Queer Digital Stories: Identity

Queer Digital Stories: Looking Back This post is the third in a series written by participants of our queer digital storytelling workshop.  Below is the film created by Caleb Hernandez, Identity, f…

Source: Queer Digital Stories: Identity

As Seen in Argentina

I’ve just recently returned from Buenos Aires and I thought these images from an upscale shopping mall–Alto Palermo–were fascinating (and a little disconcerting). Evidently the post-Charleston terror attack response to the Confederate flag has not crossed beyond US borders yet!

I think if you cut them into Daisy Dukes they * maybe * could be seen as ironic. They clearly were NOT in Buenos Aires.

I think if you cut them into Daisy Dukes they * maybe * could be taken as ironic. There didn’t seem to be any tongue-in-cheek (that I could discern) in the presentation at the Buenos Aires retail space.

This past summer several people asked me to weigh in on my feeling about the Confederate flag removal, but I feel like I’ve been pretty clear on that over the years. This issue is a bit trickier and I hope to get to that over the holiday break.  On the 2015 Confederate flag moment I’ll just quickly add: Yes, it needs to go from anything publicly funded or associated with the current government. Yes, much of the debate wasn’t really about that flag. No, this scene’s poignancy and impact hasn’t been diluted.


Is it Abercrombie? No, it's Cook!

Is it Abercrombie? No, it’s Cook!

Vintage Side Eye!

Three women from Guadeloupe, Ellis Island circa 1900 (Photo via the NYPL)

Three women from Guadeloupe, Ellis Island circa 1900
(Photo via the NYPL)

An image for every Texas county clerk who won’t issue a same-sex marriage license

Police officer Leroy Smith helps an overheated man wearing National Socialist Movement attire up the stairs during a KKK rally & counter protest on July 18, 2015, in Columbia, S.C.  Temperatures that day reached in the upper 90s.

Police officer Leroy Smith helps an overheated man wearing National Socialist Movement attire up the stairs during a KKK rally & counter protest on July 18, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. Temperatures that day reached in the upper 90s.

Soon after the US Supreme Court final decision on marriage equality reports began to emerge from (mostly Southern) county clerks who claimed they can refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, despite the highest court’s order to do so. A handful were reported to have resigned their jobs, which I can respect if not particularly admire. I would equate it to a public school teacher from Alabama who quit in light of Brown vs Board of Education because she didn’t believe in integrated education. She too would deserve some credit for resigning and not engaging in narcissistic grandstanding on the job, unlike these state employees following the Obergefell decision in June, 2015.

The above photograph from this past weekend features another public employee. One who understands that freedom of speech and assembly are constitutional rights protecting all Americans, even for those views we find most odious. An African-American public employee who didn’t refuse to report to duty the day the Ku Klux Klan was to protest at the South Carolina capitol building. A public employee whose motto is likely “to protect and to serve”. In other words, someone who can put their job and the Constitution above personal beliefs–much less mere pique and pettiness.

Thanks for being patient in 2014

As many of you have noticed, it has been pretty quiet around here since summer. I hate making New Years resolutions, but I do plan on being more active again in 2015. As some of you know I’ve spent most of my non-working, non-playing time the past 6 months researching the 1840s, 1850s, 15th POTUS James Buchanan (yup, he was gay) and Senator William Rufus King (him too). It’s been an honor FORD 76to assist on this project. I am incredibly proud and excited for my very talented friend. Hopefully I’ll have a few spin-off posts that are related to the time period and people researched. In the meantime, thanks so much for your messages and tweets over the last year (and the shirt Kressenda! It was a pleasure to help you out on your paper–I wear it all the time!).

