Gender certification for María José Martínez-Patiño, a victim of the chromosomal testing era. Via
Gender certification for María José Martínez-Patiño, a victim of the chromosomal testing era. Via

It is hard to disavow the wonder and enchantment that watching the Olympics engenders. It’s easy to become engrossed by the spectacle of elite athletes pursuing seemingly impossible, barely perceptible improvements in sports that, for the next four years, you may never again consider. And spectacle is precisely what the Olympics proffer. But as Michael Silk (2011) writes in Sociology, the spectacle of sporting mega-events does far more than merely enchant. In London 2012, sporting spectacle was put to work as a tool for negotiating Britishness ‘after Empire’, sidestepping unexamined fault lines of race, class and nation. Silk describes the nation branding  strategy developed in the run-up to the Olympics, designed to present ‘Brand Britain’ as ‘Timeless, Dynamic and Genuine’: the University Boat Race and Gothic churches that populated T.S. Eliot’s image of ‘Timeless’ British culture, so beloved of the New Right, were here wedded to the entrepreneurial dynamism of Richard Branson, London Fashion Week, and Notting Hill Carnival (the latter’s history as a site of ‘bitter confrontations’ between blacks and the police duly excised). Meanwhile, as Paul Watt (2013) notes, young residents occupying marginal housing in East London felt confident that Olympic-led regeneration and redevelopment was simply not for them; the photo journals they created with Watt document the building of exclusive, luxury flats, from which they knew they would derive no benefit. In Rio 2016, a further tension is created between those who see sporting mega-events as part of a global pattern of exclusionary urban developments, and those who would project these mega-events as vehicles of ‘sport for development’.

But, while many acknowledge that the benefits accrued from hosting the Olympics are hardly distributed across a ‘level playing field’, most would more than likely cleave to the notion that ‘fair play’ prevails within the Olympic arena. And yet, as Claire Sullivan writes (2011) in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, while ‘fair play’ is a fundamental tenet of international sport, quite how to delimit fair play has never been entirely clear. As a result, ‘fairness’ has, by and large, been enacted by policing and verifying gender difference. The question of gender verification and fair play has come to the fore once again at Rio 2016, as South African sprinter Caster Semenya prepares to participate in the Women’s 800m tomorrow. Semenya first came to prominence for vastly outperforming her rivals in 2009, after which she was subjected to a variety of humiliating and invasive gender tests. Semenya herself became the subject of an ‘ongoing spectacularization‘, and her defenders attempted (with little success) to navigate what Neville Hoad (2010) describes as the ‘long and intractable representational history of racialized and sexualized African bodies‘ on the one hand, and an ‘LGBTQ praxis of freedom that wants to render visible and celebrate gender variance’ on the other.

Writing in the Irish Times this June, the two-time Olympic silver medallist Sonia O’Sullivan objected to the idea that Caster Semenya might be able to run in the Women’s event in Rio. Deploying the same pseudo-sympathetic tone as Guy Martin, writing for The Daily Mail just yesterday, O’Sullivan argued that: more...

210px-Bimale.svg(Photo Source: Wikipedia Commons


Ward’s book, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men is a look at a timeless, but under evaluated phenomena. Sex between straight white men sounds like a paradox: some kind of residual heteronormative notion. Ward’s assertion is that it is not- that for time immemorial otherwise heterosexual white men have engaged in homosexual and homosocial behaviors under a variety of homosocial circumstances (fraternities, the military, pornography, bathhouses). Ward’s thesis is aligned with queer theory and the notion that sexuality is fluid and sexual identities and practices may be at odds; that primarily heterosexual men can and do engage in homosexual sex acts that do not accrue into some salient identity. Ward asserts these men are not bisexual, not closeted gay men, but rather, that heterosexuality may coexist with these behaviors and even encompass them. This subversion of dominant sexuality narratives is quite bold and Ward does an excellent job in doing so.

Not Gay is a valuable recourse for queer theorists and social scientists- it’s a reminder that categories are not social realities, that practices and identities are not tied up in neat boxes. For these reasons it is a useful tool for researchers who seek to explore this ambiguity. It’s intelligible to a general audience, although its claims may be threatening to hegemonic ideas about masculinity. One can imagine straight men writhing in discomfort while reading it.

