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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
Bustle.com 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...

By Runner1616 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Runner1616 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

The depiction of crime in fictional mass media occurs differently for people depending on the color of their skin and what this color has come to symbolize in such a complex system of race, ethnicity, and stratification in the United States. more...

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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:

http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/hate-crimes-and-violence-against-lgbt-people

http://www.advocate.com/crime/2014/12/09/us-1-5-reported-hate-crimes-target-gay-or-bi-victims

http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/Training%20and%20TA%20Center/FORGE_Trans_People_Police_Incarceration_Facts.pdf

 

"Natural Afro American Hair" by AveryScott - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Natural_Afro_American_Hair.jpg#/media/File:Natural_Afro_American_Hair.jpg
“Natural Afro American Hair” by AveryScott – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Natural_Afro_American_Hair.jpg#/media/File:Natural_Afro_American_Hair.jpg

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...

 

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(Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Igualtat_de_sexes.svg)

 

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...

"BritishMuseumReadingroom" by Riccardo Cambiassi from London, United Kingdom - BlogWalk - British Museum + Power Law. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
BritishMuseumReadingroom” by Riccardo Cambiassi from London, United Kingdom – BlogWalk – British Museum + Power Law. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Being a WOC (Woman of Color) or MOC (Man of Color) in a graduate program is a unique experience. The opportunities made available to you become a great resource for networking, strengthening a skillset, and producing valuable research that provides a unique contribution to your field. Some departments offer grants to their graduate students while some pay for tuition waivers, however some students are left to fend for their own sources of funding. During this period of learning to become a graduate student and all that the title entails, it can become difficult for one to navigate. While the majority of graduate students have to go through an adjustment period, there are certain adjustments that graduate students who hold a minority status have to deal with that many students who meet the requirements of being a member of a dominant status group do not have to experience. While many scholarships and awards are available and designed to seek out minority students, it is still the case that the majority of scholarships go to White students. Similarly on the receiving end, many MOC faculty, and especially WOC faculty consistently receive lower student evaluations and retention rates from their universities of employ (Pittman 2010). These statistics are the result of various interactions that have taken place over time that some would describe as the consequence of racial microaggressions.

Racial microaggressions are derogatory and negative insults or interactions that occur on a day-to-day basis against a specific person or racial group. These insults can be overt or covert but the result is an active form of racism that serves to perpetuate beliefs, ideas, and prescribed stereotypes about racial groups. Given that it has become less socially acceptable to display overt forms of racism, covert displays of microaggressions serve to single-out, disadvantage, or invalidate a person of a specific racial group; even if the intent of the microagression is unintentional, the result is the same. more...

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https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Cornrows#/media/File:Tropenmuseum_Royal_Tropical_Institute_Objectnumber_10019385_Portret_van_een_jonge_Marron_vrouw_me.jpg

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...


Picture used courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3099736/Holidaymakers-misery-boat-people-Syria-Afghanistan-seeking-asylum-set-migrant-camp-turn-popular-Greek-island-Kos-disgusting-hellhole.html

You have to hand it to the Daily Mail. Their writers have perfected the art of pressing people’s buttons; of making highly divisive clickbait, or, as my dad might’ve said, of stirring up sh*t. Last week’s article about British tourists in Greece being outraged by the influx of refugees coming from Turkey caused plenty of outrage and counter-outrage both online and in other parts of the British press. Even by its own standards of outrage, this was outrageously outrageous. Job well done Daily Mail.

The Mail highlighted the incongruous mix of outsiders that have been arriving on the island of Kos in recent weeks. One group are refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, who are seeking refuge in Europe from war, homelessness, and complete desperation back home. The other group are middle- or working-class white holiday-makers from the UK who go to Kos for sun, sea, booze and food. These two groups are not supposed to meet. This isn’t in the script. They might gaze upon at each other’s worlds briefly on TV or computer screens, but physical co-presence between these two worlds is not supposed to happen.  more...

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(Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:LGBT_history_in_France#/media/File:Miklos_Vadasz_-_L%27Assiettte_au_Beurre_-_Les_p%27tits_jeun%27_hommes_02.jpg)

 

Before the conquest of the colonies many non-Western, indigenous, societies did not believe in a heterosexual/homosexual binary. In lieu of this binary, many indigenous societies had some notion of a third category for a person’s sex: a man, or woman, who would dress as the opposite sex but sustained same-sex relationships. The indigenous populations viewed these same-sex relationships as something natural, not perverse. Conversely in Europe, the production of the homosexual was well underway with the coinage of the term in 1891. Many of the men in the imperial army were aware of their colleagues who had “those” tendencies: certain men that enjoyed having sex with other men. Yet once in the colonies, the soldiers met with indigenous men whom were willing to have relations with them. The soldiers believed it was a “situational” homosexuality, as coined by Aldrich. But how was the knowledge of a “situational” homosexuality produced? In the words of Bernard Cohn, this “situational” homosexuality came to be through investigative modalities. more...