and transsexualism (Drescher, 2010). These diagnoses were the first to concern gender in children. A revision to the DSM-III—the DSM-III-R—came into being in 1987. This edition of the manual introduced a disorder called gender identity disorder of adolescence and adulthood, nontranssexual type (Drescher, 2010). The APA published the DSM-IV and DSM-IV-TR in 1994 and 2000, respectively. These two editions of the manual eliminated gender identity disorder of adolescence and adulthood, nontranssexual type from the list of disorders. In addition, GIDC and transsexualism became a single diagnosis called gender identity disorder (GID). Criteria for the new diagnosis differentiated between gender identity disorder in children, adolescents, and adults (Drescher, 2010).

Finally, the APA published the most recent version of the DSM—the DSM-V—in 2013.  Much debate surrounded the inclusion of a gender disorder in the newest diagnostic manual.  There was concern that individuals who could be described by the disorder would be discriminated against in several areas of life.  In response to these concerns, the APA set a goal to use terminology that would protect these individuals from discrimination.  The DSM-V eliminated all previous gender disorders and introduced the present diagnoses called gender dysphoria.  Individuals may be diagnosed with gender dysphoria if their “gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify with” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).  It is also important to note that gender dysphoria has its own chapter in the DSM-V, separating the diagnoses from Sexual Dysfunctions and Paraphilic Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).  In addition, the new manual includes wording that ensures—with as much power as it can—that individuals who desire medical or psychotherapeutic interventions in the course of a gender transition will be able to receive these services.

While the evolution of the DSM has moved in a positive direction in general, the discussion of how to treat LGBTQ identities in the medical field continues. Certainly, there are several issues associated with modern-day psychology, especially in relation to gender concerns  For one thing, most research in psychology ignores the experiences of LGBTQ individuals. Instead, psychological research focuses almost exclusively on non-LGBTQ individuals (Clarke et al., 2010). The field of LGBTQ psychology was created in order to combat this hole in psychological research. In addition, the LGBT Casebook was published in 2012 to help clinicians better understand and interact with LGBT individuals (Levounis, Drescher & Barber, 2012).

Numerous people were affected by the medicalization of homosexuality, and this effect persists into the present day.  Clearly, the psychiatric view of LGBTQ individuals has changed much since its introduction into the DSM-I in 1952. Hopefully, clinicians, the APA, and all other sorts of global citizens will continue to shape the presentation of gender disorders within the DSM to meet the best interests of LGBTQA individuals throughout the United States.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Gender dysphoria. American Psychiatric Publishing.

Clarke, V., Ellis, S. J., Peel, E., & Riggs, D. W. (2010). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer psychology: An introduction. Cambridge University Press.

Drescher, J. (2010). Queer diagnoses: Parallels and contrasts in the history of homosexuality, gender variance, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 427-460.

Drescher, J., & Merlino, J. P. (Eds.). (2007). American psychiatry and homosexuality: An oral history. Routledge.

Eyler, A. E., & Levin, S. (2014). Interview with Saul Levin, MD, MPA, CEO/Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association on the 40th anniversary of the decision to remove homosexuality from the DSM. LGBT Health, 1, 70-74.

Johnson, S.B. (2013). What is the ICD and why should psychologists care? American Psychological Association.

Levounis, P., Drescher, J., & Barber, M. E. (Eds.). (2012). The LGBT Casebook. American Psychiatric Publishing.

Responsible Resistance

By Claire Amsden

As an aspiring social activist, a problem that has concerned me for some time is how to measure the efficacy of various forms of resistance against dominant power structures and hegemonic norms. Reading Foucault’s History of Sexuality complicated my understanding of power and resistance by demonstrating that the two do not exist as a clear-cut dichotomy, but instead influence and produce each other in various ways. In light of this knowledge, responsible resistance must be aware of the ways it challenges the power it is resisting, but also the ways that it reinforces that power as well. Personally, I hope to inform and develop my own actions and behaviors by examining different forms of resistance in order to most effectively bring about change. On a larger scale, I think critical analysis of the interplay between power and resistance is integral to any advocacy work by marginalized/non-normative communities and their allies.