The book spends ample time dissolving the boundaries and binaries of traditional notions about sexuality. The entry way into thinking about these men as heterosexuals is outlined in the beginning. We are challanged to think of white heterosexual men who engage in these acts as occupying a “unique erotic domain” (pg. 27) in which these acts can coexist with primarily heterosexual desire. She outlines that this sex can be thought of as “experimentation” “accident” “joke” “game(s)” or “fetish” (pg. 27, 30). Furthermore, the intersection of race (pg 120) brings in the notion that whiteness affords a social leverage that allows these men to engage in marginalized practices without being labeled as gay. White men can afford risking stigma attached to homosexuality by utilizing their privilege. In deed, white men as the symbolic “average dude” (pg. 129) and tenant of traditional masculinity can withstand the scrutiny of heteronormativity via assertions of their own hegemony. A straight white “dude” can control the narratives surrounding their own sexuality, situating themselves strongly within masculinized “boys clubs” that collectively deny any homosexual meanings. The ability to control the meanings of our actions is the privilege of social positions. (pg.53, 139).

Ward’s book pays special attention to not conflating these social spheres, however. Gay sex can occur between heterosexual men out of sexual desire, but also in homosocial rituals. Fraternities and the military play a large role in ritualized homosexual behavior (pg. 160). Men may simulate or enact homosexual or homoerotic behaviors in order to “prove” their heterosexuality. To withstand homoeroticism in these rituals while maintaining one’s heterosexual masculinity is a test created to ensure entry into masculinized heterosexual spaces. Rituals call for properly enacted “disgust” (pg. 179) in order to solidify proper narratives surrounding these acts. Ward shows that these acts may not simply be deviations from heterosexuality, but in many circumstances, a tenant of it.

The book utilizes diverse data, from popular films to personal ads, in order to illustrate its point. It provides a compelling and intriguing argument, that, rather than erasing queer identities, complicates the concept of identity itself. Social narratives may be complex, counterintuitive and at times, paradoxical to traditional modes of classification. The book is a wonderful exploration of this ambiguity, asking tough questions about the stories we tell others and ourselves and complicating a political climate in which “queerness” or “gayness” is seen as salient, innate, or homogenous. It’s in this plurality that the book finds its most fascinating observation: that sexuality is not a neat, tidy continuum, but a complicated maze.

If the book is lacking anything, it is a deeper analysis of exclusively heterosexual men: men for whom any of these behaviors would be unthinkable, perplexing and unfathomable even within homosocial spheres. Furthermore, if whiteness affords some of the privileges that allow for these ambiguities, how does this map onto other homosocial spheres that are either racially diverse, or non-white. Would these observations not apply, or perhaps, play out in other unique and complex ways?

Ward’s book is an intriguing inquiry into a difficult-or-impossible to map phenomena. That she succeeds this well is to our benefit.

Further Reading/Links:

Vice Media Interview with Jane Ward Article 
NYU Press Page

By LucasArt and Cody escadron delta [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By LucasArt and Cody escadron delta [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With all the Star Wars hype this past month the fandom seems to have awoken once more. The newest installment of Star Wars not only reinvigorates long-time fans but inspires a plethora of new comers to the franchise. Star Wars: The Force Awakens gives the world a new hope in representation as it showcases two of its main characters, a British woman as its protagonist and a Nigerian Brit as the deuteragonist. From the many hours of fan-made footage to the canonical expanded universe of the happenings in that galaxy far, far away, Star Wars has always been about the individual and what one could take away from the adventure set forth before them. Some see it as a metaphor for political implications while others see religious metaphors within the meaning of The Force. I view the saga as a metaphor for society, its ebbs and flows, the institutions that can restrict or advantage entire groups of peoples, and even popular culture metaphors from the much revered Jedi, to the Rebel or Resistance Pilots, and even various Sith Lords. more...


Photo Source:

For LGBTQ people, public space is fraught with potential dangers, harassment, and discrimination. Over the past few months I have been researching how LGBTQ people learn to navigate space and its political implications.

Public space is the stage in which the sociopolitical plays out. How people present themselves and how people respond to such presentations is inherently a political struggle. Noting that gender is part of our performance is important to analyzing gender as a political act, as well as a potentially subversive threat to gender norms.

