Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Is Heterosexuality Also a "Choice"?

By Kristen Hebestreet
WSU Signpost

If it's a choice to be gay, then heterosexuality must also be a choice.

When Evergreen International held its annual conference Sept. 16-17 in Salt Lake City, speakers promised anyone could diminish "same-sex attraction."

In response to Evergreen International, the newly formed Everclear Institute now offers a "same-sex indoctrination" program. After all, gay people supposedly have better parties, talents for the arts, dress better and don't contribute to what is rapidly becoming an overwhelming population problem.

(Those who know tacky, boring gay parents and are offended by these stereotypes should be reassured; it's a sign of thinking).

Conservative wings of Christian religions promote the idea that "same-sex attraction" is a chosen, unnatural behavior. Some ultra-conservatives say it may even be the result of "demonic possession," and a successful exorcism can cure this sexual preference.

There are truly people who change sexual preferences - one way or the other - later in life, and there are certainly plenty of bisexuals. There are transgendered friends who may double one's wardrobe. But Everclear is hesitant to blame or credit demonic possession.

Just in case, Everclear plans a mass exorcism as soon as a willing priest can be found; people who might otherwise be gay could very well be possessed by straight demons.

Everclear's big switch is not an impossible goal: Christian conservatives apparently feel it is very easy to "catch" homosexuality. The Everclear Institute thus advocates always sitting next to gay people in class, especially during flu season.

The Christian Right feels homosexuality can even be caught through the media. Just watching a burger-slinging, sea-dwelling cartoon character like Sponge Bob is rumored to inspire same-sex attraction, so perhaps a Sponge Bob Film Festival would be appropriate.

Any future Everclear event should include guest speakers like Tinky Winky, the lavender Teletubby, and Barney the purple dinosaur, both of whom were indicted by Jerry Falwell and other Christian ultra-conservatives as vectors of gayness.

Dr. James Dobson, "Focus on the Family" founder, also outed Jimmy Neutron, but Neutron was such an unpopular cartoon character no one actually cared. We now have, so apparently Spidey is gay, too. Spidey gets all dressed up at night and skips from one building to the next, so we should have known.

This reinforces a lurking suspicion that someone in the Falwell camp is sexually attracted to cartoon characters and people who dress up as fuzzy animals. This is such a common predilection that "furries," as they are known, have conventions, parades and support groups. It is odd to think of anyone eyeing Weber State University's Waldo the Wildcat mascot with lust, but it apparently can happen.

The Everclear Institute does not quite know what to make of this, but wishes him or her all the best.

Evergreen International focuses on making male homosexuals - lesbians are not usually addressed because girls are so icky - into men who at least act straight. These "Make Me a Real Man" programs sometimes involve incredibly buff men oiling each other's naked bodies in steamy locker rooms in order to encourage healthy male bonding. No doubt at least a few gay men are beating down those locker room doors, hoping to join the party.

Exodus International, a California-based conversion therapy group, offers lesbians makeovers and wardrobe tips as a crucial step toward change. One shudders to think of a mascara with that much power.

The American Psychiatric Association's 1998 statement on "conversion therapy" says this process can cause depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviors, particularly since the therapist in this case is reinforcing self-hatred may be felt by the patient.

Oh, balderdash: The Everclear Institute offers the hope that anyone who really wants to change can become gay.

We at the Everclear Institute teach love, acceptance and understanding, even if it means tying a man to a chair and forcing him to listen to old Judy Garland albums until his wrists go limp.

As a form of aversion therapy, women who come to Everclear will be flogged with cattle prods whenever they show too much interest in those sweaty, muscular men doing Bikram yoga. These women will then be issued flannel shirts and black Doc Marten combat boots. Acquiring an aversion to meat is optional.

After all, heterosexual men and women sometimes look at each other over what appears to be an insurmountable gender divide. Stereotypes abound of the bestial, violent men and evil women who double as wallet-sucking lampreys. Recently divorced folk sometimes long for what they perceive might be a less complicated relationship with a best friend.

Everclear offers the caveat that one is always dealing with another human being, and any communication is therefore difficult. Although John Gray's "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" was a popular seller in spite of teaching men like to solve problems and women only want to talk, Everclear suspects most people - even the Uranians are from earth.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Lesbian Stereo-hyping

By Kristina Campbell

There are few moments in a lesbian's life with more texture, few occasions more richly rewarding, than the experience of sitting with a couple of straight women as they recite a panoply of Sapphic stereotypes to which said lesbian does not adhere.

