Yesterday I conducted a short interview with the awesome ladies of Solutions Not Punishment Coalition (SNaP Co) in Atlanta, Georgia about the upcoming “March 4 the Gurlz” march and rally. Starting on Sunday, March 26 at North Avenue MARTA Station in Atlanta, the march will start at 3pm and will give way to the rally that starts at 4:30pm. [pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]March: NORTH AVE. @ 3pm | Rally: 4:30pm[/pullquote]
We all know that Black trans women are among the most marginalized demographics in the population, and SNaP Co got started some years ago through an initiative to address that in Atlanta. As Kamau Walton, SNaP’s media director, describes it: the goal of SNaP is to discover and rally for actual solutions to problems facing Black and Brown trans women without punishment and criminalization. Another leader of the organization, Jamie Freya, said about the goals of the march and rally: “it’s gonna be a space to heal, to be celebrated, to be affirmed, to be uplifted. That’s what it’s really gonna give immediately.”
It’s extremely important to put your money where your mouth is and walk the talk. We need to stand by our Black trans sisters and listen to their concerns and proposed solutions. If we’re going to be a whole inclusive community, we can’t be dismissive of our most vulnerable. With as much as they contribute to–hell, jumpstart–the life of our queer culture (and mainstream culture if we’re being honest–“slay” being a word your grandma uses?) we must protect them at all costs. Not just because of the cultural and emotional labor they provide, but because we love them and care about them.
So in the spirit of abolishing myths about asexuality, I decided go a bit futher with coverage on asexuality on Contemporary Queer. On that note, let’s direct our attention to a marginalized group (people of color) within a larger marginalized group (people on the asexuality spectrum), within a larger marginalized group (queer and trans people).
So, asexuality is that fun part of the queer spectrum that everyone loves pretending isn’t there–or in the off chance that it is included, isn’t valid.
Written off as fake, attention-seeking, or “taking away from time and resources that could be given to real queer people (LGBT, with emphasis on the LG and even then, mostly G)”, asexuality is the surrounded by a slew of misinformation (like wrongly being equated with abstinance or chastity).
In an effort to correct that misinformation, Adri of House Tumblr (because I’m in my Game of Thrones phase so it sounds awesome to knight them like that) tackled some myths people have about asexuality and set the record straight in this amazing infograph that I’ve read at least 5 times since Monday. (For the record, today is Tuesday.) Read More
So as you may know, tomorrow is the “queer holiday” Day of Silence. While they won’t let you out of work for it, it’s still something you may choose to observe and participate in. So what is it?
Day of Silence is a day meant to bring attention to queerphobia (transphobia and homophobia) at schools and other educational institutions. According to the offical Day of Silence website by GLSEN:
In 1996, students at the University of Virginia organized the first Day of Silence in response to a class assignment on non-violent protests with over 150 students participating in this inaugural event. In 1997, organizers took their effort nationally and nearly 100 colleges and universities participated. In 2001, GLSEN became the official organizational sponsor for the event.
In practice, people involved in Day of Silence remain quiet and, when asked why they aren’t speaking, point to a button somewhere on their person or hand out cards/pamphlets about Day of Silence and why it is necessary. Many campuses end the day with a teach-in or presentation about bullying or homelessness–really anything having to do with the disenfranchisement of youth.
While many people on campuses across the United States recognize and support Day of Silence as it was intended, others have criticisms and observe it in a different way. Originally this post was meant to be solely informative, but as I wrote and inquired, it seemed that contemporary queers are a tad more vocal than the Day of Silence permits.
So let’s look at what all these points of view have in common: To choose silence on this day is a privilege.
If you are not “out” to your family, friends or work, you may have suspicion cast on you and the likelihood of being homeless or unemployed (or just living in a toxic environment) increases. If you are already a part of a silenced marginalized group based on your race or religion, choosing silence can be seen as almost the ultimate de-arming of yourself in the face of attacks–attacks that can be really triggering of past queerphobic violence. There’s also the idea that we already have very little say in our day to day lives, so why glorify the act of silence?
