Notes on The Feminist Porn Book | Take 3

Continuing with my series of notes on The Feminist Porn Book, I am taking this next one from Candida Royalle’s essay, “What’s a Nice Girl Like You…”

This quote is about porn but really it’s about every aspect of sexuality, IMHO.

“If women don’t create their own erotic visions, their own sexual language, men will continue to do it for us and we’ll never fully understand our own unique sexual nature.” Candida Royalle

Candida Royale was one of the first women to make “porn for women” – a term that, although now problematic, spoke in its beginnings (and still does today to an extent) to a need for porn that was not so into money shots, not so lacking in foreplay and in female orgasms, porn with a little more conversation to go with the action, please (geddit?).

This quote – or rather, how I think about it – is about much more than that, though.

Of course, having women (or anyone that is not cis, hetero, able-bodied, male & white) direct & call the shots in porn allows for others fantasies to be explored, other bodies to be shown, other types of sex to be represented. And that is awesome. That is not the start, or the end of it, though.

Across the board, it is primarily men deciding what our bodies should look like, how we should feel about them, what they should mean to us, and how it is acceptable to use our own bodies and sexuality. Mass media, the “medical community”, mainstream porn, the beauty industry: they are by and large owned by white cis-het able-bodied rich men who get to tell everyone what sexy looks like, what normal looks like, what acceptable, healthy sexuality should look like.

[Oddly enough, if you ask me, enthusiastic consent is the only “should” that has a place when it comes to sexuality, and yet it is the one thing that none of these industries seem to care about.]

We could be the ones calling the shots on what our bodies feel like and what we want them to look like. We could be the ones calling the shots on what our fantasies are, what our sex looks & tastes & sounds & feels like, and if and when we choose to even have it.

This is something we can all learn from feminist pornographers: we get to decide what we think is sexy, acceptable, desirable, healthy for us & our bodies. And your sexy, acceptable, desirable & healthy will not necessarily (or likely) look like my sexy, acceptable, desirable & healthy, and that’s okay. That’s friggin’ awesome, in fact, because choice is at the heart of feminism & sex-positivity, and should be at the heart of just basic human decency, to be honest.

We don’t have to make our own porn for this to be the case – although if you feel so inclined, please do make your own porn, and tell me all about it afterwards! Everytime we are thinking about our own body and sexuality & feel a “should” question coming to our brain (should I ask them to take out the whips? should I lose a few pounds? should I wear this tight glittery dress?), we could replace the should with a want. Do we want to ask them to take out the whips? Do we want to lose a few pounds? Do we want to wear the tight glittery dress?

As long as we ask and get the consent of everyone involved in whatever is going on – and no, your judgmental fatphobic aunt is not INVOLVED in your weight – then you should feel free to do whatever you want to do.

Going back to the quote, moreover, if we don’t start (or continue) pushing back against what the media, the beauty industry, most of mainstream porn, & the patriarchy at large tells us to look, feel & fuck like, the powers that be will continue to do it for us. And how do we fight back? Sometimes it is one outfit choice at a time, or one sexy session, or one meal, or one heartfelt conversation. Hell, even a selfie at a time. One shame-induced should at a time.

 

This is not to say of course that we are at fault if we are unable, unwilling or too exhausted to push back & fight the oppressive systems that tell us we don’t look the part, we don’t fuck right, we don’t do as we should. It’s okay to be tired of fighting back; it is okay if you don’t feel emotionally or physically safe doing so.

The corporations, the media, the government should be the one changing to become better at representing its costumers, its consumers, its people. Some brave folks work everyday from within these systems & structures & institutions to try to shift gears towards more humane capitalism (is that even a real thing, I ask?) It is not enough though, and it will never be.

Empowerment & resistance start at home, because body- & sex-negative capitalism – or sketchy, sexist, racist porn, for that matter – isn’t going to hand over the power. We gotta take it ourselves.

—————-

If you are looking for this mighty book on your local (buy local pretty plz) bookstore or library, here is the bibliography:

Taormino, Tristan; Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Constance Penley, Mireille Miller-Young (eds). The Feminist Porn Book: The politics of producing pleasure. The Feminist Press: New York, 2013.

 

Related bits (re: shame, empowerment, sex-positivity)

What Revenge Porn Tells Us About Sex and Humilliation | Charlie Glickman

The cost of sexual shame | The Salon

Megan Falley – “Fat Girl” (poem)

“Ladies should respect themselves”

I have always been very confused by this or any variation of this statement.

For me, respecting myself means appointing myself as the boss of me and recognizing that no one else owns my body or my life choices. For me, respecting myself is listening to my body and what it wants and needs. For me, respecting myself is loving myself enough to know that weight, gender, sexual orientation, ability, sexual status, relationship status, race, religion do not condition my worth. For me, respecting myself is knowing that only I can press the play, pause, forward or rewind in my life. For me, respecting myself is saying no when I mean no (and asserting my right to have my “no” respected), and saying yes when I mean yes. As many fucking times as I want with as many people as I want, in as many situations as I want. And that means yes to sex, but it also means yes to education, to health care, to a dignified living.

What you mean is “ladies should respect what men want of them”. Which is a bunch of contradictory, non realistic, objectifying BS.

