May 2006


I’m trying to get back into a regular schedule here…some personal life busy-ness, getting addicted to World of Warcraft, and general post-school year brain shut down conspired to make me quiet.

The problem is that i have about 7 different posts in my head, and all of them are essays. No snarky open letters, quick links, or pithy one liners are currently available.

Well, in lieu of an actual post tonight, i’ll post my writing outline so i remember to actually come back and write these suckers.

  • Rape culture and the prison system, the myth and reality of “Pound Me in the Ass Prison” and the ethics of punishment.
  • “Here I Stand, I Can Be No Other,” a piece on Protestant idenity and the theological resources available to post-moderns
  • Enter/racial relations, and the chaotics of “ontological realities.” My mind’s not quite all around it yet, but before i’m done, i want to get from entropy to loving in a racialized America, and back to the erotics of uncertainty. This one might be brilliant, or (more likely) will never see the light of day.
  • “Does responsibility have weight when the one responsible has nothing?” Some musings on the semantics of agency based on a bitch’s quote.
  • Flirting, relationships, and defining comitment that rejects ownership.

See? I should be pecking away right now. I have plenty to write about. But i’m just sitting here, listening to Romantica instead.

Go figure.

-sly

I hope by now, y’all have heard the story of CBS employee Ryan Smith being gay-bashed in St. Maarten. The CBS bit being important, as in, you’ve heard of this incident and not others.

I shouldn’t have say, it’s more than a little fucked up to have someone place a tire iron into one’s head because you hugged a man at a bar. But the response in queer communities here in the States…is to say the least troubling. The first concern that gets voiced, in this article and in my survey of other reactions, is….wait for it:

That other American tourist gays might be stopping there in the future, when they ought to be boycotting.

We need to insist that if the island is going to welcome visitors, they must have some sort of a police force that will answer their phone if they are called with an emergency. Attacks on gay people happen everywhere, and they will happen again. But you would like to think that if a place is being marketed as a gay-friendly destination, the police would be ready to handle these problems when they arise.

It just bugs the hell out of me to see someone point out a legitimate concern for the safety of queer persons in a homophobic society, and then completely elide the fact that queer people live there. The worst kind of tourist is the one who assumes that the place they visit exists for them. Witness the recent purchase of Nambia as a large maternity suite by Brangelina. Ryan didn’t deserve to have his skull bashed in. Nobody does. But that doesn’t preclude me from noting that the kind of attitude being displayed here looks pretty frankly like a racist demand for the safety of white, American queers over and against the condition of queers who, you know…can’t leave the danger of homophobia when their employer airlifts them to safety.

Instead of lecturing the governments of the islands on how they need to behave in order to get our precious tourist money, maybe try thinking of ways to ally with Caribbean queers who are seeking their own liberation, and start doing the desperately necessary anti-racist work in our own communities so that anti-colonialist rhetoric doesn’t find resonance with homophobia.

If I was queasy reading the article, the comments sealed it for me. A selection, without further comment.

What’s equally enraging is that these Dutch controlled islands seem to be completely at odds with the rest of Dutch society. Time to send in some new provincial Governers I think.

[I]t’s long been known that the Caribbean is generally quite hostile to gay people. The islands are poor, with tourism often being the main industry, which creates dependence and resentment. Combine the economic issues with the conservative cultural tenor of many of the islands, and you get hate crimes against gay tourists. Fundamentalist religion is strong on many Caribbean islands, with Jamaicans being particularly god-crazed, worshipping everything from Jesus to dead Ethiopian emperors. Many islanders see us as rich, decadent, godless, and immoral. But as dangerous as this situation can be for gay foreigners, it’s far far worse for gay islanders who have to live in these backward societies.

The question is one of the most interesting semantic functions I know of. Easily used for a wide range of functions, the question can establish fact, authority, doubt, truth, narrative, and position all with out breaking a linguistic sweat. The leading question implies, the open ended question creates space, the hostile question sets tone.

But one of the things that I think needs more attention is the way that questions shape and transmit power. To wit, a short story.

