Photo by: Björn Erlingur Flóki Björnsson

Photo by: Björn Erlingur Flóki Björnsson

For the past few weeks the Internet, specifically the social media activity of the queer community, has been sickening – and not all of it in a good way. Anyone who is active on social media has likely stumbled through, or into, the RuPaul tranny debate. The basis of the debate rests on the question of whether or not the word tranny is offensive and/or transphobic, and the key players for the opposing sides have become American icon RuPaul and RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Carmen Carerra. The problem with the debate is not the argument itself, because we as a community are growing and need to have these types of conversations about language. The problem is that the debate has participants that are uninformed, biased, and privileged.

The two figureheads in the debate have received the brunt of the punishment and rage of this free-for-all, with Carmen arguably getting the most hate. The pro-tranny team is so focused on staying true to their fandom and idolization of RuPaul and RuPaul’s Drag Race, that they are incapable of looking at this debate with an open-mind. We as a society that is forever plugged in, and constantly sharing our thoughts, need to do what generations before us did, and actually read, research, and go out into the world to gain experience on the topics we’re talking about.

Facebook and Twitter, as two primary examples, allow people to share thoughts freely. There is no criteria for those that can share their thoughts; anyone can do it. The result of these unmoderated forums for discussion lead to folks sharing their thoughts en masse based off of their love for either RuPaul or Carmen Carerra, or perhaps just as often, people commenting without any knowledge on the topic at all. RuPaul, on her end, shared a New York Times article amidst the chaos, which could explain the behavior on both sides. The article, “Faking Cultural Literacy,” discusses the tendency of folks to talk about things they have no real knowledge on.

“What was Solange Knowles’s elevator attack on Jay-Z about? I didn’t watch the security-camera video on TMZ – it would have taken too long – but I scrolled through enough chatter to know that Solange scrubbed her Instagram feed of photos of her sister, Beyoncé.” This passage explains a huge problem with this current debate. Our generation is so flooded with news that we often derive our information from headlines, summaries, and comment threads, none of which offer a full, unbiased view of the real issue at hand.

I may be seen as a traitor to the gay community, but truth be told the gay community and its allies are more guilty of this fake cultural literacy than the transgender community and its allies. As gay men the word tranny is not, and was never a term used primarily against us. The same guiding principal that says white people can’t reclaim the N-word applies to the gay community and the word tranny.

To continue my traitorous admittance, I believe my fellow gays need to understand that the G in LGBT has much more media representation and support than the T. How often do you see an empowered, three-dimensional transgender main character who isn’t named Laverne Cox? When we receive transgender news it is hauntingly similar – attacks and violence. As gay people we are so used to being oppressed that is hard to see ourselves as oppressors, but that is exactly what we do to the transgender community when we act like this. It’s up to us to own up to this and make a change, and learn to listen instead of talk when an issue directly affects another part of our community.

We, the queer community as a whole, are too bullied and oppressed to be hurting one another. This is not to suggest that things can be perfect, because every community has its faults, but we live in a time when people in our community still do not have equal access to healthcare, are harassed in-person and online, attacked in schools and on the streets, and can’t marry the one that they love. When we divide ourselves it simply makes it easier for our opposition to revitalize their bigoted movement.

I wish for nothing more than a united queer community, which is why I have not participated in this debate. I am comfortable admitting that I am not educated enough in the transgender movement to take part in the debate. Plus, who am I to speak for what other people should or shouldn’t be offended by? Let’s just lose the pride for a moment, and step back when we don’t know enough or when it’s not our place to speak. Otherwise you’re just stating ignorant thoughts and fueling the fire for no reason.

I proudly admit that I don’t know what should happen with the word tranny, and that I don’t believe either RuPaul or Carmen Carerra are completely right or wrong. Only time can tell how this will end, but for now we as a community need to let those that feel oppressed talk and express themselves without fear of being spammed and attacked. Most importantly, we need to become a true queer community and erase the lines between gay and transgender.