Bewildered Old Woman




When Affirmative Action Was White*

Ah, the comments section for online news stories. Should it be avoided at all costs? Or is it a useful way to get insight into the pulse of the people? If the news announcing Pres. Obama’s executive order to institute mild student loan reform is any indication it’s even worse than it looks. Yet, on other sites the commentary and reaction following Ta-Nehisi Coates tour de force on reparations has been, on the whole, one of the most engaging and thoughtful online discussions I’ve ever been a part of. If you haven’t read it yet, do it! I think it may prove to be the most important thing published this year.


Contempory politcal cartoon on reparations.

I’ll be making a bit of a Reconstruction-politics pilgrimage this fall, so there will likely be a lot of political cartoons from that era coming up later this year. However, the online discussions over the last month or so immediately made me think of this political cartoon (below) from just after the Civil War. It represents complete outrage over appropriating money to establish a Freedman’s Bureau to assist and educate newly emancipated slaves. Free (primary) education and job placement assistance for African-Americans provokes the image of lazy takers then as it does today.

Yet on the left hard-working white Americans toil honestly splitting rails. Could that have been a homestead? You know, free land granted by the US government to those wiling to cultivate and occupy it? The method by which countless pioneers settled the hinterlands and tamed the wild? Funny how no one says “government handouts won the West”.  From where I stand free land definitely counts as a government handout.

Going forward I think Coates’ piece might go down as when we started rethinking the framing device for the reparations discussion. Unlike the contemporary cartoon above it’s not about “paying for what your ancestors did”. Nor is it about getting blood money for something horrible that happened to one’s ancestors.  It’s not about personal racism or Ancestry.com forays. It’s about studying institutional programs over the years: from slavery to redlining in 1970s Chicago. It’s about a public admission and reckoning that much of the success and earned wealth of the United States of America came through successful federal and state “Big Government” programs: the Homestead Act, the GI Bill, the National Industrial Recovery Act. “Big Government” affirmative action programs when Affirmative Action was white.


1866 anti-Freedmans’ Bureau political cartoon from Pennsylvania.


* thanks to author Ira Katznelson for the inspiration and phenomenal research.


The Other Pill

truvadaWith last week’s announcement from the CDC there has been a huge uptick in opinion pieces and mixed reactions relating to the prophylactic drug Truvada (or PrEP). In my own life it has become quite the robust conversation topic over social media, dinner parties and happy hour with friends. My broader feelings have been oddly ambiguous, so until now I’ve only commented on smaller, side-issues because I’ve felt so strangely conflicted and underwhelmed by what is surely scientific good news.

As much as I like to think of myself as someone who can just read the medical literature and data (10 years of working for Public Health researchers and epidemiologists has rubbed off on me a little, at least I hope!) I have to confess there are personal, illogical gut-reactions involved too. Either way, this year is establishing itself as the tipping point for the gay community to grapple with several, interlocked issues around this little blue pill.

Way back in distant history–when Bill Clinton was president and web-surfing was something squeezed in at the office–I worked as an administrative temp in downtown Seattle. There was an office manager named Maureen who in so many ways was the prototypical one of that era. Close to retirement and a bit of mother hen to us “kids” (twentysomethings slumming it until we found the proverbial “real job”), she told me a fascinating story that I really hadn’t revisited until lately. She said when she was attending University of Washington, sometime in the early 1960s, she put herself though this peculiar rigmarole to obtain the birth control pill. A Seattle native, she didn’t go to her family doctor who’d treated her since childhood, nor the student health clinic on UW campus. Rather, she made an appointment with yet another, new physician located in Seattle’s Rainier Valley. Not only that, she borrowed a ring from a girlfriend so that she could claim she was engaged at her visit. Fifty years later, Maureen–part of the final slice of the Silent Generation–was laughing with us at birth-control-pills-from-case-eduhow elaborate her performance was. Pretending to be married would have been a more assured way to obtain The Pill with less hassle, but somehow she STILL feared this might get back to her parents via some secret slut-shaming physicians’ network. So Maureen created a back-up plan in case she needed to do later damage control–she could quickly claim she and her boyfriend were secretly engaged (they weren’t and the relationship ended before graduation). Fear of judgement plus some good old-fashioned embarrassment were putting up extra burdens to wise medical prevention. Fear her (male) family doctor would tell her parents she was having sex. Shame that she was having sex and not *really* engaged, much less married. She wasn’t Catholic or against birth control, and probably neither was her family physician, but there was this sense of caution and fear that while The Pill might be a modern science godsend to the *right* sort of girl (married ones who want to responsibly space their children) we must not allow it to be an easy option for the *wrong* sort of girl (unmarried promiscuous ones).