This is typically accompanied by a challenge to provide supporting documentation of the purported lesbianism and/or followed by the assessment that one's Lesbian Identity Card is in severe danger of being revoked.

My most recent experience with this exercise came at a Washington Nationals game -- which should have, on its face, lent credence to the whole ''no really, I'm a lesbian'' thing. Au contraire -- since the straight women were at the game with me, this did not qualify as a lesbian marker.

They were, however, swayed by my acute knowledge of the individual players and various team and player stats, as well as my casual use of the term ''ground-rule double'' and coherent explanation of that phenomenon and others like it.

To my discredit, my fervent proclamations of love for third baseman Vinny Castilla (#9) caused them to hoist an eyebrow. My similarly heartfelt declarations about back-up shortstop Jamey Carroll (#2) did nothing to further my cause.

But this was about more than baseball. The two straight women in this particular exchange were completely non-homophobic; they weren't speaking of the stereotypes in any derisive way, nor were they completely serious at any given point. Both of them had openly lesbian roommates in college, and both have always been absolutely wonderful to me on that topic and others in the year and a half that I've known them.

Something about the crack of the bats, the roar of the crowd and the calls of the peanut hawkers brought out the feisty side in my friends, though, and we were soon engaged in the mission of enumerating the ways in which I do not fit the lesbian mold vs. the ways in which I do.

''Do you play softball?'' one of them asked.

''No,'' I said. ''I never really did any sports, except bicycling, and that was strictly non-competitive.''

''Mm-hmm,'' they said, exchanging a look.

''But I'm a vegetarian!'' I said, to which they nodded in generous acknowledgment. ''I live in Takoma Park!''

I could tell from their expressions that they were expecting more honesty from me.

''Okay,'' I said. ''So I don't own Birkenstocks.''

''Right,'' one of them said. ''And you shave your legs,'' she pointed out, running her fingers up my calf.

''Well, yes, I do,'' I told them, resisting the urge to make a joke about her fondling my leg. ''Underarms too,'' I admitted. ''But not in the winter, really!''

''Lots of women don't really shave in the winter,'' the other one said.

They started to seem interested in helping me make my case, suggesting qualifiers gently and enthusiastically, but their true motive was quickly transparent.

''Do you drive a pick-up truck?'' they asked, knowing full well that I drive a regular ol' four-door Saturn.

''No,'' I said. ''I do not drive a pick-up truck, and have never wanted to. But Saturns are kind of lesbianish.''

''It's no Subaru,'' one of them said, to which I conceded that Saturns don't hold a candle to Subarus in this game -- but added that my partner drives one, and I am a co-owner of that vehicle, listed on the registration and everything.

They looked skeptical.

I pointed out that I don't carry a purse, which led to a sidebar about how people like me manage to carry loose stuff around in our pockets and not lose things all the time. (Answer: We say a lot of prayers, often get lucky and find our cell phones wedged between the driver's seat and the car door, and occasionally -- very rarely in my case -- we lose something.)

But back to the task at hand. They conceded that I keep my hair pretty short -- but noted that it could be shorter. They smirked at my confession that I get monthly haircuts and spend $45 apiece on them.

I pulled out what I was certain would end the conversation once and for all: ''I don't wear make-up.''

They were stunned speechless for a second, stewing in the juices of utter defeat, until they got a second wind. They unleashed a barrage of heterosexifying barbs, beginning with: ''Do you wear flannel shirts?''

''No,'' I said, ''but I own some. Does anyone still wear flannel shirts?''

They were having none of this; my challenges of their outdated caricatures fell flat.

''I like folk music,'' I said meekly, knowing that there's only a certain amount of it, by certain artists, that I can stomach.

''Have you been to the Michigan Womyn's Festival?'' they countered.

''No ...'' I trailed off. Damn, they were good. ''But I haven't worn patchouli in years!'' I said. I'm pretty sure they rolled their eyes at this.

Clearly it was time for the big guns. I reached into the recesses of my brain, mentally thumbing through the card catalog of my lesbian experience. I needed to silence them once and for all. I needed to show that my lesbian card was not in danger of revocation. I needed to stand up and assert, ''I am lesbian! Hear me roar!''