One of the biggest challenges that comes with fighting homonormativity is that people often do not understand its impact and prevalence. Traces of homonormativity can be seen in behavior that people usually do not even know is harmful. Terms like “normal acting” (in reference to a gay person) serve to empower the idea that homonormative gays are the best gays. If people were more aware and educated on homonormativity it could begin a more mainstream movement towards combating these harmful beliefs and ideologies.

By no means would this be an easy process. Changing ideas that are ingrained in a society is something that takes a long time. However, the process has arguably not even begun. The folks that are the most educated on homonormativity are people who study social sciences, queer studies, psychology, etc. It is not a common topic, and Googling homonormativity leads primarily to scholarly articles and old, dead blogs. While scholarly articles are always welcome additions to discussion around a topic, they can often exclude people who are just learning about a topic for the first time. If we want to fight homonormativity we have to fight it together, and that means learning how to teach newcomers.

In January of 2013 I was blessed with the opportunity to write an article for USA Today College. I sent them a pitch with a short outline on the article I proposed writing on homonormativity. They accepted, and after a few interviews, and thorough editing, I sent it in. I wanted to share my work, as I believe it is an understandable article, which could serve as a good introduction to the subject. Click the image below to read my article.

USA Today College Tweet copy

 

 

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons--Stephen Luke

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons–Stephen Luke

The battle for marriage equality has been a fight looked on by Americans nationwide. The community celebrated a victory at the death of DOMA and repeal of Proposition 8. People have walked a painful and arduous path to this win for the community, but marriage equality has been presented as the gay community’s most pressing issue, when there are issues that are equally or more worth fighting for. These issues include being protected from discrimination in the workplace and combating HIV and AIDS.

The Washington Post interviewed Terry Stone, of Center Link, which is a “nationwide coalition of more than 200 community centers that serve lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people.” The Washington Post reports, “Stone said that latest survey of the community centers’ patrons found that their top concerns were anti-bullying at schools, transgender rights, HIV and AIDS issues, and the need for more laws against anti-gay discrimination in employment, housing and healthcare.”

While this survey cannot express the wishes of a worldwide community, it brings up a valid point. Why has the issue of marriage equality become the main focus, continually covered by media outlets? The mainstream media always “sells” products and information that they want or that fit their agenda, ideology, philosophy, etc. The mainstream media has latched so tightly on marriage equality, not because it is the top concern of the LGBT community, rather it is because of the group of people in the LGBT community that are most vocal and visual in this fight. What is revealed is a separation in the community based on race, class, and privilege.

Upon a glance at the top online news sources, on the topic of the death of DOMA, the galleries and images show a trend in race. The people celebrating this victory are white. The galleries offer at maximum one or two pictures where the central focus in the photograph is a person of color. Examples for reference include: the Washington Post, the New York Times,  Huffington Post, USA Today, and CNN (videos, rather than images show the white dominance in this issue). I want to follow-up these sources by reminding folks that these are mainstream sources of news, and there are more niche, specific publications and news sources that covered marriage equality differently, however these are clearly the sources of news that people are most often using.

The concern with the demographics behind the fight for marriage equality goes further than race. Class and privilege are very much part of the discussion. Folks that were rallying and fighting for marriage equality are generally middle to upper class people. This can be viewed from the fact that people had the time to take off work to go to these rallies and protests. This is not meant to generalize the entire population of the groups fighting for marriage equality, but is certainly a point to ponder, as people who work paycheck to paycheck (people in the lower class) can’t take days off even if it was the person’s greatest wish.

What you end up with is a combination of dominantly white and privileged individuals fighting for marriage equality. This is the type of the community that the mainstream media wants to cover. They do not want to cover other issues because the demographics would be very different. The Washington Post continues in their previously referenced article to write, “A joint open letter issued in June, signed by 35 leaders, said that gay and bisexual men, while comprising only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for more than 63 percent of new HIV infections in 2010. It said the rate is particularly high for young black gay men.”