Today Truvada seems to be having some of the same reactions. Some physicians and social commentators are quick to praise it for the *right* sort of gay (HIV discordant monogamous couples) but are very leery of widespread use for the *wrong* sort of gay (unmarried promiscuous ones). In an effective patient/doctor relationship all facts should be on the table, but this is always so much easier said than done. Who doesn’t round-down when even just self-reporting their alcohol consumption, for instance? Talking about Truvada requires being upfront about having condomless sex and taking whatever judgement or awkwardness comes along with that. Because this drug is so new, and is for a narrow niche of the market, it may take a little time–and patients switching physicians–for the awkward cloud to lift. Yet it’s not just the “talking about sex can be uncomfortable” factor that I think is keeping a lot of gay men from embracing this new prevention tool. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to sort out my own feelings. Had the CDC just approved and recommended a vaccine I have no doubt my feelings would have been overwhelmingly positive. Why was I conflicted about a little blue pill that–if taken daily–does the same? My brain has gone through as many justifications and half-truths and second-guesses as Maureen’s did circa 1962: It’s because it won’t protect against OTHER STI’s! Neither would a vaccine, neither does The Pill. It’s because this won’t be affordable for the masses of HIV positive men and women in sub-saharan Africa! Perhaps, but that’s a bigger issue about global health and wealth in general. Sorry, Straw Man. It’s because there could be side-effects we don’t know about yet! Again, that’s true with many drugs. Even if some small portion of people experience side-effects and need to halt usage, surely the greater good (fewer HIV infections, fewer AIDS-related deaths) outweighs that. Those reasons were thin attempts at justifying my lukewarm response to Truvada. I think the real reason the response was so muted in comparison to what a vaccine is something much less

Selfie @ UW's Hansee Hall. Today co-ed, in the 1930s-1970s it was the "girls' dormitory".
@ UW’s Hansee Hall. Today co-ed, during 1930s-1970s it was the “girls’ dormitory”.

admirable. I was underwhelmed by the idea of long-term adherence to a daily drug precisely because that is the reality of healthy, happy people who are HIV positive. A petulant little voice in the back of head was not pleased that the end result was the same: Daily pharmaceutical intake. Awkward conversations with physicians. Potential battles with insurance plans. “So what was the point of trying so hard to be good (caution & condoms) all these years if we are all ending up in the same boat anyway?“was the niggling voice. Somehow I felt because I played by the safer-rules 95% of the time (okay, 85% of the time) I should get some sort of cosmic credit over the cavalier barebacker. This mindset isn’t logical or pretty. But it was there and I’m over it now. Maureen probably went through irrational justifications of why she, an “almost engaged” college girl wasn’t in the same boat as a promiscuous, picking-up-men-in-bars type. People like to rank and categorize. They also like to engage in magical thinking about “what’s fair” on some imaginary cosmic scorecard (ask anyone who has experienced death or divorce about that one).

I still haven’t decided if PrEP is right for me, and I don’t want to shut down–or merely dismiss as alarmist prudes–those who have sincere concerns about what the future could look like for my community post-Truvada. However, I think it’s worth remembering that people take time to sort through their own phobias and embarrassments whenever the topic is sex. Maybe when I am near retirement, having a doughnut in the office, I’ll be able to have a chuckle with a bunch of 21 year olds about my silly justification-gymnastics around a medical breakthrough that ultimately changed the lives of countless people for the better.