When we take white supremacy, cis-normitivity, male-domination and heteronormativity into account, it becomes abundantly clear that “Day of Silence” is an observance whose narrative says that, prior to your voluntary silence, your voice was valued and you were deemed human because people are supposed to notice your silence. What does it say when historically silenced people continue to be silent and revel in it?
So while Day of Silence may be seen as taking a bold stand (and it is probably effective at some levels of society), many don’t feel like it’s as big a bag a chips as it is made out to be. And while it is certainly your choice to observe and practice it or not, know that there are reasons that some people do not find it the least bit applicable to their daily lives and don’t do that thing where you shame people for having different opinions or accuse them of not contributing to “unity”.
There’s no reason you can’t make your own these days. If you want a platform to express yourself, to give your takes on important topics, or provide a space for others, you have the ability to do just that. You can do podcasts, you can vlog–anything.
If you’re here, I’d imagine you were looking to start a blog because someone said “well if you don’t like it, make your own” and you were all like “well maybe I will” and so you set out to do so but you wanted some queer intersectional sauce up in your startup. We got you, boo.
In this post, we will go into the “program” aspects of creating a blog and not so much of the technical aspects.
1. Theme & Purpose
So why are you starting a blog? Are you doing it so you can build up your writing experience? Draw in readers from a particular community and become an authority voice? Just want to be one of the cool kids? Or even make a space that can be a conduit for other voices?
Your purpose is important because then you’ll have a driving force behind your platform. It’s like the mission statement to a business: What are you serving and why?
For example, Contemporary Queer has a mission to bring relevant topics and nuggets of thought to queer Millennials while empowering them to be agents in their own destinies. Everything we do here is meant to reflect that.
If you were to make a blog, what would it center around and how would you drive that theme forward? Is there a group already into what you’re thinking that could lend a hand or an ear? Could you do it without getting bored for a long time or would you have to develop discipline like none other just to create a few weeks worth of content?
Audience is very important. And it’s important that you be genuine or else you’ll be seen through immediately. Why? People prefer authenticity.
When you are authentic, there’s just something that other people (especially other people in your community or group) can recognize and identify with. There’s an air of “walk the walk” that, when you fake it, doesn’t go very far. So why is that important for audience?
If you want loyal readers (especially from a community based on the same interests and way of life) you have to speak to them in the same language and tone they use with each other (if appropriate). You’ll have to speak to them in the tone they want to hear what you have to say in and it’s easier when you’re not speaking at them, but to them or with them.
And even if you aren’t writing for a community, having one in mind may help your writing direction. More on that in the next topic…
3. Community (or Nah?)
So while I just waned poetic about the necessity of speaking to folks in their language, that’s kind of dependent on a few things. Like–are you trying to appeal to a community/specific type of person? Conventional wisdom holds that when you communicate it is likely to another person/group, but it could very well be that you’re just throwing blog stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks.
But even if you do decide to write without a community in mind, you’ll still want to keep your blog’s tone consistent. This way people can know what to expect from you, and if they appreciate your content (while perhaps not being a part of the community you’re writing for/writing for “theoretically”) they’ll come back often.
But aside from writing/content, it also comes down to this: Are you allowing yourself to be beholden/accountable to a specific group of people? When you write for a community, you embed yourself into the community and its members will accept, tolerate, or reject you. Likewise, you begin to customize your writing based on the specific issues affecting them at any given moment in time.
If you choose not to be a part of a community but still write content that concerns them or on behalf of them, you are more free to write however and whatever you choose, but it will be your content that gets praise/shared when it is good and you personally who gets dragged/called out if it is insulting.
When we want to praise, we uphold the words. When we want to drag, we look for the @.
~Sage Nenyue, “Yes, I Quoted Myself” Vol. 3
In my case, I’ve been “in the community” since I was 15, in the sense that I have always looked at things equality-wise and used my writing to serve my understanding of justice and liberation. So personally, if I’m going to blog about LGBTQ stuff, I’d rather write for the community as a part of that community.