While HIV and AIDS is not solely a black issue, it is one that is very prevalent, especially in the black gay community. If the mainstream presented this issue as it presented gay marriage, it would ultimately send a call to others that this is something that people need to care about. This indicates that perhaps the mainstream media has no interest in helping this community and other communities like it. There is no clear-cut reason why the mainstream media does not report as heavily on issues, like HIV and AIDS, that innumerable people in the LGBT community find more important than marriage equality.

The lack of representation of the black gay community, is based in homonormativity. Beyond being physically built a certain way, homonormativity can include race, based on the society in which it lives. In America there is a white dominance, which can be seen clearly in our entertainment industry. Thus, white is beautiful, and other is not. Homonormativity therefore dictates even more specifically that in America the top of the gay community is composed of masculine, discreet, white, gay men and feminine, discreet, white women.

Until this homonormativity is battled, the issues that will receive attention in the LGBT community will be the issues fought for by the middle to upper class white folks. People of color, and the transgender community will continue to be ignored. However, now that the battle for marriage equality has essentially boiled down to a state-by-state battle, it will be interesting to see if the community will take on a different nationwide issue.

 

Photo Credit -- Flickr Creative Commons: Isaac "AYE MIRA" Sanchez

Photo Credit — Flickr Creative Commons: Isaac “AYE MIRA” Sanchez

“Into chill masculine bros”

“Friendly, masc guy looking for the same”

“masc preferred”

“Into masculine guys”

“No fems or older”

“masc only”

The following quotes were taken from screenshots on the Grindr app. Upon exploration of Grindr it is evident that homonormativity is in play. The expression of homonormativity can be seen through:

  1. The frequent self-labeling of users as being masc (masculine).
  2. The expression that fems (feminine gay men) are unwanted or not preferred.

Before analysis of homonormativity by the users of the app can be presented, it is important to present the goal and mission of Grindr. An explanation of the app is found on Grindr’s official website, and states, “Grindr, which first launched in 2009, has exploded into the largest and most popular all-male location-based social network out there. With more than 4 million guys in 192 countries around the world — and approximately 10,000 more new users downloading the app every day — you’ll always find a new date, buddy, or friend on Grindr.” In addition, the website indicates that its mission is “0 Feet Away”, a slogan that essentially means that the app is interested in allowing gay males to meet other gay males that are nearby, quickly.

The app is easy to use. A user simply taps on a user’s image, which opens their profile. If a profile is completely filled out, you will see whether or not the user is online, a display name, a tagline, an ‘about me’ section, how far away the user is (miles, or even feet), age, height, weight, relationship status, what they’re looking for (the options are Chat, Dates, Friends, Networking, and Relationship), and a link to a user’s website (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). Users can select the profiles that they view, and the options are, Nearby (users close to your location), Favorites (users that you have starred), Recent (users that you have chatted with), and Everyone. The default view is ‘nearby’.

The aforementioned ‘about me’ section allows only 120 characters. This is because Grindr does not want to invade users with personal questions. With a 120-character limit users have to provide what they believe is either the most important information about themselves, or the clearest description of themselves as succinctly as possible.

After I looked into the mission and purpose of Grindr, I downloaded the app. Once I had access I was able to interact with up to 200 users nearby. Many of the visible users stayed the same, however, new users were frequently added to the bunch. The following screenshots were taken on my iPad and express the homonormativity that I will examine in this post. I have blurred out images and information indicating the users’ locations. Click the images to enlarge them. (Also, yes, one of the users sent me a message, but no, I did not respond.)

photo (4)photo (4)photo (2)photo (1)photophoto (5)
I want to preface the analysis by first stating that this is only a small pool of screenshots and is not meant to label all users of Grindr. Additionally, this group of users was live and may have grown up in my area, and it is important to understand that the strength and presence of homonormativity can depend upon the values and ideologies of an area (this in and of itself is a topic to be explored later.)

