Were We Standing Still?

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Many times, it feels that we have let the LGBTQ movement pass us by. Are you wondering why I would say that, so do I. Coming through the 90s, as a young gay man, I had such high hopes about our future. At the time, the man I loved proposed to me and there was only one place you could legally marry. Even after that it wasn’t recognized anywhere, so it almost seemed a trivial act. Between my nights filled with drinking and sex, I thought about where we were headed and the hopes of being accepted as a gay man. I wouldn’t have to worry about some “good ole boy” cornering me and beating the shit out of me. I wouldn’t have to worry about getting kicked out of an apartment or losing a job, again, for being gay. I had dreams, like so many of us did. The problem is, we failed the movement. We let others dictate to us what is acceptable for us to be happy and somewhere along the way we swallowed that medicine with the spoonful of sugar they gave us.

Homogeneity: the quality or state of being all the same or all the same kind.  This is what we were tricked into accepting. We were convinced that we needed to be the same as our heteronormative counterparts, not celebrate the differences that make us who we are. On UC Press Blog (https://www.ucpress.edu/blog/36851/gay-pride-should-be-seen-as-an-aspiration-not-a-settled-accomplishment-martin-duberman/) is an excerpt from the author Martin Duberman who wrote the book “Has the Gay movement failed?” who states “As I’ve already itemized (the greater mutuality and satisfaction that characterize our coupled relationships, the fact that gay men exhibit greater empathy and altruism than do heterosexual men, etc.), there’s much to affirm and even celebrate about gay life.” What he is asserting is that none of us are the same, each and every person is “queer” in their own way, there is no normal. So, for LGBTQ to be pushing for normality is the very opposite of what it means for us to be ourselves. We seemed to have forgotten that we were fighting for acceptance of who we are, not to be harassed for our difference, and the ability to live our lives our way. We were duped into thinking it was better to be accepted as normal. We settled for “Gay is Good.”

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Duberman goes further to say “If the “source” of our isolation and depression lies in society’s lethal mistreatment of us—and it does—why don’t we, as they did in GLF (Gay Liberation Front), wake up politically, mobilize our collective strength and actively assail the engulfing walls of prejudice that enclose us—and which do show signs of weakening and decay. Controversial though the findings are regarding LGBTQ “mental health”, one conclusion is obvious: Gay Is Not Yet Good Enough. The suffering goes on, and at high levels—and Gay Pride should be seen as an aspiration, not a settled accomplishment. . .”

We have been convinced that we do not need our Gay neighborhoods, our bars, our own programming, community centers, and eventually our Pride celebrations. Too many times have I heard our LGBTQ brothers and sisters say that we don’t need these things, I challenge them with why the feel this way and their response is to talk of the progress we have made. Yes, thank the stars, we have made progress, but by no means is our fight over. This is the very time we need to circle the wagons and think about what is best for our forward movement. We need to rethink the grass roots involvements our communities give us. Don’t shy away from the gay bars, they are as instrumental to us now as they have been. I am not addressing or beginning to talk about the topics of substance abuse. We need to go back to the beginnings of what our Pride Parades were for, the activism. We need to support our Community Centers and our people.

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Many times, we say, “the young generation” and this is a misnomer, it implies ageism. What really is being said or even referred to are those that are new to accepting who they are and doesn’t matter their physical age. Though, younger LGBTQ people were not there to witness, even second hand, the trials and struggles of the earlier fights. You can be 50 and just accepting that you are LGBTQ and still be unaware of much of LGBTQ history. Each has its own disparities and not everyone will or wants to be an activist. They simply want to be and coming out to themselves was enough. That is your right, as it is for those who feel they need to push the limits and not just accept the status quo.

It can be hard to understand that we are not in a safe place, if you don’t have a history to compare it to. You see where we are now, and it is all that you know. We have the right to marry and many states do have laws in place that prevent us from losing our job or house because of our identity. These few gains do not make us safe or equal with anyone else, but many of us have come to believe that where we are is enough for them. But the slope we are on is very slippery. We have seen this year that the current administration has banned transgender from joining the military. But yet, many of us still cling to the idea that we need to be like out counterparts and not stand out. For me it is too much like going back into the closet. I prefer the accept and celebrate what makes LGBTQ people different from our heteronormative counterparts.