For LGBTQ people, performing their selves in public space is potentially threatening. Hate crimes against LGBTQ people often are predicated on a number of factors such as public displays of affection, non-normative gender performances, and “queer” signifiers. For LGBTQ people, navigating public space is loaded with political implications. First, social policing from others poses a real threat to ones well being, and second that transgressing gender in the public space is a way to create visibility for LGBTQ people. How LGBTQ people enact themselves in public requires a particular calculation between self-expression, political subversion, and the threat of social policing.

The concept of “passing” is particularly important, yet dubious for LGBTQ people. Being able to “pass” as heterosexual, cisgendered, and normative poses a number of advantages to navigating space. To an extent, LGBTQ people might manage their outward appearances and behavior to “pass” as normative. However, for many LGBTQ people this is not such a simple concept. Self-censorship and monitoring can lead to internalized homophobia, shame, and lack of self-esteem for LGBTQ people. It’s also particularly detrimental to non-heterosexual relationships in its limitation of where couples can go and where affection can be enacted.

Dominant conceptions of gender can be problematic for those who do not fit into them. Men may face stigma for being seen as effeminate. Women who are already at risk for sexual assault may be more at risk if their non-heterosexuality is seen as threatening to hegemony. Anyone who enacts non-normative gender expression may face particular negative attention and violence from those who seek to eradicate their difference.

For trans women of color, public space can be very difficult. Since trans women of color face disproportionate rates of murder, harassment, and incarceration, public space can be extremely dangerous. Though all LGBTQ people may face harassment, transwomen of color are often labeled by others as “mentally unstable,” “deviant,” and “radicals.” The intersections of oppression transwomen may face can make public life a difficulty. The matrix of oppressions and stigmas faced by people carrying multiple stigmatized and stereotyped identities makes achieving fulfillment and safety a much more difficult and inaccessible civic right.

“Safe spaces” for LGBTQ people may be difficult to come by. Often, physical markers such as flags, slogans and names that signify tolerance are all employed by spaces to to demonstrate they are safe, or perhaps, safer spaces. The Internet has created a new method of disseminating information about where “safe spaces” are. Information about where LGBTQ people can go for recreation, recourses, and comfort has become easier, although still imperfect.

All the above is a problem, not just for individuals but also for the community. The importance of being able to find and create community is contingent on one’s ability to be open, safe, and free to express oneself. Going forwards in the future, the LGBTQ community will have to pay attention to this issue, in the interest of preserving culture, well being, and interpersonal relationships. Not merely must public policy change to reflect this need, but our culture must change to accommodate the community.

That public space is inherently a political space means that power dynamics are always in play. And while identification of spaces and personal strategies for safety are important in the short term, an important political project might be to make spaces safer for all LGBTQ people regardless of how adept they are at “passing” or “navigating” spaces. I believe one of the most pertinent political projects for LGBTQ people should be an attention to public space. The creation of safety for LGBTQ people is an issue of overlooked importance, particularly for those of multiple oppressed identities.


For more information visit:


"Natural Afro American Hair" by AveryScott - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
“Natural Afro American Hair” by AveryScott – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

The term “natural hair” is used in the African American community to differentiate between hair that has been left in its natural state and hair which has been permed (which is to permanently straighten the hair follicle with chemicals). African American hair in its natural state appears tightly coiled or kinky and is often socially stigmatized. Social stigmas are any idea that individuals associate with negative connotations. Many individuals would agree that hair is a prevailing symbol of one’s self and self-expression, contributing much stake towards one’s identity. As social norms change over time, so do the effects of symbols that an individual imposes on their social reality; as a consequence of being symbolic in society, hair speaks to a person’s status, power, beauty and beliefs (Bellinger 2007). Hair speaks to one’s character and is representative of their status in society. Hair is also a measure of beauty and how one styles their hair affects one’s level of beauty in society more...












One of sociology’s main critiques revolves around neoliberalism, and its implications on everyday life in a capitalistic society. Yet, individuals do not comprehend what these implications are for those who identify as LGBTQ. As of recently, there are a plethora of articles illustrating some of the consequences that occur in this new neoliberal society. For example, John P. Elia and Gust A. Yep stated in their article, “Sexualities and Genders in an Age of Neoterrorism:” more...