How is it possible for people to be so willing to interpret “respect authority”, for example, as “listen to authority”, and “respect yourself” as “listen to everyone but yourself”? 


It is only possible, if you think about it, when you compare that statement to one that is said when something belongs to someone. If you say “hey, respect that car”, it doesn’t mean “listen to that car” (the car has no will). It means “don’t scratch it or use it or misuse it (in accordance to the rules of the owner) in any way for it belongs to someone that is not you”.

And so “respect yourself” means “don’t scratch or use or misuse yourself (in accordance to the rules of the patriarchy) in any way for you belong to someone that is not you.”

And, damn, I will scratch (I am giggling on the inside) and use and misuse myself in any way for I belong to myself and I am abiding by my own rules.

So yes. I am always respecting myself. And if I decide to be a sex worker by my own will, I will also be respecting myself. If I decide to go on a sexual rampage (HAHA) I will still be respecting myself. If I decide I want to not have any sexual contact with anyone at all for the rest of my life, I will be respecting myself as well. If I decide to join a convent or the church of scientology or the friggin westboro baptist (I almost wrote baptits, fyi) church, as long as it is my choice, I will still be respecting myself.

The day that I do or stop doing or being something because someone else says I should, that day you can say that I am not respecting myself.

The end.

Self-love and what relationships should be about.

Hang in there, I am still in finals. I wanted to write something relating to this blog post on relationships that I saw a while back. I appreciated it a lot, largely because it came before my eyes right when I needed it. Back then I still thought my entire worth and sense of self was about someone else, when the way I looked at the mirror depended on someone else. I want to talk about how we are taught a very unhealthy version of romance and relationships.

First, read this: The Whole Point of Every Relationship (is probably not what you think it is), from the blog Elephant Journal.

It is a pretty nice piece with a few thoughts on what relationships should be like. It is by no means exhaustive or a rulebook, but I found it to be very neat.

I want to address a couple of these thoughts because although I tend to talk mostly about sexual politics and feminism here, a great deal of what feminism is (at least to me) is about accepting oneself in all of our worth, refusing to accept others’ definitions of what we ought to be, questioning what we are taught, and realising our own potential as human beings. It is true that relationships can help us in that direction, but only healthy ones. And it is up to us – this is important to remember and SO easy to forget – and not up to them to make relationships healthy for ourselves.

 

Holding each other accountable.

We forget we are not their journey, or their goal, or their gift. They have their own journey and goals and gifts to give to the world, and we are there to support each other in making the most of them. Understanding that their life does not revolve around us: we are part of it, and we are there to try our best to make it better and more enjoyable, in whatever their journey is about. Blaming is not what it is about, but understanding where both come from and where they want to go, and cheering them in that direction.

 

Let go.

Again, their life is not about you. When journeys go separate ways, it is important to let that happen. They should not change their journey because of you. Understand that loving is also about wanting them to reach their potential, in whatever way they need to. Do not change your journey either: a person who loves you will understand that you should not have to.

 

Remember that your job is not to make him happy (but to allow him/her the space to find their own happiness).

Cheesus, how I wish someone had told me this (not because it is rocket science, but I could have used a reminder) a couple of months ago. What this means is that you are not responsible for her, and she is not responsible for you. Supporting each other and being able to count on each other is one thing, but the relationship should be about two people who can walk on their own two feet, but decide to walk alongside each other, not two people limping and holding the other’s arms because if not they’ll fall.

We are taught that it is romantic to say or think “I depend on you” or “my heart is in your hands” or “you hold the keys to my happiness” (I have been studying a lot, so my grasp on what people actually say is a bit off right now, but you get my point I think). There is a difference between being able to depend on someone and actually depending on someone, between trusting someone with your heart and actually making it their responsibility, between being happier thanks to her and being happier because of her. It should not be romantic to engage in codependent relationship in which the world absolutely shatters when the other is not there. Relationships (any kind, not just romantic) should be about encouraging the best in the other, allowing the space for them to be their own happy person, being happy for the other’s journey being realized. Again, a cheer-leader, not a coach. The hand that is there in case you need it, not an arm into which you always lean.

With this, another lesson I have learned comes to mind as well. We must work on ourselves before going into a relationship, we must be whole on our own. The notion of “your other half” bothers me because to me it sounds like such an unhealthy thing. You are literally making up for your insecurities by leaning on someone else, by filling up that space with someone else. As I have talked about before, we are taught to search for that special person to complete our journey, and I feel like that logic is all wrong. Our journey should include many people, not just the couple (insert my video on coupledom here). Moreover, our journey should be first about ourselves and our own sense of self being where it belongs and then comes whoever else, and we should not be shamed for thinking we come first. We should come first, it is our own life. And we should take care of ourselves, because if we cannot do that, how can we help someone else take care of themselves too?

 

Be honest.

I was completely dishonest once. Not to someone else, but to myself. Even today, I keep catching myself starting to be dishonest, and I have to correct it. And this has to do with thinking that the 100% of who we are could never find a partner or a friend or a lover or a whatever, which is a very flawed way to think. If we are all being dishonest, of course we are never going to find it, because we are looking in the wrong places. The only way is to throw ourselves out there with all of who we are, and trusting that we are worth it, that our personal journey is worth it, because we fucking are.