The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California
The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California, U.S. June 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

All too often we put our support behind groups that do not always shave our best interests at heart. In the years of the 70s and 80s, many gays backed the Advocate as the only magazine that supported the causes we were fighting for. What was found out was more that they only fought for those of a more privileged position and many times tried to pacify who LGBT were. HRC would be another that followed the same path. HRC was big for pushing for the right to marry and once it was achieved hasn’t really went much further to push the boundaries. All too often they seem to cater to the right or just skirt the ideas of safety as not to offend anyone and draw too much attention. As recent as 2014 HRC was still supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which still gives more footing to “religious conscience” as a means for employers to discriminate against LGBTQ. All other LGBTQ groups, accept the Log Cabin Republicans, have pulled support for this Act. They are more concerned with offering praise to Republicans who on a few occasions stick their necks out, instead of supporting and pushing for more with the Democrats who have always lobbied for us.

It is left to the local radial LGBTQ groups to fight for our basic rights. These are the groups that are fighting how to cope with transgender violence, provide support for the homeless LGBTQ youth, and the inhumane judicial system. This is where the fights should be focused, however the larger groups aren’t there offering the support needed for them. This is history repeating itself. All of the strides we have made are from the small groups that became mobile and forward thinking. These were the ones that were of the people and understood that embracing what makes us different is why we should be fighting.

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Perhaps it is a time to rethink the LGBTQ movement and our priorities. Or is it that we need to call our leaders into check and make sure they are fighting for our best interests. Closer to the point is that we should be thinking of what is important to us and making that known to our leaders and those in our community. Going forward, will we continue to let me movement pass us by, or will we take hold and steer it where it should go.

 

Conversate on Conversion

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One of the things that causes me vexations is where I hear an LGBTQ person talk about how safe we are now. That we have achieved a sense of acceptance and that people are more welcoming of who we are. I am not discounting the progress we have made in the last 50 years, it is truly fantastic how far we have come from the lows we were at. Having to scuttle around in darkness and going to secret bars that were sketchy at best. Having to use code words to identify ourselves to others. It is truly a progressive time but remember that there are still plenty of people and things that we need to be know about. Our own administration is tirelessly working to remove the advances our forebears bled over.

As of January 2019, only 14 states, the District of Columbia, and a few municipalities have passed any form of legislation banning conversion therapy, so in 36 states conversion therapy camps are legal and used. Wait conversion therapy, isn’t that where you stop using one facial product for another? Or is that where you swing from one religion to another, like Madonna has done or even John Travolta? Who is John Travolta? Stated simply, conversion therapy “is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological or spiritual interventions.” According to a definition for WikiLeaks.

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The map shown here shows states that offer some form of Conversion Camp, granted it is a bit out of date, but it is still a rough idea. These camps are not regulated by any medical standard, nor are they regulated by the federal government. The means of treatment ranges in type. There are Mormon groups that attach electroshock devices to the genitalia of kids they are “treating” and force them to watch arousing imagery. Any time the react to homoerotic imagery they are given an electroshock as a means of deterrence.  Many other Christian groups used mental tactics as a form of treatment instead. Their statements say that they use psychological and spiritual intervention to cure you of these sinful ways. If you have watched the movie “Boy Erased” you see many of the types of procedures that are used. From body posturing that appears to be more masculine to blaming it on repressed anger towards family members or blaming familial problems.

There are still two prominent groups that practice conversions therapy in the United States, People Can Change and Desert Streams. According to Tufts Independent Data Journal, People Can Change hosts three “experimental weekends” for their treatments and are divided based on the “condition” of the person entering the program. The first two weeks are for “men who want to resolve unwanted homosexual attractions.” The two programs are called Journey into Manhood and the Journey Beyond. “Journey into Manhood is a two-day retreat that uses a variety of methods to help men prevent their same-sex attractions, and Journey Beyond is for those who have graduated from this program.” They combine journaling, safe healing touch, visualization, intense emotional release work, and group sharing as a means of riding you of the unwanted attractions. They work from the premise that all non-heterosexual men are actually heterosexual and just have been affected in some way to create this attraction to other men. The course is defined to identify and work to overcome “reprogram” the desires to reawaken the heterosexuality. They claim no religious backing and solely work with people who volunteer for their program at $650 a person.

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Desert Stream work on the premise of establishing support groups in churches They run six programs, but only three focus directly with Christians who are dealing is sexuality issues. The programs are called Falling Forward: Men Seeking Purity, Crosscurrent, and Living Waters. They advertise that they are designed for Christians that are struggling with “sexual and relational problems.” Their means of cure are described as “biblical wisdom, godly support, and the power of prayer.” If a church decided to start a group, Desert Stream provided training for the church to handle the issues.

These are only a couple of the MANY conversion therapy camps out there and appear, to the public, as the lightest in methods. I have known someone that is Mormon who underwent similar treatment and had been hooked up to an electroshock device. He was forced to sit in a room and watch images and if he had a reaction to any that were of a homoerotic nature, they would give him a shock. And to date, there is no substantial proof that any method of conversion therapy changes the sexual nature of a person. Often, as with recent media, those who underwent the therapy only lapse back into what they were originally. This can lead to depression of the individual and possible suicide. For a look into how it affected one person read this article “Went to church camp to ‘Pray the Gay Away'”  It is the experience of Thomas High going through a conversion therapy process.