If you love creating, there’s reward in blogging for the sake of blogging. You can do you for you and can’t nobody but you hold you back. There might also be other reasons you blog which I break down into “glory”, “impact”, and “gain”.
Glory refers to the social capital you want to build or your own personal brand. When people hear your name and they think of how you brought them a smile or how you always liven up their days, that’s glory. The positive in this one comes off as two-fold, because if you’re looking for glory and you try too hard, it will show. People will clock you quickly. On the flip side, if you’re humble (or at the very least have a good humility mask on), people will speak highly of you and your refined dignity and creations.
Blogging with impact as the focus mostly takes you out of the equation and makes you the byline with the message as the most important part. While you don’t have to be as stiff as a news blog, your writing will come off as informative and heart-touching without all of you and your feel-feels getting in the way. It will feel neutral/natural and the reader will be able to see themselves in your creation. And if it’s great content (and you protect yourself against being plagiarized or cut out of the credit), you’ll find yourself with relative glory and gain in time while belting out Bey’s “I Was Here”.
When you blog for gain, you do so with the intent of making money or getting presents from brands that you can deliver the eyes of your audience to. Instagram and Youtube bloggers are the first ones that spring to mind when creating that visual lifestyle of ostentation. It’s not wrong or bad–everybody needs to make a buck under capitalism–but blogging for gain is associated with ugly things for those who can spot it: Shoddy content, unnatural writing (SEO), quantity over quality, shallow community relations (if any). It makes the readers feel cheated, especially if they aren’t getting any value in return.
So if you blog for gain, either make quality content that readers enjoy and can identify with, or make it worth their while to be associated with you.
In the spirit of full disclosure: You might notice some ads on Contemporary Queer. Well, until we get funding from a rich daddy or mama that’s tryna pay our bills but not expecting us to compromise our message or audience, Google is one of the few low-cost investments I know to make money to be able to pay writers and develop programs in the future.
These are some things to consider when starting a blogging platform and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I share these because I want to see more spaces that prioritize us flourish and thrive. Do you know how it broke my heart when I couldn’t find a compact trans take on “Trans Day of Visibility” in time for the Five Queer Holidays post and had to use the MSNBC storify? Nothing against major mainstream news networks, but I am more interested in empowering our folks first and foremost.
If you have tips to add, leave a comment and we’ll share them on Twitter. If you are interested in writing for Contemporary Queer, here’s how!
You know you’ve heard that said at some point in time. But what does problematic mean?
Problematic media is the term for media that clashes with the values and attitudes that you hold–something like a guilty pleasure but on the ideological level. Problematic media is subjective so it varies from person to person and group to group–in fact, members of a group might not even agree that the same media is problematic.
An example might see an environmental activist Ian watching a television show that has an anti-recycling messages. The activist would never throw a glass bottle in the container intended for paper products, but they do it so frequently on the show. And with glee!
So should Ian stop watching the show? Some say yes, but I say no. Ian isn’t going to suddenly stop recycling and rallying on behalf of trees just because they do it in a show. But he doesn’t have to like that aspect of the show.
It’s OK to enjoy problematic media. They are, after all, guilty pleasures. But you can indulge yourself without being mindless. By keeping true to yourself and empowering yourself to call out the aspects you disagree with, you can successfully engage with problematic media and emerge victorious. Here’s how.
Keep yourself grounded by reminding yourself who you are and what you’re about. If you are a Christian but you LOVE House of Cards where the Kevin Spacey’s character constantly berates Jesus and talks trash about religious people, remember that you are not Kevin Spacey and you don’t live in the House of Cards universe. While media engages people by getting them to identify with characters and situations, you have to be grown enough to draw your line in the sand and just be like “lol that aint me.”
A great way to do this is reminding yourself what you value and that what you’re watching is a program that, while it can attempt to persuade you, does not make the decisions in your life.
Take me for example–I love pop music. But I am not a fan of the n-word or the b-word. So tell me why some of my favorite songs are Niggas in Paris and Bitch Better Have My Money.