 

Fight well.

Oh how everyone I know needs to remember this. We need to think of problems and obstacles and misunderstandings and bad feelings as something external to us, because they are. They are the space between us and our partners. I like to think of them as a fire that is standing between the two (or three, or however many partners there are), a fire that everyone involved is responsible for grabbing an extinguisher and fight it. The fire, not each other over who started it, who fueled it, who was the last person to do something to it. Once the problem, the fire, is gone, you can talk about it to make sure it does not light up again.

 

Embrace attraction to others.

Why do people not understand that it is a fact of life? We have eyes, we have body parts that tingle when we see something good looking, and we have hormones that run rampant when we find something attractive (hormones that actually make us happy, a micro-teeny-tiny orgasm kind of happy). This has everything to do with jealousy, which has everything to do with insecurity, within ourselves (but we’ll get to that in the following point). I find people attractive all the time – I live in Montreal, so literally all the time – which does not mean I jump on people all the time, and this is true whether I am with someone or not. Jeez, I find every dessert incredibly attractive and I do not eat them all, now, do I? Attraction is a natural thing to have for humans, which does not obey the social construct and laws of monogamy which are not natural (not saying they are necessarily wrong or any less real, but they are not natural). The more you embrace it and communicate clearly and honestly about it, the more trust you’ll have.

Personally, I love it when the person I am with tells me about someone they see that is attractive. It means they are comfortable saying that, it means they know I trust them. The same way, when I say I find someone attractive, it means I am comfortable doing so, it means I feel like they trust me. We can communicate about it freely because it means nothing more than “hey, my serotonin levels just had a bit of a boost with that passing stranger over there”. Serotonin is good, and we should feel good about what makes our partner feel good, whether it is for a split second or for a day or for three years. Bitching about jealousy issues increases stress, attraction decreases stress. So really, what is healthier?

 

Do your work.

This has a lot to do with the previous one sometimes. If you are jealous, it is first and foremost about you, not him. If you are stressed out, it is first and foremost about you, not her. What I mean by this is that what YOU are feeling, YOU should work on. Communicating about jealousy is good, blaming because of jealousy is not good.

We are often taught, informally, that jealousy means they love you. To me, jealousy means they do not trust me, which itself means they don’t love me enough to trust me and to not try to control me. We are also taught that we are responsible of making sure the other is not feeling hurt, or jealous, or unheard, or whatever. It isn’t. Can we help them in not feeling that way? Sure. But through communication, not through not doing certain things or not acting certain ways. This has a lot to do with being honest about who we are and what we want and recognizing when our journey does not fit another’s. It isn’t true that love is about becoming one, but about becoming two stronger separate ones. Not about belonging to one another (I hate all those songs that allude to partners as property like “I’m Your Man”, “Sweet Child O’Mine”, “Are you gonna be my girl?”, “Be Mine”, “The boy is mine”), but about wanting to be with each other, and in case of monogamous relationships, wanting to be with each other – as opposed to only being with each other because you’re “taken” (insert imagery of a butt imprinted on a seat, signifying that it is taken).

There are healthy ways to communicate feelings of jealousy. “Hey, I felt a bit weird with the way you talked to that person. I just wanted to let you know so you can help me figure the root of this feeling of insecurity.” Not “Hey, I feel jealous about the way you talk to this person so YOU figure out how to make me feel better about it”.

 

Remember that you’re a mirror too.

I find it is so much better and more effective to actively seek to compliment the other and let them know what you see in them. I find asking “do you think I am smart/good looking/sexy/good in bed” so problematic and inherently unhealthy. It is much nicer to go up and say “I think you are gorgeous/super smart/sexy as heck/such a turn-on” first. They obviously find you smart and interesting and attractive, hence the being with you, silly. But reassuring that as opposed to asking for it makes everything more enjoyable.

 

Enjoy the ride, man!

Yes, yes, ABSOLUTELY YES. Just like a road trip, when the ride is no longer enjoyable, one must be willing to admit it and stop. Maybe it is just a pause to talk about  why we feel dizzy and wrong, maybe it is a stop to get some fresh air, walk around a bit and perhaps come back if it feels right, perhaps the destination is just not the same anymore for the both of you, and you should get into separate cars. Either way, it is better to stop when we feel queasy than to get into a car crash later on.

 

 

Anyway, like the writer of the original post, I am no expert, not even close. But I am constantly learning, and that blog entry definitely helped. So I thought I’d share.

 

Our self-worth, body image, sense of self and identity, should not depend on someone else. If someone else (anyone: friend, partner, family member, mentor) has a positive impact on our journey, on our happiness, then great, keep them in your life. If they stop making you grow and start making you shrink, if they stop making you shine and start making your light dim, know you have every right to want something better for yourself.

 

Something cheesy, but indubitably true :)

Something cheesy, but indubitably true 🙂

 

Unlike dogs, tags make me feel more lost [a poem]

I have struggled with labels all my life. Where do I fit? What describes me? Why don’t they feel comfortable? What is this deal with us trying to fit into containers much too small for our infinite possibilities for growth and movement.