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To keep in mind some of the horrors attributed to conversion therapy, let’s look at a few throughout the past few years. In 2009 the church Manifested Glory Ministries came under fire after posting a video to YouTube of a 16-year-old boy (seen above) undergoing an exorcism for being gay. They felt his condition was due to demonic possession and the video showed him writhing on the church floor as church members stood on his feet and hands to prevent him from moving. I have mentioned electroconvulsive therapy, but here is another event. Samuel Brinton grew up in rural Iowa as a gay boy. His family sent him to conversion therapy where they forced him to enter what was called the “Mouth of Hell.” Here they inserted tiny needles into his fingers and forced him to watch pictures of explicit acts between men and he would be electrocuted while viewing them. In June of 2011 in Hong Kong several companies hired a psychologist to give government sponsored training on conversion therapy. Some of the techniques prescribed were cold showers, prayer, and abstinence. Sure, when did forcing gay men not to have sex every cure them of being gay? Matthew Shurka underwent six years of conversion therapy and was subjected to a host of horrors, some of the more strange were not being allowed to see his mother and sisters as a means of curing the effeminate nature he had expressed. This did not work as he later went on to be the spokesperson for National Center for Lesbian Right’s anti-conversion therapy campaign. Even here closer to home Leelah Alcorn was forced onto Prozac and to attend conversion therapy churches to cure her of her transgender identity. This ultimately led to her death and for President Obama to stand up against conversion therapy. Then there are the groups like NARTH, National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, that still profess that homosexuality is a mental disorder. What’s even worse is when these treatments turn to sexual abuse, take Dr. Melvyn Iscove. In March 2018, while claiming that homosexuality was a disease that could be overcome it came to light that he was also engaging in sexual abuse of the patients he was supposed to be helping. Two male clients came forward to state that Iscove had engaged in inappropriate contact with them after they confessed of having homosexual thoughts.

Our current Vice President, Mike Pence is a staunch support of conversion therapy. Marc Lotter, a spokesman for the Vice President, said he was misinterpreted and never made any statement in support. However, looking at his record for anti-LGBTQ rights. Remember that while governor of Indiana he signed into legislation a bill that would allow any business to cite religious freedom as a means of refusing service to LGBTQ people. He also voted against employment non-discrimination against LGBTQ people. He has even publicly argued for federal funding of conversion therapy and the reassignment of federal dollars for HIV/AIDS research if they were to go to any group that celebrated or encouraged behaviors that lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

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There is no cure for LGBTQ people, no conversion camp can fix you because you are not broken. In most cases, conversion therapy does far more damage that it does in helping an individual. Minors, unfortunately, suffer far more in these cases. They are kicked out by the family and friends, forced to endure torture that constantly tells them they are wrong and if they start to buy into it suffer deep depression because they realize they still have the same desires. Just remember that you are perfect the way you are. It would do far better for our parents and people around us to go through education on what it means to be LGBTQ to gain a bit of understanding to who we are and how we are not that different. If you are a minor and are going through a situation in which you need help, please reach out for support. There are plenty of placed to turn to talk, contact www.TheTrevorProject.org. They have staff who understand and are sympathetic to what you are going through. Fellow Cleveland LGBTQ people, if you need help you can reach out to the lgbtcleveland.org, LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland for assistance. Also check out my resource page, there are sources you can turn to. If you need help, my email is gayinthecle@gmail.com. You have support, please reach out for assistance.

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Code Switching

You wake up tomorrow morning and make your way to the shower, as usual. You stand there as the hot water cascades over you melting away sleep and you begin to compose yourself for the day ahead. You start thinking about how you are going to interact with various people throughout the day and you start planning what words you will use with each person, carefully dodging specific words that may talk about your life outside of work. As you towel off, you start thinking about how you are going to dress. What shirt, pants and accessories you are going to wear, careful on the image they present to anyone who make take in your appearance. As you start to move through your day, you are overly cautious about your handshakes and meeting people’s eyes making sure you do not linger too long. After all, you don’t want them assuming something or passing a judgement on you. You may have a doctor’s appointment and even there you actively prepare what you are going to tell them, making sure you don’t say certain words about your personal life, so as not to be judged. At work you consciously alter your vocal patterns or how you stand so people don’t make an assumption or react negatively to you. Every thought, every action, and every reaction scrutinized to make sure you fit in. Unfortunately, this is something that many LGBTQ people face daily.