I could be at a party and if either of those songs come on you’ll only see the trail behind me as I get to the dance floor. You will see me dance to the words as the music bump-bump-bumps. Does this mean I’m now gonna take to calling everyone I see the n-word or that all women (friends or enemies) are now b-words? Absolutely not.
Knowing boundaries means remembering who you are and maintaining that no matter what is going on outside. And while you may love your media, you are not music or television.
Actively Remind Yourself that you can be Critical
Listen closely because this is important: Critiquing a thing does not diminish your love for the thing. I’ll say it again for the folks in the back:
Critiquing a thing does not diminish your love for the thing.
A critique is an understanding that you are taking something apart and separating it’s elements and evaluating what is good and what can cause harm (if that’s the kind of analysis you’re making). We do it in art, media–heck, we even do it with people!
You love Auntie Ya Ya but she can’t give good advice for crap! And that’s OK. Eat her specialty mashed potatoes at family reunions, laugh at her stories about what times were like in her heyday, let her pray for you (even if its not your thing but you’re OK with it) when you have a big exam that day. But when she tries to tell you what you should do, remember the last few times you listened to her and make an excuse to hightail it out of there! (Also, pro-tip: Maybe don’t tell her to her face that she gives bad advice. You’re welcome.)
When it comes to media pieces (individual television shows, songs, video games, etc) , figure out how to dissect it and understand it an decide if you want to continue to partake.
Remember Nicki Minaj and the time she used Nazi imagery in her video? Even her biggest fans found it difficult to get down with it. That doesn’t mean they immediately began hating her. They called her out on her mess up and continued.
A quick rundown I do is something like this:
What is the piece and what is it about? From the jump, do you rock with what it’s about or do you have some hesitations? What are they and why?
Who is the intended audience? Based on the way it’s presented, can you figure out who the maker of the piece had in mind when they were creating it? What language is used?
What do you gain by consuming this piece? Does it make you laugh or smile when you’re having a rough day? Are there good life lessons to be learned? Does it validate you with a kudos?
How do you feel after you finish consuming? Do you feel dirty? Is that level of dirt worth re-consuming? Is this something you’d recommend to your squad/associates/family?
This is kind of how I continued watching Don’t Trust the B* in Apartment 23 whereas I fell off the wagon on 2 Broke Girls and never quite picked it back up (and never really wanted to). I find 23 hilarious for reasons unknown to my conscious mind whereas Broke Girls gets my laughs because I have a surplus of joy in my heart. Anyway, here’s an example of the method I use.
What: Both were silly sitcoms that centered around two women living together in New York City where one was responsible (relatively) and the other was fiercely independent and intense. They get into crazy situations. In 23, the plot revolves around a Millennial who had a promising future trying to make it in the real world (and the shit of her crazy roommate). In Broke Girls, it’s about an heiress that lost everything trying to build a company with a perpetually poor city girl.
Audience: I see both audiences as being white Millennial girls from maybe 16 to 30, give or take. The humor and scenarios seem to be those that would resonate with them.
Benefits: The benefits of watching the 23 is that I get a laugh every time. The one liners and situations are hilarious. It also speaks to me as someone who left college expecting the world and having to start small–like most Millennials. Broke Girls also has laughs, but it really speaks to me as someone who enjoys entrepreneurship. It lays out lessons on how to save, make, and deal with money in a way that’s anything but boring.
Negatives: The negatives of both are that a lot of their jokes fall flat because I’m just not hip with ironic/casual racism and sexism. Some of the tones of the humor are cringeworthy and fall flat–the mockery of other cultures falls on the doing it for the sake of doing it side. Also I’m not keen on their representations of “real NYC” as being uber-not diverse and taking on a Let’s Gentrify aesthetic. But to each their own.
So both of them are problematic to me (in ways that may not be to you–or at all) and I acknowledge that. And if I decide to continue either series, it will be because I decide the benefits outweigh the negatives. While I haven’t gotten past half of season two of Broke Girls four seasons, I admit I’m lowkey upset that 23 was cancelled.