(Photo credit:,_Washington_D.C.,_November_15,_2008.jpg)

Today is the last day of the American Sociology Association’s annual meeting. In honor of this year’s theme Sexualities in the Social World, I wanted to bring attention to the troubling trend of murders of transgender women. First, I introduce what little data exists about the experiences of trans women. Then I consider three existing groups of social movement activists that could act as allies to the transgender community and the presence of barriers which might inhibit the building of coalitions aimed toward stopping these deaths.


There is a dearth of reliable statistics on the murder of trans women. Thankfully, organizations which serve the transgender population and their allies in the academy have embarked upon a mission to attempt to fill this gap. To date only one national study has been conducted; the National Transgender Discrimination Survey was spear-headed by the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality. This study found transgender women experience disturbingly high rates of violence and assault. In 2013, 72% of all victims of murder motivated by anti-LGBTQ sentiment were transgender women.


Currently the National Center for Transgender Equality is distributing the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey (USTS). (Editor’s note: if you are a transgender person who is interested in participating you can find the survey here!) However, the time investment which a massive undertaking of this type demands means for the near future we will continue to operate without a full understanding of who constitutes the transgender population and the conditions of their lives.


Due to a dearth of scientific studies on the topic, the responsibility of data collection has fallen on activists and sympathetic media outlets. The LGBTQ periodical The Advocate has recorded the dates and circumstances of the murders of trans women killed in 2015. The publication has strived to preserve these deceased women’s lives by including their photographs and short biographies. As of August 18th, 17 trans women have been murdered in 2015 alone.  



Do you remember your sex education during your youth? Did you even have sex education?

My school district (a local, public school district composing of four small townships) contracted out our sex education through Catholic Charities, which would come into health classes and teach “sex ed.” (Note: I am very conscientious of using quotations around my experience of “sex ed” because it wasn’t real sexual education, but rather, (heteronormative) abstinence only education.) We started having exposure to sex ed as early as sixth grade, but the “real” sex ed really started in eighth to ninth grade. Boys and girls were separated in two different rooms to talk about their own bodies separately, and would come together where they (at least in my interpretation) tried to scare us into submission.




Photo by Katie Kullen

When same-sex marriage became legal, there was an outpouring of support for the gay community. Many self-identified straight men and women took the opportunity to vocalize their affirmation of gay identities and gay rights. Keeping in mind, as well, the recent public discourse around Caitlyn Jenner and the transgender community, I found it compelling to compile a list of tips for LGBTQ allies that seek to sustain and improve their support of the community during this time.

It should be noted that this list is not exhaustive, and I cannot speak for the entire LGBTQ community. These tips are merely a guideline for possible new ways for interested parties to continue their support in the post-gay-marriage world. Even the most earnest allies might find themselves lost with how to improve and continue to help. Though I only speak as a gay cisgender man and supporter of LGBTQ equality, I’ve taken some time to think about new ways and avenues for activism as well as present underrepresented views and problems facing the community at this time. LGBTQ activism can be made stronger by people of diverse backgrounds working in dialogue with each other. The importance of this list is to learn ways to foster dialogue, understanding and empathy for one another, as well as educate others on what some of the issues facing the community post-same-sex marriage are.

  1. Understand What Gay Marriage Means and to Whom

It goes without saying that an ally supports same-sex marriage. But it’s important to understand the context of this win. I think one can support same-sex marriage as a legal right without embracing it as the end of LGBTQ activism, nor as the tenant of it. Similarly, marriage may be more or less important to every LGBTQ individual. But, I admit, it was moving to see rainbow Facebook profile pictures. It was moving to see support from straight allies in all forms. But as the subsequent op-eds have pointed out, it is not the end of LGBTQ rights. I don’t think this precludes the historicism of the moment, nor does it exclude various othered-LGBTQ people. What’s important is the context- understanding what this moment signifies to the various LGBTQ people. A good ally should strive to understand context.

Furthermore, as activist Laverne Cox has noted, it is equally important for cisgendered members of the LGB community to be inclusive and active in the concerns of the transgender community.