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Sure, there have been positive changes over the years. We have made strides in LGBTQ equality, but sadly the trickle down effect to small towns or small communities aren’t felt. Many of us are gripped with fears in many days to day things that most people take for granted. We have pockets of sanctuary where we can be ourselves, without recourse. One of the biggest fears many of us have is holding hands with our partner in public. That simple act of affection has been enough, in recent news, to get couples beaten almost to death. In May of this year, a couple in Denver was stabbed for holding hands. They were taunted with homophobic slurs and attacked within blocks of their house, simply for holding one another’s hand. The man who attacked him was arrested but the police were investigating the charges. January 1st of this year, four men attacked and beat a gay male couple for holding hands. The four men have not been arrested or charged.

Transgender people constantly deal with the fear of using public restrooms. The backlash of a simple choice can have far reaching implications. The general public feels that they will be some type of sexual predator. There has been no reported case of any cisgender person being attacked by a transgender person. Also, there have been no reports of cisgender men pretending or dressing as the opposite gender to prey on anyone. Unfortunately, many cisgender people have the belief that transgender people are pretending to be what they are to prey on someone. January 10, 2019 two cisgender women were arrested and charged with sexual assault of a transgender woman in a bar in Raleigh, NC. The transgender woman had entered the restroom to check her hair and makeup when the two women began taunting her. They asked her questions like “do you have a penis?” One of the women lifted her shirt and asked her if she wanted to see her boobs. All three had exited the bathroom but one of the cisgender women continued touching and groping her stomach and buttocks. A bartender noticed the situation and asked her to stop, but the woman continued to harass the transgender woman.

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Being LGBTQ

Many don’t also realize that coming out doesn’t end with LGBTQ people. It is a constant thing that has to be addressed and that causes intense social anxiety. You worry about how someone will react to you and what will the long-term effects be. You may come out at work but as staff changes you have to think about coming out again. More work places are being more inclusive but if it is not communicated effectively, it can create stress. Companies cannot force an employee to have a mindset and while they may not openly oppose you for being LGBTQ, they may make small outward remarks that can create a negative environment. But there is the opposite side of that coin. Working so closely with people many start to feel a comfort level that gives them some ability to think they can ask you intimate questions that they would not necessarily ask their own counterparts.

One of the questions I have been asked more times than I can count, when I was in a relationship, is who plays the role of the woman? First, it seems that it is beyond the concept of heteronormative people to understand that as a gay male I don’t have to fall into the trappings of what they would consider a “normal relationship.” LGB couples do not have to be a “male” or “female” gender role, we can be and are fluid in how we express our love. Or the ever popular, “doesn’t anal sex hurt?” And it never fails that it is usually a woman who asks me that question. My response if usually asking them if their first time hurt? It is odd how people often think we are some alien creature that does not experience the same feelings and emotions they do.  

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It is as if because we are LGBTQ, we do not fit some mold that is predetermined by Caucasian heteronormative society. And because of that we are here to be on display like a rare animal at a zoo exhibit. Allowed to be inspected, poked, and prodded for the amusement and benefit of those observing us. Questions like “how do two women have sex?” or “Will you be my gay best friend, I need someone to help me shop?” First, Ireally don’t think asking someone about their sexual proclivities is appropriate, unless you are very close to that person. Secondly, if you aren’t paying me to be your fashion consultant, I doubt that I will want to stand around countless shops helping pick out an outfit that you are hoping I will tell you is FABULOUS on you. More likely, I will give you an honest opinion about it and you will not like it.

I am not trying to say that LGBTQ people suffer more than any other minority. Hell, LGBTQ people of all colors also have to deal with the imperialist attitude of the heteronormative Caucasian culture. Yes, it can be easier for many of us to slide by because the dominant culture tends to make sweeping generalizations based on their perceptions but make no mistake once they detect that there is a difference from who they are it is like blood in the water. Black men have said they notice when they walk down a parking lot that Caucasian women will clutch their purse in fear. I have watched Caucasian women pull their children close when they see me and notice the rainbow flag I may be wearing or inclination in my vocal patterns as if Iam some predator waiting to swoop in on their children. I have been called a fucking cocksucker and even had heteronormative men tell me to my face they are okay with me being gay as long as I don’t hit on them.

So, we may present an air of confidence to the world and that we are untouched by the stigmas that surround the larger percentage, but the truth is there are many small interactions with people that still cause immense about of fear or tension on a daily basis. Many people, even among our own community, take that for granted. We often beat ourselves up for feeling these feelings. We shouldn’t have to feel them, but it doesn’t change who we are. There is a quote from RuPaul’s book GuRu that says, “Folks are going to talk shit about you anyway, so you might as well go ahead and do your own thing.” I think it fits here as well. We can’t bog ourselves down but the judgement, we must move forward and be our best selves because we cannot change everyone’s mind. Be authentic to yourself and many people will see that and force their own change of mindset.