Don’t be Shamed for Liking what you Like
The mouth is yours so you can say what you want. The ears are yours and you can listen to what you want. The preferences are yours and you can prefer them all you want.
So often we fall into the trap of curtailing our tastes and preferences to match those of other groups and people. As I said earlier, if you keep your values close to your heart and know that it’s perfectly fine to critique and evaluate the media you intake, engaging with problematic media is no big deal.
Someone who doesn’t agree with my point can argue that by watching it or recommending it, we give power to those who create and perpetuate the problematic aspects. That’s a valid argument. This is why it is important to analyze and evaluate the things we take into minds and share with others while simultaneously taking the action to call it out. For example: “Last episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta was hilarious, but the way they portrayed the situation around so-and-so was NOT OK in the slightest.” Share your thoughts. Talk to others about it. Write a piece discussing what was wrong. Connect with others who share that opinion and, if you want to take it a step up, campaign to raise awareness of why so-and-so is a problem in media.
Someone can also argue that consuming any problematic media is problematic in and of itself because you perpetuate problematic forms of problematic thoughts and problematic behaviors in this, our problematic world. I think that’s a little extreme, but if it suits you and doesn’t hurt anyone else, do you boo. It’s extreme because we live in a media-saturated world and to disengage (barring a boycott), while it is certainly a noble choice on the part of the person, takes an immense amount of energy that not everyone possesses or has time to employ. You can choose not to watch something (as I discussed above, I no longer watch 2 Broke Girls despite having stopped mid-season), but I promise if you take that route with every piece of problematic media, you’ll have no media.
Stated simply: Your fave is problematic, and that’s OK.
Let me be completely clear: I am not against people protesting unfair policies, speaking up against discriminatory behavior, or rallying for a change in conditions that would benefit everyone. I am in full support of it. I have done it myself.
In this article, however, I am speaking out against encouraging people from vulnerable populations to take huge individual risks in the name of “the greater good” without responsibly discussing the risks of action taken. I’m not talking about cases in which a person is being abused or horribly bullied, I’m talking about for principles. I think it’s irresponsible, and if you aren’t planning to compensate them for what was lost, simmer down and let them be in charge without your pressure.
Revolutionaries are Hot, But Chill Trying to Make Everybody a Rebel
I always see people urging others to challenge and stand up against racism, queerphobia, transphobia, etc, at work, school or home and frankly, it’s selfish beyond a certain point. They encourage them to make these grand “last stand”-worthy statements and ultimatums, evoking in their minds the iconic image of the man standing up to tanks at Tienanmen Square.
“You need to take a stand or else who will?” you say to them in a your motivatingly inspiring voice.
“You’ll inspire a movement that will usher a culture of anti-oppression the likes of which this company has never seen or ever will see again,” you say with rousing conviction, the ghosts of past revolutions swimming in the shine of your electrifying and totally original speech.
They speak this beautiful and inspirational advice of liberation and leadership until they’ve liberated their friend right out of a job and led them straight out of a home. It’s especially ugly when someone of relative privilege says this to a more vulnerable person.
Nowadays, whenever a friend asks me what they should do about a situation at work, school or home, I find it very hard to tell them to all-out protest or do anything that might jeopardize their livelihood or ability to have a place to stay if they aren’t in immediate harm. Given the rates of [poverty] homelessness and unemployment in queer and trans populations in general, let alone when it comes to still more youth of color in queer and trans populations, I cannot–with a clean conscience–advise anyone to make a stand in these environments without a fallback plan, or at the very least an understanding of the stark reality that jobs and homes do not grow on trees, do not fall from the sky, and are not granted by magical job and home fairies.
In retrospect, I was fortunate to have never been in the situation. I took risky steps and was fortunate enough to have people who cared. The same is not true for everyone.