A small voice emerged from the darkness, telling me I'd found the clincher. I sat up straighter, looked them in the eye.

''My partner,'' I said, ''is a WOMAN.''

And that, thank God, was the end of that.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Finding a Port in Katrina's Storm

By Kristina Campbell

News this week that the California Assembly passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage in that state was cause for excitement, without a doubt. The measure now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who's about as gay-friendly as Republicans come, but who has declared that the state's courts should determine whether the marriage law should extend to gay couples there.

Since the legislature there initiated this move, rather than passing it by court mandate as Massachusetts did, it normally would be one of the most thrilling developments the gay community could ask for. But the news fell flat in the context of the ongoing devastation in the area of this country ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and the resulting flooding in New Orleans.

It's difficult to imagine celebrating political victories generally, or doing something as specific as planning a sunset wedding on the beach, when a city has been ravaged and people are still stranded there, some dying, bodies lying on sidewalks and floating down the waterlogged thoroughfares that used to be streets.

I've been struck by how easily life has gone on for most of this country while one of its major cities has been essentially decimated. We don't yet know the death toll, but it could easily surpass the loss of lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I remember how in the aftermath of that attack, the entire nation was stunned -- it felt like everything stood still as we attempted to wrap our minds around what had happened. We needed time to recover, and we took time to recover. But it feels like not much has stood still since the hurricane hit and then the levees failed.

Some would point out that the victims on Sept. 11 weren't overwhelmingly black or overwhelmingly poor -- they were white-collar professionals, for the most part, a detail that maybe hit too close to home for most of the country. Fewer of us can grasp what it means to be so disenfranchised in this society, to not have the means to escape the path of a hurricane headed toward our city, even if it doesn't really occur to us that the real disaster will result a day or so later, a byproduct of years of federal neglect.

Maybe as a nation we're more jaded now than we were four years ago, but I can't help remembering how Major League Baseball suspended play for six days in 2001; nothing of the sort happened this year. Bats went right on swinging -- no one missed a beat speculating about who might win the wild card race.

You can bet legislatures weren't pushing through civil rights legislation in the week following the terrorist attacks, either.

Don't get me wrong; I'm delighted that elected officials in California have taken this step forward. I'd begun to believe that I wouldn't see gay marriage widely legalized in this country during my lifetime, and the thought of a legislature proactively passing such a measure makes me a little more hopeful on that front. But it's really difficult for me to be jubilant right now.

Of course, there are people who find an obvious link between the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the gay civil rights movement -- they probably are way less jubilant than I am about this development in California. The hateful Web site quickly issued a tired, predictable, ridiculous diatribe about how disaster hit New Orleans because the city was due to host Southern Decadence, a major gay gathering, a few days after the storm. ''Hurricane Katrina has put an end to the annual celebration of sin,'' the statement says.

But there are other people who've made a link between the disaster and sexual orientation who give me hope, who inspire me. The temporary housing postings on the New Orleans Craigslist site include dozens from gays all over the country who are opening their homes to people who have lost everything in this tragedy.

''This is a nice, friendly place to recover,'' writes a California lesbian couple, offering a guest room and free food and transportation to a lesbian or female couple. ''And we offer compassion and comfort. ... Our hearts go out to all victims of Katrina, gay, lesbian, and otherwise.''

''Gay couple will get you back on your feet,'' proclaims an ad posted from Alexandria, Va. ''... NO STRINGS OR EXPECTATIONS. We'll house you, feed you, clothe you and even assist you in getting here. We can help you find employment to start over.''

A kind soul in Tucson, Ariz., who doesn't disclose a sexual orientation, posts: ''I am willing to provide my nicely furnished guest room (double bed) to a senior citizen (female or couple, gay or straight, black or white) interested in coming to Tucson to start a new life. Race and sexual orientation are NOT an issue.''

Generous offers like these -- focusing on the human element of this tragedy, as opposed to foolishly assigning blame for the disaster -- give me more hope right now than any piece of legislation could, particularly when our federal government was appallingly slow to respond to the crisis. This really is gay community, on a national scale. This is the collective gay family opening its arms and its doors to people in need.

Those who would find fault with this ''lifestyle'' should be the ones repenting.