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We Have To Stand

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Normally I plan out most of my posts. I trying to find a topic that interests me and hopefully interests others, do some research, pull some sources, and write a post. Or I will scroll through some Ted Talks for moments of inspirations. After all, the reason that I write is to help others remember out history and hopefully make a few others think and lead to action.  However, after the news yesterday of almost 14,000 of our transgender brothers and sisters losing their jobs thanks to this inane transgender ban bill, I just don’t seem to have it in me to post one of the posts I had written before.

The very roots of a military organization dates back to the beginning of mankind, in reality. We have always banded together to protect our homes and people. IT started as a common good to ensure our survival. We have seen it move through history to become mandatory at times and some cultures that had an elite group of men and women to protect the powers that be. Most people considered it an honor to serve and protect their country and that even carried over to America. The military forces we made here were by the very people who sweated and bled to make sure their homes survived. Native Americans considered their warriors with honor and became a bigger honor to serve as a warrior and not kill an enemy, instead they counted coup.

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We have witnessed many changes to our military, over the course of this Country’s life. We have seen the Draft implemented, witnessed troops who served for the greater good be spit upon and shamed, watched women be able to serve openly beside their male counterparts and even the allowing of 18 years old people to sign up to serve. These weren’t always met with quick acceptance. It took until 1976 for women to be accepted into military academy and it wasn’t until 2013 that women were allowed at West Point. I remember the news in the 80s and early 90s about how the largely male military viewed women serving in combat. The debates about how they were too emotional to be able to make effective decisions. Not strong enough to have the backs of the rest of their squad, company, or platoons. But time after time, women proved they were as strong and stronger than the men they served with and while the resistance to them serving hasn’t went away, it is more accepted now than before.

LGBT people have had a similar struggle in serving. Almost twenty-five years ago, February 2, 1994 DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) was started. It was implemented and sold as a means for LGB people to serve without repercussions, but in actuality it gave a means to persecution. The military prides itself on rules and regulations, predetermined means of what something is or isn’t. Unfortunately, what is or is not a “homosexual act” is always up for interpretations and the military had final say so on it. Many men and women were dishonorably discharged from service over being homosexual. DADT lasted almost twenty years, September 20, 2011, before it was repealed. Finally, we were able to serve openly and with less fears or recrimination, in theory.\

During the time of DADT, we heard similar arguments to what women were faced with during their early battles. We aren’t emotionally able to serve, who wants to serve with a “faggot” who is staring at my backside instead of protecting my back, and worse. These fears haven’t really been alleviated, only pushed to the back. Not transgendered people are going through the same struggles. Our own Commander in Chief thinks they are not mentally stable enough to serve in our military. However, mental capacity is not viewed of heteronormative soldiers when they join. Ok sure, you take tests before you are allowed to join. I remember them, hell I tried to join the military when I was younger as a means of hoping I could cure the urges I had for men. The military puts more focus on physical abilities than mental. I guess that is completely okay since they are heterosexual men and women.

Wednesday I posted a link about the transgender ban and how the DOD did an independent research with the group RAND s a cost benefit analysis of transgender men and women serving in the military. No discernible cost difference was seen if the military took on the costs of helping a soldier go through transition surgery. No detectable strain would be put on the military for having them serve alongside of other soldiers, as long as they are doing their duties. No more could be asked of any soldier. Hell, they have been doing it for years already and suffering right along with serving.

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Our military doesn’t have the numbers it used to have and turning away competent and volunteering people who want to serve and protect their country is stupidity. All they ask in return is to be able to serve as who they truly are, a request that is no different than their heteronormative counterparts. Somehow our current government sees them as a threat, a threat in civilian life and in military life. The weird part is we cower away from that, instead we should remember that the government SHOULD fear its people. We have forgotten that we are part of the check and balances system. Too many of us live in the fear of the majority. Fear of the government, fear of their mindless followers/supporters. We watch violence played out against us daily, all minorities. If we want advancement and inclusion, we need to stop asking for scraps and fight for our place at the table.

We have got to stop watching from the sidelines. We have to move against those that would subdue us. We HAVE to come together as one body and voice. Division in our ranks isn’t helping us, we see what its doing but we just don’t seem to process it. Look around you and what is going on and make your voice heard. You are mistaken if you think the larger percentage views us as equal. Just because we have a larger presence on television and, for now, the right to marry doesn’t make us equal with the heteronormative society. We are still a part of their sideshow. Advocates or not, they will not make the change easily. We have to be there on the front lines. We have to get back to our roots of activism. To paraphrase a comic book, “We have to stand.”