The Survivor

I met her some years ago. Fewer than I’d care to admit, as you’ll see shortly, I am not a sympathetic character in this tale. I knew from before I met her officially that she had been assaulted recently. I don’t recall quite how the subject came up, but I tend to think that knowing myself, I had helped lead things in that direction. If nothing else, I’m a curious type. She told me the entire story, stopping very little. I had shut down in to dumb silence. I’m thinking about it now…and I’ve got a half-queasy feeling of anger and powerlessness. She slowed, and then stopped. Silence. “Well, say something!” Her tone was sharp. I don’t blame her for that…she had put herself out there and made herself extremely vunerable, and had no idea of if i was reacting in a helpful way or if she needed to close off and protect herself. I started asking questions. Had she reported it? No. She knew who he was? Yes, a friend of a friend. If you don’t, couldn’t he do this to someone else? He already had. The limitations haven’t run out…you can still file, you know? She backed away.

The problem wasn’t that my questions were dumb, though they were. The problem is the power that asking a question can exert. Like questions that background and elide the assumption that legal means are the acceptable means of responding to an aquaintance rape. Like questions that have everything to do with the questioner’s need to pattern and structure an unfamiliar experience, and nothing to do with centering and respecting the other person.

A few years after that, I was at a ministry conference. The homophobia was running high, and we had a panel on “Barriers To Ministry.” One young woman asked a question about queer ordination. The “ally” who was leading asked back: “What denomination are you?” She had said nothing about being queer herself, or in any way indicated that she wanted personal advice. She wanted to bring attention to the fact that there was a major “Barrier To Ministry” at a time when the lack of trained clergy was being bemoaned.

That night, a few of us clung to each other at the healing service…a handful of queers in unsafe space. Outed in such an enviroment, this woman had been betrayed by a question. Questions create gaze. They structure who is looking, analyzying, evaluating….and who is examined, critiqued, and objectified. For those of us who have grown up with priviledge, we are trained to ask. We expect answers. We believe other people will tell us things that we need to know. We have come to assume that our questions are relevant, interesting, pertinent, and helpful. We are addicted to our gaze, our way of looking from power. The question gives shape to that demand and presumption.

The point of this isn’t an indictment of curiousity. It is a cautionary tale about being in control and awareness of where that is leading. Coupled with priviledge, the question becomes interrogation, the expression of power through a demand posed as a question. I had no idea what it meant to consider and chose how to respond and protect oneself after a sexual assault. The questions I asked didn’t seek that knowledge. They sought the impression of order over my unease. The panelist didn’t have a clue about what it meant to seek ordination as a queer person. The question she asked didn’t answer that for her. It ended the conversation.

I can’t say what the magic words are, or what should be said instead of a question. Maybe the right thing is a different question. I have no idea, to this day, what I should have said. But what I have come to see is the way in which my (and many other people’s) response to sexual assault is immediatly evaluatory. The whole trope of “credibility” and fitting the “pattern” of how people react to sexual violence is witness to this trend. The combination of ignorance and priviledge mixes in the questions we find ourselves asking. They undermine the personhood of the people we ask them about. We use questions to elide that we are making assumptions and judgments about how a person “ought” to respond to rape.

I hope that I am learning to change my questions. I hope that I am not learning to be silent. I hope that my questions interrogate my own power more than than the choices of others. I yearn for questions that demand a response from the institutions that have been complicit with sexual silence. More than anything, I want the question that underlies all my other questions to be:

When can I, when can we, end sexual violence?

I was really hoping to slide by without a real post for a while, but since my piece didn’t get picked up for Carnival of the Liberals (you should still really go see the stuff that did make it…), I actually have to write.

Damn.

Last couple days have been very hectic in a brainless sort of way (i’m writing this in two minute chunks as i do stuff around the house)…but i actually had some downtime this morning, and so as is my custom in waiting rooms, i read some po-co theory.

I’m working (very slowly) through Bhabha’s location of culture, as the blog title and nom de plume might suggest. And i’m trying to figure out my relationship with sly civility, especially as it relates to the culture of Yale Divinity. How much to I invest myself as a person who identifies with that school? In opposition to it?