  1. Learn About What Gender Means to Others

Gender is a complicated issue; a very complicated one, and one that is constantly evolving. Now that publicly transgender people are just beginning to come out into the mainstream, it’s important to understand the language of how to talk about this issue. Sure, even the most understanding ally can have a slip up or moment of ignorance. This shouldn’t be demonized- I think there is an opportunity now for better education on these issues. We’re in the midst of a political moment to reinterpret what gender means and how we do gender. The first place to start is to undertake the task of understanding how trans and queer individuals have been talking about conceptualizing their communities and themselves. As well as what unique issues are pertinent to their communities.

  1. Be a conduit for change

There have been years of LGBTQ activists. But it should be noted the importance of straight-allies as well. While it would be inappropriate to speak for the community, it’s important to speak up as an ally. This could mean having various conversations with others, engaging in political action, or simply educating oneself about the issues. A straight ally can do a lot to show others how to be more accepting and empathetic to others. A frank discussion with a friend about your beliefs can change minds.

  1. Awareness of Differences

Not all LGBTQ people are the same. Not all gay people are the same. Not all trans people are the same. There are unique political intersections and personal preferences between all LGBTQ people. It’s easy to make generalization, and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. Stereotypes are present in popular media about what being LGBT or Q means. But everyone has a unique experience and personality that requires inquiry. It’s important to allies to explore these differences. It’s important to be vigilant against reductionist tendencies.

  1. Understand the Work Left to Be Done

We’re not quite in a post-gay world. You and everyone you know might be “cool with it” but the struggle for LGBTQ rights is not a thing of the past. There is a wealth of work to be done for these causes. There are numerous organizations that have been doing work on causes such as teen homelessness, harassment prevention, making spaces safer, providing services to at risk use and numerous other causes. Supporting any one of these causes can make a strong statement and a significant difference in the lives of others.

LGBTQ allies are important to the community. The LGBTQ community is at a critical time in the political realm where opening minds and making tangible real changes is very possible. The help of allies is invaluable towards continuing to acknowledge and alleviate the oppressions faced by the LGBTQ community. Everything from participating in large structural changes to simply changing one’s behavior and speech can be an important and vital force.

Again, this list isn’t the end of the story. Discourse around the needs of LGBTQ people is always evolving and changing to be more inclusive. Going beyond this list, communicating with LGBTQ people to find out the needs of their specific communities can unveil other more specific ways to be involved.

For some information on how to get involved visit the Human Rights Campaign’s website which features a variety of causes. For information on how to start a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) you can visit here.


Further Reading

Why Marriage Matters To Non-Gay Allies


An Ally’s Guide To Talking About Marriage for Same-Sex Couples


Amandla Stenberg, an activist and an individual who has considerable reach amongst the masses used her platform as an actress to speak out against cultural appropriation when she responded to a post on the Instagram of a celebrity teen socialite in early July. Many replies to Stenberg’s response of the original poster demeaned Amandla for making an argument about race as many bystanders were convinced that the original Instagram post was meant to be a fun fashion statement. The subsequent comments have a false sense of logic behind them however, and it is clear that most responders did not understand the argument that Amandla was making. This argument was further convoluted given that is was a response to the derogatory hashtag #whitegirlsdoitbetter; a twitter hashtag meant to spread hate and racism by implying that women of color are unworthy. Her reply has since been deleted but I would argue that Amandla’s reply has everything to do with race, fashion, and hair, all which comprise culture. She later posted another reply which provides more detail about black femininity and cultural appropriation. A person stating that her original reply is about anything less is simply blind to the structures of power and dominance that are at play and is the reason why these issues will continue to be perpetuated so long as their diminishment is condoned by overarching forces such as mass media.

Cultural hegemony is the control of culture through domination of social groups via social institutions. Simply put cultural hegemony is a type of hegemony that serves to police society in a way that is unnoticeable to the dominant group and is perpetuated as the parameters of what to think and how to think about it. Most importantly cultural hegemony serves the interests of the hegemony, the dominant class. When discussing race in America the dominant class refers to White people and minority groups of races and ethnicities are considered subordinate groups. While it is a fact that not all White people have the power and means to establish and carry out this dominance, it is true that all White people benefit from being a part of this dominant class. Culture is comprised of many things to include race, gender, religion, sexuality, class, etc. I aim to focus on race and gender as these are the topics that are at the root of Amandla’s Instagram reply which became viral. more...