Risk Some, Risk All
Someone I knew who was somewhat wealthy and from a conservative family decided to rally for change in his upper crust private school. Another acquaitence rallied for change in his public school. Both were expelled and both found themselves without homes.
One found himself with a bimonthly 1k “allowance” and connections to live in a in Midtown condo at a discounted rate because his parents knew the landlord. And the allowance didn’t count as “essential money” that paid rent, utilities, food, gas, etc. He also found himself in another, more progressive private school with a new car to get there. The other young revolutionary had to couchsurf until he could find a shelter and he was fortunate enough to stumble upon one that focused on queer youth. He had to begin working and eventually went to get his GED.
While I wasn’t the one who gave those two the advice to try starting GSAs in their schools or start rallies, had they asked my opinion at that time I might have told them to make those grand stands.
I say this in reflection of my own activism and my pig-headed advice to others. It was pig-headed because when people told me about their hesitations with coming out to family, with taking a stand, with not feeling comfortable, I was all: “an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere” and “if you don’t come out, how can you be yourself?”
So now when people ask my advice, I tell them to do the best they can with what they have. I also try to guide them in thinking about their specific individual situations (as opposed to media portrayals) and the potential pros and cons of any decision they make and whether they are willing to risk the possible outcomes. There is nothing more sexy and safe than a well-informed decision. Or a condom. Though while wearing a condom you can still be hit by a bus, so watch out.
Advising someone to risk their community/social relationships is something I also can’t do. As many of us know, mainstream LGBT communities can be pretty exclusionary for non-cis and non-white and disabled people. Leaving the relative safety and comfort of our religious or ethnic communities is akin to cutting off the only lifelines we have to core parts of our identities–even if those communities have nasty practices and rhetoric. The lesser of two evils.
I know a man who says he would rather be around the most homophobic West Indian people he can find (he is a first generation mixed-race West Indian) than gay white people (especially men). His reasoning is that he feels stronger ties to his ethnic and regional identities than to folks that frequently see him as “exotic brown spice” and “day laborer”–everything but human. And when “no Asians, no Blacks, no fems” is the frequent recurring line in digital space while side-eyes and microaggressions in physical places, who can blame folks who feel that way?
Choosing not to protest for principles in cases like these are forms of survival. It’s living between things that mean to hurt you and choosing the one that won’t send you to the hospital–or worse.
Shades of Standpoint
Levels of privileged standpoints often inform the advice we give others because we are generally speaking from what works for us. We don’t put ourselves in the shoes of the person we are helping all of the time–we sometimes project ourselves into their situations and wing it from there.
One of my best friends is a trans woman that, when we hung out at my house, never wanted to go to the bus stop alone. And when we hung out at her house, never wanted to walk me to the bus stop when it was time for me to leave. (“I don’t think I look good,” she might say. Or “I’m just suddenly really tired…”)
It had always been my opinion that she should just stop being so lazy and hypocritical and that she shouldn’t worry about what other people thought.
Knowing me, I probably would have said something boring like, “If you’re confident and fierce, nothing formed against you shall prosper.” Or “let me help you come out of your shell and be as confident outside as you are with me”.
I would only discover a few visits later that she had anxiety about going outside alone because, as a trans woman, she knew that stares and “well meaning small talk” could easily become physical violence and harrassment. From that point on I insisted on going with her almost everywhere.
I am glad that I never shared that piece of unsolicited “advice” also, though I know her to be smart enough to school me if I ever dared.
What Have We Learned?
Be careful when you are giving advice. This isn’t to scare you into thinking that you should never guide anyone, but I hope to have made you think about ways in which you can help others while respecting the agency and circumstances of other people.
Barring 50 shades of shit that could totally ruin humanity’s day forever, the world isn’t going much of anywhere. We’re all just trying to survive and some have to scrap more than others and it doesn’t do well to put the weight of the world on the shoulders of people just trying to make it through the day by shaming them because they aren’t ushering in The Gay World Order between 9-hour shifts and heavy coursework.
This doesn’t mean individuals can’t become big heroes, just that it isn’t your place to force that on them.