There aren’t easy answers to this, obviously. But my thoughts so far. One of the things that underlies colonial (broadly defined) discourses is a narcissistic demand for love. As BelleDame discusses here (the comments are interesting, too), one of the ways that patriarchy expresses itself is by the unconditionality of affection which it idealizes in mothers and wives. I still register complaint on the term “mama’s boy” as used in the comments, as the production of the male demand for affection isn’t about bad/over/under loving a son by the mother, but the entire frame of cultural discourse. But I think this is overall, very accurate. The English/European?Western demands not just an obedient subject, but a grateful one as well. It is not enough that the Dobsons of the world insist that we be straight, we must affirm their vision of America as well. Bhabha puts it thus:

The Authoritarian demand can now only be justified if it is contain in the language of paranoia. The refusal to return and restore the image of authority to the eye of power has to be reinscribed as implacable aggression…coming from without: He hates me. …The frustrated wish ‘I want him to love me.’ turns into its opposite ‘I hate him’ and this through projection and the exclusion of the first person, ‘He hates me.’ (Location of Culture. 141)

What does this mean for a Yalie? The institution, like all others, relies continual assent, affirmation, and legitimization. To be opaque to the institution, to be in someway unreadable or resistant to its gaze, is to have the delusion of love go sour, as the selection describes.

Yet this is precisely what I’m planning on. YDS has a lot of institutional choices in front of it. Admissions, faculty selection, communication and decision making…all are up for grabs, and all of them have a say in how this school is structured. The problem is that I, and other students, have a different truth than the school does. The cultural momentum of YDS is the use of a certain language; of function and signification. Power is structured and expressed within that language. For instance, use of gender inclusive language is a “sign” of being in the progressive wing of the school. Using “he” and “him” marks you as participating in the conservative wing. Because gender inclusive terms are mandated, attendance of chapel services is usually self-restricted to mainline/liberal types. We had a service a while ago, blogged by the sponsoring prof here, that raised questions for me.

Using the litany of “male and female” from Genesis, the students who wrote the service affirmed sexuality as part of Creation. As is true of most Marquand services, it was reflective of (and included participation of) queer persons. But all of this is cis-gendered and binary.

So when I say to this school, that I had a problem with that worship service, and that it made me profoundly uncomfortable…they don’t much know what to do with that. Opposing “gender inclusive language” is a conservative trait. Because the school is “progressive” there is no legitimate “left” left after the school makes it’s stance.

I’ve removed the middle term of the equation, where YDS makes it’s definitional authority known, and sets the terms of debate. I give my unqualified answer to the questions of this instution, but without the “syntagmatic supports, codes, connotations, and cultural supports” there is a profound gap of meaning. The disorder of my speech is risky, and the chaotic nature of cultural negotiation may mean that the school will reassert it’s defintional authority over my words despite resistance, and react in ways that are harmful or counterproductive.

But I cannot just start speaking YDSese without cost. The structure of gender and orientation…not to mention, race, class, and a whole slew of other factors…is poorly concieved on an institutional level. I want to be very clear about that last part, as there are certain individuals who are exceptions and speak with great brilliance on such matters. Their alliance, example, and action are critical for me and my understanding of this situation. For instance, and restricting my commentary to senior faculty for the moment…the problem is obviously not with Emilie Townes. It’s in a school that spoken or unspoken, considers the hire of a high profile Womanist scholar active in queer issues as hitting the Marginal Trifecta of race, gender, and orientation…and thus relieving the school of taking further action when it comes to faculty diversity. It is my experience that individual cases of resistance and complication do not dismantle the system that selectively empowers them as exceptions, even if they are powerful and eloquent. But the talking point of many of the old alums is that “faculty just aren’t being choosen right,” and that the “idenity of the school is in trouble.” As a sly civilian in the face of power I say: “True!” But I have a completely different set of ideologies behind that.

When I speak my displeasure about hiring practices, gender language, and the state of the school…I seem to be confusing many people. I am not trying to decieve them, I simply do not share their assumptions and reference points. The words and conceptual vocabulary i use are oriented in a different way, turned away from the dominant discourse of Yale. It is no lie, but I am telling another truth. Am I becoming opaque and unreadable? Does resistance cloak my idenity and speech, leaving a screen on which power projects it’s unmet demand of love?

It is a hard demand to resist. I am here. I am a student who choses to submit to the academic discipline of religious studies at Yale. I owe much of my ability to write, think, and produce cultural commentary like this to the education of Yale and my undergraduate institution. But when the demand for love requires that I destablize and elide my own idenity…what breaks?

-sly

There’s not too much to write here…I’m on pause for a little while.

I should be back in time for Abyss2Hope’s carnival against sexual assault.