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Softly Echoes The Sounds Of Goose Stepping

“We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them.”

This quote from George Orwell’s 1984 is almost a good example of where we are living, at this moment. The very process of ensuring that someone cannot oppose you is making sure that they think the same way as you. If they are as you, in mind, body, and thought, then they cannot be your enemy. It has been passed into law that on January 22, 2019 that the government can now ban transgender men and women from serving in the military. This bill goes into detail saying that if you are diagnosed with gender dysphoria you will not be allowed to serve with limited exceptions. Individuals who are not diagnosed with this condition may serve, as long as they do so by the sex assigned to them at birth. It is a way of saying that the only sexual identity that matters is the one assigned to you at birth.

Before we jump into this, lets level the playing field and define some terms so that all of us are on level playing fields. Gender dysphoria, in simplified terms, is the conflict of one’s gender they were assigned with and the one they internally identify with. Gender nonconformity is defined as the degree to which an individual’s appearance, behavior, interests, and subjective self-concept deviate from the conventions of masculine and femininity norms. Gender dysphoria is treated with surgery reassignment, in most cases. Whereas in gender nonconformity can be modes of dress and mannerisms, such as men wearing makeup and style utilizing a masculine mode of dress.

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The Pentagon and the Supreme Court are using similar arguments that the military is charged with keeping the most effective and lethal fighting force and that somehow allowing transgender to serve will hinder that directive. However, an eighteen-year-old is perfectly fine with being an effective lethal fighting force. I was under the impression that the military was charged with ensuring the training each recruit received was supposed to turn them into an effective and lethal fighting force. It would be understood that the training in question would be able to teach anyone these same skills. Though, it wasn’t that long ago that a similar argument was used about women in the military.

Trump was quoted, in a CNN Politics article titled SCOTUS transgender Ban , “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” VHA benefits do not cover the cost of any reassignment surgery and any VA facility is specifically banned from performing the surgery. This alone would limit the ability, in most cases, for the surgery to take place during active duty. Leaving those with gender dysphoria to be able to serve openly as their gender identity. How does this take away from any training they undergo? In an article from the AMA Journal of Ethics, it had been argued that the reassignment surgery was a medical necessity for those troops who are affected By gender dysphoria.

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I get it, when you join the military you sign away your free will, for the most part. You are told what to do and what to think. From the time you sign your name on the contract you become property of the United States Military. You are taught methodologies, you are drilled in to reactions for given situations, and you constantly practice/drill until you know how to react to most given situations. The uniforms are as neutral as they can possibly be, so as not to distract you from how you are supposed to act. They are designed with effectiveness to hide you in most terrains. But in the end, you are a person who believes that you are fighting for the rights of you, your loved ones, and this very country.

The military has progressed, albeit sluggishly, in moving forward with the times. At one point only Caucasians were allowed to serve and then minorities like Native Americans and African Americans were allowed to serve. As wars unfolded and alliances changed, we even allowed those that were once considered enemies to be a part of our country and serve with pride. Women were not allowed to serve, then brought in as support personnel before finally being given the freedom to serve along their male counterparts.  And, mostly, women are seen as equal with the abilities to be as lethal and effective in combat as men. So why is this struggle any different?

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As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, the government was only denying those who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria to serve, but if you were not diagnosed with gender dysphoria and agreed to serve as the gender you were assigned, then there is no issue. This doesn’t leave any grey area. You can identify as transgender, but you must concede in living as the gender you were assigned and not actively seek to follow treatments with hormones or surgery. Even gender nonconformists would not be able to serve in a fashion that aligned with their identity, as they would not be able to wear garments of the opposite sex.

This ruling only goes to solidify that in all the advances forward LGBTQ people are still seen as a mental or genetic illness that can be cured. Our very existence is not quantifiable as reality to a large percentage of people. Many of us live in the false reality that times are better and we are widely more accepted. I would argue that we may be more visible, but the hatred is still there only reshaped by the environment. We have only landed and not advanced on the beachhead, the bullets are flying because we are seen by those who wish to subdue us. I leave you with two quotes by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr that are very relevant to this day and age.

 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

 

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The Strongest Magic

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One can argue for or against the usage of labels, but they do serve a purpose. Often times those labels become convoluted and limiting. There are labels that people use to describe types of people that are damaging and breed internalized hatred, knowingly or not. There are labels that are used to describe how a person is or may be based on the label they are using. “Of course he is a snappy dressing, he is gay, after all.” “All black men are criminals, look at the prisons.” “Sure she is a lesbian, but it is only because she hasn’t had the right man.” These are only a few, but you can see how damaging they are in their contexts.

