Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Readings on Ferguson, Gender and Queer Black Activism

A few readings from around the web on police violence and the intersection of race, gender, and gender identity in the wake of the Ferguson decision:

Black Girl Dangerous: Who's Lives Matter?: Trans Women of Color and Police Violence (By Princess Harmony Rodriguez)
"We are often reminded, however, that what are normal occurrences for the general public, are crimes for trans people of color. “Crimes” that make us targets of police and police violence. Trans women of color are stopped, harassed, assaulted and murdered by police with impunity. The conversation about police violence must include us, because our bodies, too, lay dead at their hands."

"It is appropriate and necessary for us to acknowledge the critical role that Black lives and struggles for Black liberation have played in inspiring and anchoring, through practice and theory, social movements for the liberation of all people.  The women’s movement, the Chicano liberation movement, queer movements, and many more have adopted the strategies, tactics and theory of the Black liberation movement.  And if we are committed to a world where all lives matter, we are called to support the very movement that inspired and activated so many more.  That means supporting and acknowledging Black lives."

The Audre Lorde Project: Statement: Wake Up, Rise Up
"The murders of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley and Eric Garner prove that Black lives are seen as dangerous and expendable. For those of us that are Queer, Trans, Black and People of Color, our bodies, our gender expression and who we love puts us further away from the "norms" and has falsely perceived us as the most threatening, less than human, and even more dangerous of all bodies."

Further reading on Ferguson and gender:
A collection of pieces by Black feminist writers, scholars, educators, and activists.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Queer Obsession: Why I Love Women's Soccer

Earlier this week, the U.S. women’s soccer team was in Washington, DC to play Haiti in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament. My partner and I and several friends were there - with our two collective babies in tow. Next summer, my wife and I hope to fulfill a several years-long dream of attending a women’s World Cup in person. Since Canada is the 2015 host, we’re planning a soccer-crazed road trip to Montreal. 

If you cared, I could probably name for you every player in the U.S. women’s national team pool right now. I could tell you where most of them played in college, where all of them play professionally, and I could probably ballpark their individual stats (national team appearances, international goals, yellow cards, goalkeeper shutouts, height, typical cleat color… you get the picture…). My wife and I have season tickets to the Washington Spirit, DC’s pro women’s soccer team, which plays in the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League). During the spring and summer, going to the Spirit home games is one of the highlights of our week. When they play an away game, we watch them streamed live on Youtube - grainy, jumpy, unreliable feeds with terrible announcing (this past season, among other things, we suffered through one announcer going on for what felt like days about the weather in Nebraska. There’s no NWSL team in Nebraska, just FYI.). Still, we watch every game. We took our then three-week-old baby to the Spirit’s last home game in August. When they made the semifinals, the game was played in Seattle and didn’t begin on the east coast until 11:00pm. Due to newborn-induced sleep deprivation, I fell asleep before kick-off and couldn’t be roused to watch (my wife tried twice), but loyal fan that she is, my spouse stayed up for the whole game (they lost to the regular season champs), watching on our computer in bed. All summer, I took part in an online NWSL fantasy league and finished 182nd out of some 1,500-plus other soccer-crazed folks. The fantasy league ran a special playoffs challenge at the end of the season in which I tied for 18th place out of 445 participants.

I wasn’t always this kind of sports fan. I’ve always been involved in athletics and have always enjoyed watching pro sports, but I’ve never been the kind of fan who buys season tickets, amasses encyclopedic knowledge of favorite players, or drives hours out of the way to see a game. With most other sports teams I follow, owning a t-shirt or a baseball hat with the team logo on it and catching a couple of live games per year more than satisfies me. 

So what makes this so different? One thing is that it’s not just the sport itself. I love watching soccer in general, but I really love being at NWSL games. Player stereotypes aside (though there are several out queer female pro players in addition to a handful of others who are not explicitly out, but still readily recognizable to those of us looking for them), women’s soccer has a tremendous queer - and specifically, queer female - following, that really shapes the fan environment at games. The atmosphere at NWSL games and U.S. women’s games is different from other pro sporting events. Where else do you go to a pro game and see giant rainbow flags draped over the bleachers? Where in pro men's sports do you see a critical mass of visibly queer folks all around you - on the field, on the team staffs, and in the stands? The games feel celebratory and inclusive in ways that men's sports do not - often for both players and fans.

Professional sporting events are not always the most welcoming environments for female people and/or queer and trans people. Any of us could probably come up with dozens of examples of sexist, homophobic, and transphobic men's sports experiences, but one case in point - I play on a women’s recreational ice hockey team and a few years back, we sold programs at a Washington Capitals NHL game to raise some money for our club. My teammate sold a program to one lady who upon hearing that the funds were supporting our team said, “Women’s hockey? You have got to be kidding me.” She asked for her five dollars back and huffed off. Here we were at a hockey game, working our tails off and hopefully raising a little bit of money in large part to grow the sport of hockey, and this person not only didn’t like that idea, but was so offended by the thought of a women’s hockey team that she decided not to buy a program she otherwise would have. I was pretty taken aback by it, but I think that episode says a lot about the attitudes towards gender that folks commonly encounter at men’s sporting events. Being a male athlete in our culture so frequently becomes about embodying the quintessential elements of conventional masculinity - mental toughness, bravery, aggression, and showing physical strength. Being a female in the male sports environment revolves largely around being a spectator (or “eye candy”). 