I will float from one label to the next and it is not out of convenience (although I have, too, been guilty of that in the past) but out of trying to see if they feel right, when do they feel right, why don’t they feel right. In doing that, I’ve become increasingly aware of how political they can be, but also how sometimes they strip you of any sort of individuality. You’re your community, and I cannot and should not represent anyone but myself, really. Labels can be useful, but they can also be stressful.

first and foremost

first and foremost

 

I have found some labels describe me better than others, and sometimes I end up using a label because it makes everyday life a tad easier. I am still debating on the ‘my body as a political stance’ part, because it’s problematic, and it tends to violate my personal space when I need to declare my sexual preferences in order to help them not be invisible.

In any case, I wrote a poem. I know I usually write essays for this blog, but I haven’t had the time. So here goes…

 

Think straight. Walk straight. Stand straight. Be straight-forward.

Be straight. 

Stop thinking.

 

I am not crooked or broken or confused.

I am beautiful, with curves into my thighs and spirals in my mind;

I am brave, I am fire:

“A work-in-progress”, the cliché goes.

 

And while we are on the subject of being straight-forward,

I say fuck that. Fuck your names.

I am not confused,

Your names confuse me.

Your labels blur me, they erase me.

A 404: Error.

Identity not found.

 

I am tired of wasting time thinking

What am I? All the while

thinking in terms that you will understand,

thinking in boxes, thinking in lines.

Where do I draw mine?

Why should I?

 

I’m frankly exhausted,

bruises all over from bumping into walls and

Pipelines you built, in the middle of my sexuality.

I will not be bound, muted, colonized.

 

I don’t have to be straight, gay, bi, pansexual, queer

I could be either, or neither, or them all.

I can dance among them, between them, in them.

It should not concern you

My name is Lu, and that’s it for all you know

I’m not yours, to figure out.

 

Hell, you try to put labels on me,

Pour dichotomies on me;

I scrub them off

not as a political stance,

but because I do not get them.

And they don’t get me.

 

I have yet to discover myself, so

don’t pretend you’ve already done that for me.

You can’t do that.

I don’t own much, but that much I own.

Unrelated. But hey, how sexy is that?

Unrelated. But hey, how sexy is that?

I show you mine, you show me yours.

I want to share a deep, dark, secret with you guys: I am privileged. Another deep dark secret? You are very likely privileged too.

privilege-and-prejudice

Neverrrrrrrr

I am also oppressed and non-privileged in more than one way, and probably so are you.

I want to address a couple of conversations I have had and comments I have received (thanks you guys! you make me love my blog and feel obligated to write in here even though I have finals coming up, and I like the feeling), most of them relating, directly or indirectly, to privilege. I have mentioned it but, true enough, haven’t really explained it or said too much about it. The point of this blog (or part of it) is making information accessible, and I haven’t been doing that all too well.

So, first of all, what is meant by privilege?

For those not too familiar with social justice or feminist blogs or literature in general, privilege is a set of unearned benefits society bestows you due solely to one fraction of your identity, whether it be race, gender, sex, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc. What does this mean, in reality? That there are things that I don’t have to think about, daily nuissances that I will not be target of, worries that I will not have, and disadvantages that I do not need to consider because I am a person with no physical disability or impairment of any kind, for example. Privilege makes our lives easier in ways that we tend to take for granted, and so checking our privilege is, for one, realising how good we have it in many ways. Privilege also makes us think, say and do things that may offend others simply because, in our position of privilege, we do not “have to” think about others, as the default way of thinking in that area in which we are privileged supports our own.

This is too broad and abstract though, I believe. Most talk about privilege is fairly abstract because it intends to apply to as many people as possible. I will talk about it in more concrete terms. Big, huge, monumental disclaimer, though: I am not speaking for anyone other than myself. I do not know or pretend to know everything. That is another thing about privilege: even if you’re oppressed in some other way, no two oppressions are the same, so do not pretend you empathize, because you cannot possibly know what anything other than your own experience is like. That said, here is an attempt to further explain what privilege is.

For example, I am a ciswoman (as in, my gender identity happens to match the sex assigned to me at birth; this, as opposed to transgender, which is when the gender identity you’re comfortable with does not match the sex assigned to you at birth). Based on that one little fraction among all the complexities of human beings, I have certain benefits – ranging from relatively small nuissances that I don’t have to deal with, to relatively big ones like not having to choose between a birth certificate that reflects my identity (and save myself from more nuissances, confusion and harassment) and having children. I am not harassed and stared at and whispered about when I go to public restrooms, I am not constantly asked really invasive and STRAIGHT UP NONE-OF-THEIR-BUSINESS questions like what my genitals look like or how I have sex, my gender identity is plenty represented in mainstream media (without it being only as the punchline of a joke). If I am in need of medical care, my gender identity will not grant me an unnecessary psychological examination; if I am in need of a shelter I do not have to fear for physical abuse in there. People don’t ask what my real sex is, as if I was lying or as if my gender identity was not valid, as if they were entitled to decide who I am for me. [I am taking these examples from this blog post, but the list goes on and on.]