The homonormativity present within the images is related to the two points covered in the beginning of the post (the self-labeling and the explanation of specific preferences). Beginning with the self-labeling, it is clear that the users believe it is important to identify that they are masculine. In any dating app or website, the point is to catch the attention of other users and give them an attractive, but accurate description of yourself. In an app with such a limiting number of characters, users still find the label of masculinity to be incredibly important. Some include it in their tagline, which has a larger font, while others choose to put it in their ‘about me’ section.

The usage of the label of masculine/masc is an indicator that users believe it is attractive and/or important to include. This ideology extends beyond Grindr and is important to recognize, because this belief and beliefs like it are harmful to gay men who happen to be feminine. They are viewed as lesser, because their gender expression is not strictly masculine. While going through the app, I found not a single user that identified themselves as feminine. This brings to question whether the label of masculine is used simply to add more description of what the user is like in person, or because masculine is considered superior.

The labels are not the only part of the homonormativity presented by users of Grindr. The stated preference that users are not interested in fem gay males is the other part. People often have the belief that attraction supersedes everything else and excuses prejudice because ‘I can’t control who I’m attracted to‘. However, attraction does not excuse offensive statements like that. Unless someone has met every single person on the planet of a specific group (feminine gay males, Black guys, Asian guys, etc.) they are incapable of making the judgment that they are not attracted to every person of that group. Additionally, to state that the traits of an entire group of people are unattractive is troublesome and should encourage a person to do some introspection to see why exactly they feel that way about an entire group. If a person finds feminine gay men unattractive it is often just a form of misplaced misogyny, or a form of self-hate. Feminine gay men are the easiest by society to label as gay, so men who are gay and uncomfortable with it, often release the hate they hold inside on the most visual gay men because they are representative of homosexuality.

After some thoughts on the homonormativity presented by Grindr it is important to remember that this is also present in real life. Thoughts expressed online or through apps are not trapped there. People take these beliefs with them through their daily life. In the real world there are gay men that believe masculine is better. In the real world there are gay men who have zero interest in, or hate feminine gay men. These beliefs push feminine gay men to the bottom of the rungs of the LGBT community, and lead young, feminine gay boys to believe that there is something wrong with them. There are young boys who attempt to ‘butch it up’, and act more like a man (the traditional way society defines a man). We need to open our eyes and use this image to show people that homonormativity is very real, and that it is not getting better for everyone in the gay community. If we are not united from inside of the community we will never be strong enough to win the battle for equality across this country.

Male:Female

Photo credit for “Male Sign” Logo — Horia Varlan, Flickr Creative Commons

“I like gay people. Just not the ones that are all in-your-face about it.”

“I like normal gay people.”

“I only like masculine gay men, because if I wanted to date a girl I’d date a girl.”

“You wouldn’t even know that he’s into guys, because he doesn’t act gay.”

“He’s a faggot.”

“She’s a dyke.”
 
Homonormativity is the gay sibling of Heteronormativity. According to Matthew Brim, Assistant Professor of Queer Studies at the College of Staten Island, heteronormativity is nothing more than the expectation that a person’s “biology, sexuality, and gender identity line up.” What does this mean? Well, let’s apply this to a newborn baby boy. From the moment that the child is identified as a boy, society expects that he will grow up and be built a certain way, most commonly muscular and tall, be sexually attracted to women, and be masculine.
 
While heteronormativity is not the focus of the post, it is important to highlight heteronormativity’s relationship with homosexuality. The Gender and Education Association (GEA) explains that, “Heteronormative discursive practices or techniques are multiple and organise categories of identity into hierarchical binaries.” The GEA continues, “This means that man has been set up as the opposite (and superior) of woman, and heterosexual as the opposite (and superior) of homosexual. It is through heteronormative discursive practices that lesbian and gay lives are marginalised socially and politically and, as a result, can be invisible within social spaces such as schools.” The most important note made by the GEA is a reminder that heteronormative values are not inherent or natural, despite the belief that they are. “Theorists have argued that a discourse or technique of heteronormativity has been set up, and subsequently dominates, social institutions such as the family, the state and education.”
 