The dynamics at women’s sporting events offer a refreshing change from the toxicity that can accompany men’s sports. It’s not that female athletes are all actively challenging the gender binary, proclaiming themselves feminists, and coming out as queer (most are not), but being a pro female athlete in our culture is still subversive by its very nature because it turns the traditional relationship between sports and notions of masculinity and femininity on its head. This is exciting, and also important work, especially as teams deal with the prospect of next year's women's World Cup being played on artificial turf rather than natural grass (no men's World Cup game has ever been - nor, I suspect, ever will be - played on turf. A number of high-profile international female players are suing FIFA for sex discrimination over this issue - read here for more). I also think this dynamic, in addition to a love of soccer, is what has fueled my addiction to the women’s game over the past many years, and my excitement for the future of the sport. 

The world cup qualifying tournament for North and Central America and the Caribbean continues with two semifinal matches this Friday, October 24 (Fox Sports 1). The final, in which the U.S. is likely to play will be Sunday, October 26 at 6pm (also Fox Sports 1). And just FYI, 2015 season tickets for most NWSL teams are already available… 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Queering Taylor Hanson

It's finally spring (or almost spring, if you're among our long-suffering Upper Midwestern kin).  The days are longer, the air is warmer. People are starting to regain that sense of carefree hopefulness buoyed by the fresh air. It's a season perfectly suited to putting all of your favorite bubblegum pop songs at the top of the playlist and blissing out in the sunshine. And on that note, I have a confession to make. I am, and have long been, a Hanson fan. Many people in my life already know, and even embrace, this fact.  Others may have come into this information at some point prior, and depending on personality, filed it away in one of three mental folders: "Things I Wish I Had Not Learned," "Things I Will Not Speak of In Order to Spare My Friend Shame," and "Ways to Shame Friends." In my case, the potential for shaming is quite extensive given that I can't excuse my love for this band as a phase I merely passed through in junior high. Nope. I still listen to them. I went to my first Hanson show not in 1997, but in 2007. I own post-MMMBop Hanson albums that most people probably don't know were ever made (you should really check out their third album, P.S...).

At times I have kept my Hanson love deeply closeted, due to obvious fear of social stigma.  Still, it comes up from time to time, and the more it's come up over the years, the more I have discovered the extent to which a vast number of genderqueer folks, lesbians and trans guys of my generation share this obsession.  I won't name names (apologies to those who are found guilty by association.  Feel free to unfriend me on Facebook. Save yourselves. I'll understand), but it's uncanny - almost person to person, folks I know across the transmasculine spectrum who are around my same age are Hanson fans.

Why is this, you might ask?  It's possible us genderqueer/lesbian/trans dudes just have a super heightened appreciation of stupidly catchy hooks and three-part harmony. But I think it's because we secretly identify deeply with one Mr. Taylor Hanson.  How could we not?  When he and his brothers first hit it big, his high-pitched voice and long hair made everyone think he was a girl. Unlike elsewhere in the U.S., Hanson was not in vogue at all among my junior high classmates and Taylor's androgyny was one of the reasons.  Taylor Hanson brought out the best in sullen teenage America's homophobia and transphobia. But girlish as he may have been, Taylor's tomboyish streak, arguably queer masculinity, and overall gender ambiguity mesmerized me.

After MMMBop, Hanson largely faded from the mainstream. Taylor is still down in Oklahoma somewhere with a wife and a bajillion kids and counting.  I'm pretty sure he's a conservative and/or some kind of born-again Christian.  But for a while in 1997, he performed a lovely kind of gender non-conformity in the public eye, without flinching, and for that, I suspect, he has forever endeared himself to lesbians and genderqueers the world over.                 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Invisible Queer Gets Carded at the Casino

The adventures of the invisible genderqueer continue! This weekend I went out to Delaware to play a hockey game.  Afterwards, some of my teammates wanted to grab a beer and some food before heading back to DC.  A guy at the rink told us the only place around to get drinks was the sports bar in the casino around the corner, so around to the casino we went. 

With my jeans, t-shirt, faded sneakers and hot-mess-post-hockey hair, I thought I was coming across pretty much dyke, though I have no doubt that in rural Delaware, I was looking more disheveled teenage boy.  Obviously, you have to be 21 to enter a casino.  I'm sure you can imagine what happened next.  We had to walk through the casino itself to get to the bar.  As soon as we walked in and I saw the ID check lady look me up and down and then throw me the stink eye, I knew I was likely in for a hassle.  She went straight for me and said "You look pretty young, let me see that ID."  As I was getting out my wallet, she continued, half like she was trying to joke with me and half like she was irritated, "You look like a kid walking in here."  I handed her my driver's license.  She looked back up at me with a skeptical look on her face and shook her head.  She either didn't notice the fact that my driver's license says "female" or did not seem to draw any obvious conclusions from that fact.

"You don't look that old." She said flatly.

A lot of folks might take something like that as a compliment, but in this case it came across more like an accusation.  What was I supposed to say?  I shrugged and took back my ID as she reluctantly waved me in.  It didn't become a real issue - clearly, she let me through - but what if she hadn't?  I suppose I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.  And then rant about it on my handy gender blog.

Where will Invisible Queer go next? Who knows, but I do have a work conference coming up next month.  Maybe someone will mistake me for my colleague's son or Justin Bieber's union organizer alter ego again.  Won't that be fun.