Now, another thing I have heard and have read is pretty common (and fairly understandable) is that whole defensive ‘ttude of “but I am not like that!” or, “what do you mean I am privileged? I have had it bad in life!”

Here’s the thing, when someone (for example me, through this blog) tells you to check your privilege, they (or we) are not blaming you. Privilege is not about individual behavior or douche-baggery. It is not about you.

Privilege is not about blame, but it is about responsibility. Of course I know you cannot help but being white, or male, or cisgender, or able-bodied, or economically well-off, or heterosexual. I know, also, that you are probably a nice, well-intentioned fella. Most people are, I truly believe that. Thing is, we are part of a patriarchal society which values and reinforces and benefits some groups of people while oppressing, discriminating against, dehumanizing and invalidating the experiences and identities of other groups of people. That is a fact [If you are unwilling to accept this fact, I am sorry we’ve wasted each other’s time. Go about your business now].

Furthermore, society is built in such a way that dominant discourse, mainstream media, formal education, law, medical discourse is meant to represent and reinfornce the views and interests and needs of the privileged and ignore or reject or misrepresent those of the non-privileged. For a quick example, see what is meant by “flesh-tone” in most products: whose flesh tone is that? It sure as hell is not mine, it sure as hell is not the majority of my hometown’s flesh tone, it sure as hell is not the majority of most countries’ flesh tone. And YET…

Now, as I was saying, privilege IS about responsibility. Sure, as much as you read a checklist on male privilege and you think to yourself “yes, that’s right, how have I never thought about this”, you’re still a guy. And that is okay. Don’t do like I did the first time I read that I was privileged in so and so ways and be paralized by liberal guilt and by “omg I have been such an asshole!” thoughts. I mean yes, reflect on the fact that you may have been an asshole enough time so that you try not to be an asshole ever again, but accept that you probably will. Move on, though: we all make mistakes and will continue making them, just hopefully not the same ones.

A friend, reasonably, asked me, what the hell do I do with that, though? What do we do with that privilege?

Be extra aware of it. Be aware that you are already over-represented everywhere else, so you should allow non-privileged groups to have the chance and the space and the voice: help them create those spaces, those times.

Be humble. The rest of the world thinks you are more entitled to talk on behalf of others already, so don’t. No matter how much you read about their history, their needs, their interests, their concerns, their oppression (which you should, by all means); no matter how active of an ally you are. You are not them, you cannot explain their suffering for them, you cannot answer for them. So shut up, listen, and learn.

Learn their terms. They should not be the ones teaching you how not to be offensive, you should be able to do that yourself. It is valid to ask questions, of course (RESPECTFUL questions). Just do not feel like you can correct us on how you can refer to us (if I personally find you calling me ‘baby’ offensive, dude, drop it). Short confession: I once thought I was entitled to judge if I were to call a transwoman a woman or a man based on how much she “passed” as a woman. I cannot even begin to say how ashamed I am of that mentality right now, how sorry I am for it. Completely unacceptable.

Learn their history, their oppression, their concerns. We learn the white, heterosexual, able-bodied male history since we are kids, even if it does not represent most of us or OUR history. Now it is time for you to do the same.

Be an active ally. Do not try to lead the way, but try to walk with them, supporting their struggles. Call bullshit on the guys for catcalling, intervene when someone is bullying a person on a wheelchair, correct a person who you know got your friend’s pronoun wrong [See: Trans Etiquette for Non-Trans People | Matt Kailey]. To be an active ally you have to be an active listener, willing to accept your own mistakes, willing to take the heat of being an ally of an oppressed group, willing to shut up when you have to and speak up when you must.

And, honestly, why not? Use your privilege for good. Respectfully, carefully, checking yourself closely.

While cismen speaking up against violence against women might be seen as problematic because it should not take a cisman’s voice for other men to listen to it and pay attention (a woman saying “stop raping us” should be just as effective and respected of a claim as a man saying “let’s stop raping women”), today’s world works in such a way, unfortunately. Cismen speaking up against violence against women or against sexism in general, provide men with a role model they can relate to (on the basis of genitalia similarity, which I find quite odd and arbitrary), and they can listen up. They cannot say the guy is speaking to his own benefit or personal interest, and human brains work in such a way that we think that fact makes their claim more valid – whereas, as Tim Wise speaks about in his ‘Pathology of White Privilege’, who is more of an expert on oppression than the victim of that same oppression?! – and it may be more effective. An ally is an ally. If I am talking to a friend about sex work, about transgender issues, about disability, I will use my privilege in those categories to speak of what I know, with as much care and tact and humility as possible, and I will try to change someone’s prejudices and misunderstandings. I will point out when they say something offensive, even if it is not specifically offensive to me.

Why? Firstly, because I would like a guy to do the same thing about rape culture and about slut shaming and about wage gaps, I in fact love it when I see it happening. It does not make them or me a better person, or more entitled to friendship, a relationship, sex or ANYTHING with the group we are an ally of, needless to say. But I love it. Secondly, because part of knowing you’re privileged in some way is knowing that people are more likely to listen to you (unfortunately, and we must of course fight to change that fact as well: referencing non-privileged authors or sources of knowledge, explicitly noting that your word is not any more valid, etc). People are less likely to dismiss you, or get defensive, or offend you with their denial. It sucks, but it is true, and an ally is an ally (again, a respectful, non-entitled, humble one). I don’t know about you, but I’d take it as it is.