Personally, I cringe reading profiles online; they are appalling, at best. “38 yr. old straight acting gay male, physically fit, hung top seeking straight acting fit, bubble butt bottom.” Sound familiar? We have all seen it. “Masculine male seeks same for true love. No femmes, fats, or blacks,” Or the better “28 yr. old gay male but doesn’t act it. Seeks passable CD for DL fun.” You can’t make this stuff up and it is far too common. Why do people use these kinds of labels? Firstly, they are rarely attainable and again it is just an expression of the internalized hatred that many of us carry.

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Ok I get it; we all have types so we use these labels as a means of expressing to others what type we are looking for in a mate. That works great if you are saying you like men with, short blonde hair, green eyes, average groomed body hair, who is loving and honest.  Those are labels that would qualify as a type. When we use terms such as straight acting, masculine, femme, lady boy, or any of the other variations what we are really using are terms that are limiting and judgmental. Many of the labels we have adopted are from idealized patterns of what we know. To say you want someone masculine tends to stem from growing up hearing how feminine or girly a gay man may be and it creates a stigma that we attribute as being bad. We don’t want to be judged with those same standards so we internalize it to change how we act and what we should be attracted to.

I am also a realist; I fully acknowledge that getting rid of labels is as bad as using antiquated ones. There has to be a happy medium. Daily LGBTQ people are being persecuted for our differences. Around 17% of the murders committed this year have been towards African American transgender women. All of us, more than likely, were raised in families or communities that ingrained into us that gay is bad and heterosexuality is the default choice. Its the same society that teaches that “white is right” and that men have the power. Remember that it wasn’t until fairly recently that gay was used to describe queer culture, it was activist Frank Kameny that reclaimed it by the slogan “Gay is Good.” So labels are important for being able to understand difference in the human condition. They are needed but it’s the knife’s edge, one day they will be used against us. Its a fact we cannot change and done we cannot ignore.

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We are now in a society that has the ‘knee jerk’ mentality. We are quick to judge and even quicker to say we are being judged. It is hard to trust anyone who claims to be “on our side” because we question the motives as to why they are helping us. The #METOO movement is a good example, it is a venue for allowing women, and men, to stand up and say they have been abused and have their voices be heard. It has also created a counter response where a lot of white men are standing us and claiming to be the “good guy” so that women shouldn’t fear them. Pitting people against one another. This administration is toxic, at best. We are watching as legislature that was passed is trying to be undone or circumvented. We have a leader who is known for racist mentality and even condones it. This has lead to increase hate crime attacks of all minorities. Transphobia is on the rise, as well as their murder rate.

It is not just the fault of the person that uses the label, but also of the one who reacts to the label. The same internalizations that may cause someone to use those labels could be the same ones that makes a person react negatively to hearing them. In many cases, they pain those words cause can be debilitating to a person, inciting rage over those who appear to be that type or fear and shutting down by those who are being labeled by it. All because of the environment we are raised in.

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It’s no secret why ancient cultures have spells, prayers, and songs to their deities, they knew that words have power, they are magic. Words can affect people and situations to any outcome. That is why I mentioned Frank Kameny coining the term gay to be used as a definition for homosexual people. Until that point it had no bearing on our culture or who we are his slogan “Gay is Good” changed how that word was to be related forever. I remember growing up that using the term gay was bad, as it referred to “those” people. This is the kind of magic that words can have.

I don’t expect you to stop using labels, it just won’t happen. It is not how humans are hardwired we need definitions. What I hope is that you will start to question why you use labels that you do. I would hope that you understand is why you choose the words that you do. Don’t let the labels define who you are and how you view the world. Don’t let them limit your experiencing of life. Consider how they make others feel and react when they are used. After all, words are the strongest magic.

 

Obscenity To Follow

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The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This has caused a lot of tension for the content filtering that Tumblr has stated that it will start enforcing. So what allows that and is it constitutional or fair?

Going further to explain what Freedom of Speech is covered; let’s look at a further definition. Simply put, this Amendment gives us the right to express ourselves without fear of government regulation or interference, but it can regulate speech that may breach the peace and often times obscenity is placed into this category. Obscenity has been a hot button for many years over what it does or does not cover and it is not covered under the First Amendment. The Government defines obscenity as lewd, filthy, and disgusting words or pictures. However, indecent materials including depictions and words are covered under the First Amendment, but they are allowed in a more restricted sense.