Heteronormativity does immeasurable damage to persons of the LGBT community. However, it is homonormativity, which has risen in the image of heteronormativity, that is dealing immense damage as well (side note: they are both harmful, and a comparison of the two would be illogical for this blog’s purposes.) Essentially homonormativity is a trend that encourages homosexual, bisexual, and transgender individuals to attempt to mimic heterosexuality and all of its created characteristics and assumptions. The key word in this statement is ‘created’.
 
Homonormativity accepts and enforces these created standards. Through the lens of homonormativity there are only two genders, male and female (refer to the image at the top for a reaction to this notion). People are required to identify with the gender of their sex. If you were born with a penis you need to act like a boy. If you were born with a vagina you need to act like a girl. While ‘act like a boy’ and ‘act like a girl’ are completely abstract phrases, it is homonormativity that would dictate the meaning of the phrase which essentially can be boiled down to masculinity (male) and femininity (female). Masculinity and femininity are constructed, and can be seen throughout our society, whether through everyday interactions such as a parent telling their son that boys don’t play with dolls, or through media with films that portray young women as constantly dressed up, with perfect make up, and heels.
 
Homonormativity digs beyond masculinity and femininity, and adds even more meaning to a person’s penis or vagina. It does more than just control gender identity, it also create the expectations and goal for your body. A man would be expected to be fit and muscular, while a woman would be expected to be have an hourglass figure. A man who is skinny could be considered weaker by society, just as a woman who was heavier could be considered less attractive, because they do not match the ideal. The people of the LGBT community are meant to feel ashamed of themselves and their bodies if they don’t reach the golden standard.
 
While homonormativity challenges people to reach a perfect archetype, it is simultaneously impossible. Homonormativity essentially prides itself on heterosexuality being superior. Basically, homonormativity accepts that a person is gay but discourages any outward displays of it. That is why so often in the media the gay characters that are featured often stand in traditional roles where one gay male is masculine, and takes the role of ‘the man’, while the other is feminine, and takes the role of ‘the woman’. This display is non-sensical because a relationship between a man and a man would not have a woman in the mix, because the fact that it is between two men is what makes it homosexual in the first place. This label and others like it were created and empowered by homonormativity. In a perfectly homonormative world gay people would look and act traditional, live in suburban homes with white picket fences, have a family, and keep all of their romance in private.
 
While the world has not reached a perfect homonormative ideal, it is an immense problem. One of the biggest concerns is that people within the LGBT community often see homonormativity as a positive thing. Some gay men are naturally masculine and muscular, and they are the type of people that would be privileged by homonormativity. For them homonormativity has given them a road into mainstream society, away from the queens and radicals of the LGBT community. People often have difficulty confronting and challenging systems that reward them. It is this separation that has been polarizing the gay community. On one side you have those that meet homonormative standards (masculine gay men, feminine lesbians, etc.) and on the other side you have the gay queens, masculine lesbians, any individuals who are non-gender-conformists, and anything else that would be deemed unnatural. Society has separated the LGBT community from the inside, making it impossible to form a united front to fight for equality for everyone.
 
The aforementioned definitions of homonormativity certainly do not cover every terrible aspect of homonormativity. The goal of this general overview is to allow people to start having discussions. People don’t always know that they are saying something offensive. The quotes that opened this post are just a few examples of statements frequently made by people who simply don’t understand. Knowledge and awareness are keys to action. Homonormativity can be stopped, but not until it is first understood. There need to be words for the young gay boy who likes to wear jeans intended for girls, the lesbian who loves trucks more than dresses, or the individual in between who defines their own gender, so that we can all come together rather than ripping apart. Together we are strong, and together we can stop homonormativity.
 
 

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