So yeah, that sums it up I think. Checking your privilege is 1) realizing you haven’t got it so bad after all, so stop bitchin’, 2) taking into account that what you say might come from that place of privilege and ignorance and you may need to apologize, correct yourself, do your homework, etc, 3) taking responsibility for your words and actions, and owning that privilege by becoming an active and supportive ally, 4) realizing some spaces are not for you to take over with your privilege-splaining (I think I just made that up, but see mansplaining to check out what I mean) or your over-representativeness: you have the rest of the world to have role models, topics relevant to your needs and interests, categories and terms that are consistent with how you see and like the world, etc., so back off when, for once, it isn’t about you.

That is all, for now. If you have any thoughts or things to add, please tell me. I love knowing more and more and more. And sharing it all 🙂

If you feel like talking about privilege to others and are not sure how to start, or are not all convinced by what I said just now, check out How To Talk To Someone About Privilege Who Doesn’t Know What That Is, and An Anthology of Privilege Checklists.

Words that matter.

I have said before how I love language. I love it because it can empower or disempower, create or destroy. It frames issues, gives them direction. It is part of your identity, of how others see you and how you see yourself.

It can be incredibly intimate – with secret codes and made-up words to have with someone, with words of encouragment every morning in front of the mirror – and it can be incredibly political. It IS always political, in that it includes and excludes, offends or supports, ALWAYS. Even when we are not paying attention, language comes up behind us and stabs us in the back, letting everyone know our true sentiments, our deepest-held prejudices, our privilege, our ignorance. I believe that we ought to pay more attention, as our choice of wordscan make a great deal of difference in which conversations happen, who we include instead of excluding, who we stop hurting.

Language (not just English, although the literature I have encountered has been vast on this particular one) as an inherently racist, inherently sexist, inherently homophobic, inherently classist thing is too broad and too complex and too damn long a topic to speak of right now. For now, I just wanted to share some terms I have been trying to use or stop using and why. I of course, invite you to also check yourself – as a privileged ally, that is the least you can do really – and evaluate your language use and do your homework about it and change some habits too.

Some of the terms, dichotomies, standard-versus-other stuffs that we should all be changing:

– First of all, that whole “my gay friend/cousin/teacher” when sexual orientation is not relevant to the conversation (which if you ask me, is almost all the time). It makes me and others think 1) the gold standard is being heterosexual and that one person is the weird one in your world, 2) our (and your) judgment of the rest of what you’ll say should take the ‘gay’ bit into account (for some bizarre and homophobic reason) and 3)  that – sorry, I gotta say it – having a friend who happens to be gay somehow makes you a better or cooler or special person and we should take notice of that fact.

Also, some funny kind-of-true stuff

– Same thing goes with “my black friend”, “my trans friend’, ‘my disabled friend’, ‘my midget friend’. Unless that part of their complex, full, awesome being is relevant, saying it only marks it as a difference. And yes, differences do exist, but I do not hear you saying “my white friend”, “my straight friend”, “my cisgender (I’ll come back to this one) friend”, “my fully-physically-abled friend”.

– Start using cisgender to refer to people who are not transgender, who are privileged in this society for identifying with the same sex they were born with, when differentiating from transgender people. Do not mark the difference by saying “men and transmen”, as if the normal thing was to be cisgender and the other, the alien, the abnormal was to be transgender.

“Oh, but I only mean normal in the statistically-normal kind of way”, you say? We humans do not talk in statistically-literate terms, in case you have not noticed. In a hypothetical situation, almost anyone would be more likely to say it is more normal to run into an English-speaking person in Argentina (or almost any country) than it is to run into someone who speaks Chinese, even if Chinese is more statistically normal. Because language is about politics, about visibility, about access. I know the analogy is not perfect, but you get the point.

“Oh, I don’t know anyone trans so I’m not offending anyone”, you say? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t (what makes you assume you know, anyway?). Even if you don’t, language works like a forest fire. If you say cisgender, someone might ask you what cisgender is, maybe they’ll too be convinced and use it, and so on: somewhere (if not everywhere) along the line, you just stopped someone (and yourself) from – possibly unintentionally – hurting, discriminating against, and offending some one else.

While we’re on the subject of cisgenders and cisgender privilege, it is time for a check-list. I know I have been guilty of more than one horribly offensive, transphobic thing, and some of them stem from not fully acknowledging cisgender privilege, so check it out and stop being a twat 😉

– Saying something/someone is “so gay” as a way of saying silly/dumb/ridiculous/flamboyant/cowardly/boring/cheesy/over-dramatic. You are literally equating those negative or at the very least stereotyping adjectives to being homosexual, and an = sign goes both ways. It is as simple as not being lazy and use any of the above adjectives or any other instead of saying “gay”. Even Hilary Duff agrees with me on this one.