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Defining what is or isn’t obscenity or indecent isn’t as black and white and there are two court cases that are big for determining the difference. The first being United States v. One Book Entitled Ulysses, which states that if a work is to be deemed obscene it must be decided on its entirety and not just its parts. This gives a wide berth for anything written, as it must be judged in its whole context. One chapter describing particularly graphic scenes cannot make the whole work obscene. The second case is Miller v. California, which gives a bit more definition. The webpage Legal Information Institute states “The Miller test for obscenity includes the following criteria: (1) whether ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would find that the work, ‘taken as a whole,’ appeals to ‘prurient interest’ (2) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (3) whether the work, ‘taken as a whole,’ lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” The Miller v. California case allows states to have more control in determining what obscene is and how it applies to a larger level.

Both of these cases were ruled on prior to 1997 and it was at this time more rulings started to surface to try to prevent specific types of content. Reno v. ACLU tried to implement laws to protect children in the new digital media being shared online, which tried to change the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Supreme Court felt it was overly broad in its handing. In 1998 COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) was put into place and allowed laws to be put into place to protect minors from viewing of obscene images online. Later COPPA was found to also be overly broad in its ban of online adult transmissions of material and that it violated the Miller v. California test. As of 2009, no new legislature has been set forth to define obscenity any different.

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Unfortunately, that leaves it to State level to make the necessary decisions over what is or isn’t not considered obscene. These rulings are what has caused age restrictions to be put into place view the purchasing and viewing of adult content. And many times will allow a heavy-handed approach it what is considered able to fall under being prohibited. These same rulings are what allows websites, like Tumblr, to create Terms of Service agreements about how those images are handled. It is also the same rulings that allow the censoring of artists, photographers, and writers, people like Robert Mapplethorpe, David Wojnarowicz, or Gio Black Peter.  As the old saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

These same rulings are also used to limit topics of education in schools. Utah, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, South Carolina, Arizona and Texas are the states that allow their schools to censor or prohibit LGBTQ topics from being taught in what is called the “no promo homo” laws. This includes denying support groups such as the Gay and Straight alliance that helps students who are LGBTQ or supporters a means to feel safe, all the way down to Oklahoma that mandates that when the schools are teaching AIDS education that it includes that participating in homosexual events is the leading cause to contracting the AIDS virus. Arizona does not allow any curriculum that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle,” which the state is allowed to decide upon. When state levels of government are allowed to teach that homosexuality is considered obscene at a young age, it makes it much easier to deem images in art equally as obscene.

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The argument of Freedom of Speech ties a lot to age limit. In 1970, the Constitution was amended to change the voting age from 21 to 18. This gives the right of every American citizen to make decisions and vote on laws and those who enforce them once they reach the age of 18. This is also the age that is considered to be able to purchase adult content, whether online, in adult stores, or etc. So your right to expression is also allowed at that age and the Government should not be allowed to infringe on that right. As long as the participants of adult related content are consenting adults at least 18 years of age, do not hurt or put anyone in harm, then it should not be held to such strict standards. I left out violating any State or Federal laws, as this opens it back up to the States being able to deem something obscene.

Tumblr has used many reasons to explain their new stance on adult related content and how they will handle it. Any have focused on how there was an increase of child pornography on their sites that lead to their new heavier algorithms for banning the content. These algorithms are not perfect and many times are subject to controversy due to images the have flagged as to explicit. Many artistic images were tagged and removed. Many sites just vanished for the same reason. Transgender blogs that helped others by showing procedural images were caught up in these same heavy-handed approaches. It became a place where information could be shares in real time and show effects of treatments on people’s bodies so others had a reference point. Those sites that are important to many of the transgender community will more than likely disappear, as Tumblr’s ban goes into effect.

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It was also a venue for many LGBTQ artists to showcase their art, whether it be photography, painting, digital media, or however they expressed their talent. When their algorithms are searching for real life human genitalia, females showing nipples, or any content depicting sex acts, all the while encouraging users to actively flag and report anything they deem inappropriate, it is easy to see how this media is disappearing. They recently issued a response to the ban that said they would allow female nudity in aspects of breastfeeding, birth and health related situation, or mastectomy or gender confirmation pictures. They also clarified to say that nudity found in art would be permitted, but the extent of what is allowed is still left up to their decision and user interaction.

Your freedoms are always held in check by those who feel infringed upon or when States make changes to existing laws based on pressure. Sure sites like Tumblr and Facebook are allowed to make their own Terms of Service and we all agree to them blindly without reading fully what may be covered. Standards should be kept in place, but sweeping censoring based on broadly penned wording needs to change. Changing your standards based on pressure from outside sources should be resisted if no hard is being committed. Sadly, we won’t see that and many more sites may be going the way of Tumblr. Our voices may be the only thing that will shape futures of our online content.

**The views expressed in this post are my own and may not be held by any referenced party listed in this blog. **

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