Recently, the work of Xandra Ibarra – a lesbian Mexican-American neo-burlesque performer, community organizer, and activist for immigrant and anti-rape communities – has caught my attention because her performances embody both the successes and failures of expressions of resistance. Ibarra transforms into the persona La Chica Boom in artistic pieces that critique her subject position in relation to “coloniality, compulsory whiteness, and Mexicanidad.” She performs “hyper-raciality/sexuality/gender” in order to exaggerate her experience and deconstruct hegemonic normative narratives of her identity. Some examples include her performance “Nude Laughing/Jouissance of White Womanhood,” in which Ibarra, encased in sheer nylon with various symbols of white womanhood pressed against her body, laughs and writhes on the ground until the nylon eventually rips and she crawls out, leaving a trail of ballet shoes, a blonde wig and a string of pearls behind. In addition, her piece “Tortillera,” which references both tortillas and a slang word for lesbian, invokes what Ibarra calls Mexi-minstrelsy as she dresses up as a Mexican housewife and makes underwear tacos with a Tapatio strap-on.

These performances reveal Ibarra’s critical opinion of her relationship with the normative whiteness and gender expectations of American culture. At the same time, she also has a critical understanding of the multivalent nature of her performance – she can’t control the various meanings her audiences attribute to her expression. In an interview with Art Practical, a magazine on contemporary art and visual culture, Ibarra admits that the form of burlesque lends itself to the attribution of contradictory meanings to her performances. While burlesque gives her a lot of freedom in her expression of race and sexuality, the association of burlesque with objectification, and the fact that burlesque culture and audiences are mainly white, distort her intended meaning and even reinforce the colonial ideologies she wants to deconstruct. She states that the critiques she embodies through her performances often go over the heads of her white audiences that merely see her as a “sexy, hot Latina.”

However, like the emphasis in queer theory on malfunction as a form of resistance, Ibarra uses the inherent risk and failure present in her work as resistance in and of itself. Alpesh Patel analyzes the dynamic of failure in Ibarra’s performance “Fuck My Life” in his article “La Chica Boom’s Failed Decolonial Spicticles.” This performance evokes the failure of decolonial work to restructure colonial power dynamics, with speakers placed in the audience voicing racist responses that Xandra Ibarra has received from her past performances. However, the performance itself fails in its attempt to recontextualize this failure as present audience members join the speakers to engage in similar remarks. This is the risk of subversive resistance – because resistance works within the structure of power in order to deconstruct that power, it often ends up reinforcing that power. However, when discussing “Fuck My Life” Ibarra states that the piece “calls upon the practice of endurance amidst the consequences of failure,” acknowledging the limitations of her artistic performance and yet underlying her need to keep trying anyway.

It is not Ibarra’s obligation to account for the ignorance of those in power by tailoring her performative expression to those perspectives in order to more effectively “teach” others about her position within society. In the words of Audre Lorde, that would make it “the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes.” This is an additional burden to bear that displaces the responsibility of social change from those who benefit from the status quo onto those who are marginalized by it. I do not in any way wish to discourage activism on the part of oppressed groups, but rather am trying to demonstrate how power shapes even the structure of social change to maintain current power dynamics.

However, this tension does not faze Xandra Ibarra. Despite her analysis of the way La Chica Boom is perceived, she also states that the performances are first and foremost for herself. While she never aims to purposefully reinforce social hierarchies and stereotypes, her “responsibility” is to express her views in a way that is fulfilling in the context of her experience. Her activism achieves even more than this, and her performances have been supplemented by extensive academic articles on the same topics of colonialism, whiteness, and Mexican identity in particular. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of her audience to educate themselves about her perspective if it is unfamiliar to them, because they are implicated in her struggle to redefine her subject positions by representing the very norms she contrasts herself against.