– The same thing goes for “stop being such a girl”, “you’re such a pussy” (for an anatomically-accurate word for ‘sensitive’, try “glans”, as in the tip of your penis), “he plays like a chick” or the like.

run like a girl

You are saying, first of all, that whatever attitude the person displayed was a feminine (girly/womanly/chick-y) thing to do which is 1) stereotyping and further reinforcing gender roles that block both men and women from being however the fudge they want to be without fear of ridicule; and 2) saying, literally saying, that being equated to a woman is wrong or undesirable or humilliating or inferior. Actually, all of those things. It goes like this: “playing like a chick” is saying (most commonly) that that person is playing badly or poorly or too delicately, right? So you’re saying that a girl plays badly and poorly and too delicately, and because you are saying it to demean a person, it is saying that being called or compared to a girl is supposed to be demeaning. It is very easy: say they are playing poorly. Say they are being over-dramatic, say they are being too high-maintenance. Don’t equate those bad attributes and offensive stereotypes to women and do not equate “woman”/”girl”/”chick” to an insult.

– Using the word ‘retarded’ or retard. Something is not retarded: something is either ridiculous, or dumb, or bad, or annoying, none of which describes or equates to intellectually challenged or disabled individuals. Do not use that word to describe people who are not intellectually disabled as a way to insult them: it should not be an insult because intellectually disabled people are not inferior or wrong or less worthy than non-disabled people like yourself. Do not use that word to describe intellectually disabled individuals either, it is offensive. You are not charged by the vowel, so I am sure you can use intellectually disabled instead.

– Oh, OH. Please, stop using the word ‘rape’ for anything else than rape itself. Ohhh this makes my blood boil. You did not “rape that exam”, you ‘rocked’ it or you finished it no-problem. The football team did not “rape that tournament”, they embarrassingly outperformed the other teams.

Using the word minimizes the actual pain, suffering and trauma of survivors. It hurts them, and it can bring back the pain of the actual rape that happened to them. It makes survivors feel unsafe and rapists feel safer in a world that trivializes and jokes about what they do. Here’s another more elaborate take on this.

– Relevant to recent events, debates and blog posts: gay marriage vs marriage. I am guilty-as-friggin-charged. I think this is not cool because it makes it as if marriage between heterosexuals is the whole deal and the other one is an alternative version. So I will start saying “straight marriage” or “heterosexual marriage”. This is a pledge.

So yeah. These are some easy ways in which we can change our habits to be better and to make others feel better and safer. By recognizing the prejudices that we carry with us and by correcting the language that promote these same prejudices, we make it less okay for people to say racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist things whether it is on purpose or not.

THIS. If you have to start the sentence with "I'm not racist, but", YOU ARE BEING RACIST.

THIS. If you have to start the sentence with “I’m not racist, but”, YOU ARE BEING RACIST.

I also invite you to check out this test. It is related to my blog post in that our word choice is one of the ways our prejudices leak out, but there is so much more to look at inside our socialization. The test was created by Harvard researchers in order to assess some of the unconcious associations we make and makes us reflect upon them in order to make our concious attitudes meaningful ones. It is also super simple and interesting and enlightening [I got some scores that embarrass me, honestly, but that make me think and try to tackle internalized ideas I hold].

Any other terms/phrases you think we should change in our vocabulary?

Lines, marriage and who’s worthy (and who decides).

Same-sex marriage in the United States has been for quite some time the focus of attention in terms of LGBT activism in that country. It also has the entire world turning its head whenever a state legalizes it, whenever the Supreme Court discusses it. Today and tomorrow are such days, in which activists around the world are either picketting, marching, making phone calls, staring at their TVs/computer screens in waiting for statements, for results, hopefully favorable ones.

For thousands and thousands of people in California, though, today and tomorrow are life-changers. It is not just a cause that they support: it is their life and their happiness that is in the hands of those judges. Because of the weight of the decisions being made in these two days, millions of people in other states’ livelihood is also at stake. Furthermore, as has been studied over and over again, a course taken in the United States, because of its standing in the global market (of ideas and products alike) is a course likely to be followed by other countries. The whole world is watching.

miserable gay marriage

I cannot stress this enough, though: it is people’s lives that are on the table when you talk about same-sex marriage, anywhere in the world.

You might think I am exaggerating. Some of you may even think: “who cares about an archaic notion such as marriage?” or “marriage is a patriarchal, oppressive institution” or, most valid of all (imho), “fighting for marriage equality is supporting the notion that marriage is the ultimate and most legitimate form of coupledom and that coupledom is the ultimate and most legitimate form of existing in today’s society”. And I agree, I don’t care about the archaic notion of marriage, I also think marriage is instrinsically oppressive and (hetero)sexist and indeed, marriage should not be the norm and standard to which to compare other forms of relationships or families. But that is absolutely not the point.

The way I see it, the struggle to dethrone marriage and the struggle for marriage equality are two parallel ones, not mutually exclusive or in competition with one another. First, because we are talking not just about principles and causes and struggles and good ol’ activism: we are talking about people’s choices, even if we (marriage dethrone-rs, that is) don’t agree with them. And I will beat you to saying “but they are socialized into wanting marriage, that’s why”, because it might be true but kind of irrelevant. I was socialized into liking The Beatles by my mother who would play their albums nonstop, which does not mean that I didn’t later arrive by my own means to the conclusion that they are awesome and I like them too. The second reason why the two struggles are parallel and not competing is because you cannot have the first without first having the latter, I believe. It is like skipping a step in the ladder for actual, full equality of all humans regardless of their sexual/romantic choices and modes of association.