-sly

A few days ago, I was reading the news and came across a headline about homeless veterans. Normally, I wouldn’t regard this as surprising. The chronic decay of veterans benefits in this country is well known. The words “Iraq War” made me read. Was this still happening now?

There’s plenty of coverage, and I’ll link to a few here, here, and here.

But the story is clear. Like before, we’re letting troops come home to nothing. No support networks, lingering injuries and post-traumatic stress. Limited job opportunities, and the sudden transition to civilian life.

The battle, on a supply delivery run, ended without casualties, and it did little to steel Gamboa for what awaited her back home in Brooklyn.

When the single mother was discharged in April, after her second tour in Iraq, she was 24 and had little money and no place to live. She slept in her son’s day-care center.

Gamboa is part of a small but growing trend among U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — homelessness.

On any given night the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) helps 200 to 250 of them, and more go uncounted. They are among nearly 200,000 homeless veterans in America, largely from the Vietnam War.

This is tragic news, but it is also an opportunity. I still remember when Paul Wellstone first came in to office, and the whole uproar over the protest he made of Iraq War 1.0. Wellstone’s assignment to the Veteran’s Affairs committee smacks of a joke, as leadership tried to hand him over to a hostile constituency. But that’s not what happened. He and his office worked tirelessly on those issues to start winning them over one by one. Benefits for atomic veterans, mental health services for the VA, homelessness reduction programs, to individual casework. And it worked. Six years later, Vets were standing at the St. Paul capitol, demanding a retraction of a dirty attack ad that accused Paul of burning a flag. No pundit could have imagined that just a few years prior, but Paul had been working steadily to make a real impact in providing just compensation and care for these people.

Veterans benefits are right because as a country we owe them a profound debt, and this is the least we can do to thank them. They are right because they help service to our country function more as an equalizer and giver of opportunity, and not just another mechanism to keep the poor down. But they are also right because they impose the true cost of war on the powers that wish to fight. I don’t recall Paul ever putting it this way, but I think it’s fair to be honest about our goals. Genuinely keeping our promises to veterans is frankly, expensive. Not compared to the cost of the war, but benefits are expensive. It would be impossible to starve the beast in this fashion, to borrow a phrase from the other side, but it is one way in which we can help focus attention on what it really means to send Americans into combat. Refusing to let the Pentagon cut corners on personnel costs is a part of the broader social vision of the progressive movement. If we don’t want people to be disposable commodities, this is one place to start.

The affection for Paul in the Veterans communities of Minnesota was not universal, but it ran deep. I remember Vets coming in to the office, and how you could always tell who had finally gotten a medal awarded, or gotten a benefits package awarded. (Of course, it was slightly easier if you’d opened the mail that day.) Their gratitude was always unmistakable, and they’d often volunteer that they’d never support Paul otherwise…but in because they knew he treated Veterans right, he had their vote. A pension for a widow who lost her husband to leukemia brought on by exposure to nuclear testing, a commendation for an act of bravery known only to a few last survivors, a benefits package that might let a wounded solider walk again, a placement with a housing agency. These were the every day cases that we saw, and they were both common place and miraculous.

This isn’t just smart electoral politics, though it is that. And it isn’t just good tactical politics, though it’s that as well. It’s the right thing to do by the people who have paid the heaviest cost of war.

-sly

a short little excerpt on the neccessary conditions of having a open discussion on queer issues:

1. community. there is no such thing as a positive discussion when you’re in complete isolation.

2. trust. dominant group members must be ready to suspend critical analysis (though certainly not permantently forgo it). what they hear may surprise them, or be counter-intuitive. accepting at face value that this is in fact the lived experience of another human being, and placing value in it as such…is critical.

3. language. dominant group members need to be ready to recognize that their existing language and communication patterns may contain offensive content and messages. heteronormativity and privildge tends to be rather invisable to it’s benificiaries.

4. form. questions, and not statements, are important. if you knew what it was like to be queer…you’d be one. you know what it’s like to live your life. feel free to share about that. let us talk about our lives.

5. credibility. most queer people are used to having some pretty negative shit thrown at them. if you’re not among the twits and haters of the world…live that out. it makes everything easier.

It didn’t do much good when it was originally written, in the midst of a bi-phobic rant on a board i used to go to, but i thought it was worth posting here. Not terribly exhaustive, but a decent outline.

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