Marriage, whether we like it or not, the most validated relationship status (which is key in society’s evaluation of us and others, the State’s evaluation of us and of our own self-evaluation), the only one that is sanctioned by the State and the one that all other forms of association “look up to” (in terms of legal, social, economic and political benefits, that is) and compare themselves to. It is the 10 on the scale of 1 to legit. Not having the right to marry means you are less legit as a couple, and therefore as an individual. It means you are less citizen, less human being, less everything. As a pivotal institution in society, having access to it means having access to all that being a human being in a particular place can have access to. It means society accepts you and sees you as important and legitimate and equal to everyone else.

One only has to look at the name of the law the Supreme Court is discussing tomorrow to see how degrading the illegal status of same-sex marriage is: Defense of Marriage Act. To me, it sounds like the precious sanctity and purity of marriage has to be defended against the abomination of outside forces such as homosexuality. It comes down to that, really; it is saying: “you are unworthy of such an institution, you are unworthy of equal treatment and you are unworthy of the same kind of citizenship that we have”. I will not even talk about the divorce rate, statistics on cheating, on domestic violence or on sexual abuse within heterosexual marriages. You can look those up and question how sacred and pure and worthy of “defending” heterosexual marriage is. I am not even arguing homosexual marriage would do a lot better on those stats (which I have many reasons to believe), I am merely saying that there is probably little difference, little to no abomination that same-sex marriage can bring to the general pool of ugliness that marriage in general already is.

Furthermore, who exactly is being called “unworthy”? According to various surveys throughout the years (at least in Canada and the United States, but there is little reason to think the trend is not in the same direction in other countries), more and more people self-report as being somewhere along the scale which is not 100% heterosexual. This means, for one, if you are casting a vote (or buying a product that casts a vote for you) against same-sex marriage, regardless of where in the world you are from, you are almost sure to be casting a vote against people you know, people you care about. Your ballot is actively telling your neighbor, your cousin, your teacher, your fireman, your son, your soldier: “you are less worthy of rights than me”.

I want to share this TED Talk (I could share a thousand TED talks, really), because it speaks to exactly this. It is as relevant now as it was 20 years ago, as it will be for quite some time, until we stop categorizing arbitrarily and picking and choosing who is worthier than who based on ridiculous and private things such as what genitals does the person in the neighbor’s bed  has. Because it boils down to that, folks: you are casting a vote saying your choice of genitalia to bring home is better than everyone else’s. To me, that’s just arrongant, condescending, ridiculous and kind of none of our business at all.

Anyhoo, the awesome TED Talk:

http://www.ted.com/talks/io_tillett_wright_fifty_shades_of_gay.html

I want you guys to think about this because sometimes we think about laws being discussed and we may sort of support them but not really cause they sound so far away, specially if we don’t live in the States or do not vote there, and specially if we do not identify as LGBTQ*.

They are not far away, though. First, in today’s global society, every place that passes a law (or repeals a ban) in favor of same-sex marriage, it encourages other countries to do the same, it fuels activists worldwide, it makes a case that judges elsewhere can look at.  Second, politicians are elected by us, which means they can be pressured by us too. Third, corporations are sustained by us, which means they can be pressured, by our wallets, to push for one or other law.

Fourth, and going back to my mention of the feminist dilemma to support marriage equality or not, consider this: a challenge to traditional marriage is a challenge to traditional marriage. What I mean by this is that by challenging the heterosexism of marriage as an institution, other challenges are in order, such as gender roles within a marriage, economic and social responsibilities, division of labour, etc. Taking one layer of oppression of the giant oppressive pile that is marriage, is a start. Even if it is true that the only legal way to protect and validate your family and your love should not be marriage, while it is, let us make sure we all can access it.

Let us all make sure we are concious of who we are voting against, or who we are not moving an inch for. Wherever you’re reading this from, there is very likely a group of people considered less worthy of basic civil rights, basic human rights even. There are people challenging that worthiness. Learn about it, so that this piece of big news in the Supreme Court does not end there. Look at the pictures in the ‘Self Evident Truths’ and see if they’re really less worthy than you, if you can really be the judge of that, if you can really point to a radical difference in their faces to yours, to your family’s. If you can really stay still while people like you are being told, on a daily basis, that their existence in their own homes is not legitimate.

I know I can’t. I can’t look any one person in the eye and say that they matter less than me. I can’t draw a line between ‘more important’ and ‘less important’ than me.

 

 

An itty-bit more on the debate of marriage equality (there is PLENTY):

Live Blog: Supreme Court Weighs Gay Marriage – Washington Wire

Defense of Marriage Act – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

LZ Granderson: The myth of the gay agenda

Feminism and the Same-sex Marriage Debate

Decoupling Marriage and Procreation

 

 

And to answer the question of who decides who’s worthy: we all decide. We all have the power to decide. As I said before, we elect the politicians, we keep the businesses going, we tune in to the media. That is how we vote, that is how we say that we are all worthy, or none of us are.