Monday, January 29, 2007

And Another Thing: Names Will Never Hurt Me

By Carole Taylor

I don't really like labels or niches or forced choice tests of any kind. Although by the fact of my writing this column where it appears, I've placed myself into a category, and you've done the same by coming here, either as a coconspirator or as a critic. But I don't really like labels. I'm more than the term 'lesbian' implies, even to myself. I've chosen to use it, though, in order to make a point to people who don't like the concept of choice, who don't like the concept of diversity. I may look just like what the world thinks is straight, but when someone is up in my face, I like the idea of smiling and saying I'm a lesbian. I like making people rethink positions. What ought to be a non-issue (loving who loves you back) has to be made into an issue for so long that it becomes what it ought to be: a non-issue. Out of boredom with the discourse, if not out of acceptance or logic.

I don't like labels because, obviously, human beings are complicated. What a label says is that I have to be this one thing and not another, and it's a very slavish way to think. And it seems to me that slaves and stereotypes are similar in a couple of ways: many people wouldn't mind *having* one but nobody wants to *be* one. It's so tempting to have stereotypes since original thought is so time consuming, what with making a living for forty hours a week, and then there is all that quality time with the kids you have to come up with. People had rather come up with a stereotype, buy or rent one, and not have to deal with new ideas. People will use any and all opportunities to avoid thinking.

When I say I'm a lesbian, the hearer has to take me out of the box they had me in and put me in another, both boxes ones they constructed out of their own less than airtight material, but ones they think will confine me. That's a function of the limits of human intelligence, or the limits of the ways we use that intelligence. It's very left brained. Which means people who think in stereotypes are thinking like halfwits, only using half a brain.

I realize that it's natural to think in stereotypes and labels because it's so much quicker. And for millennia, it saved our lives. We didn't have time to think about individuals. That particular tiger might be a sweet baby kitty, but in general, experience said that all of them were likely to eat yer ass. Better for the species not to be introduced for an extended interview. Stereotypes become almost hardwired, knee jerk responses that avoid things like syllogisms or long discourse. And they're required by people who want to run their own lives only through running everybody else's. Those folks don't want anybody to have such unruly things as original thought. And they certainly don't want to allow for many other people such unruly things as love.

If I can control who you love, can tell you who you can or can not marry, I have you by the short hairs. If I can keep you from having an original thought, I have you by the synapses. There's a lot of money in this idea. We don't have a lot of reliable information on the history of human entanglements given all the libraries worldwide that have been burned to the ground for millennia, but it's pretty clear that within the last 5000 years, having original thought is a really rare phenomenon. And marrying for love is a relative recent permission. Even heterosexuals (damn that label) have only been allowed to marry for love for the last hundred years or so. Liaisons are historically designed and plotted for political or monetary gain, or both. Love was either adjunct, tardy or superfluous.

Now up pops all these noisy, demonstrating gays and lesbians and we have the audacity to say that love is paramount, and that it cuts across class, race, politics, religion, economics and even gender. What a concept. Jesus would be proud, you'd think, that any people could be so ecumenical in their application of love. Or in their application of original thought, which really is what love represents. There is no thought more original than love. Think about it. Love is the antithesis of control. Sex is pure anarchy.

People who love without regard to class, race, politics or gender, if carried to a logical conclusion, would eliminate labels, and then where would we be? You can't have a war, you can't have control of other people, without an enemy. And you can't have an enemy without labels. What have we done? We're a dangerous bunch. No wonder we are such a threat to the establishment.

Booga booga . . .

Carole Taylor holds a masters degree and most of a doctorate, which she used as a university administrator for much too long by all accounts. She has been a commercial artist, a journalist, a grants writer, a house cleaner and a Renaissance woman. She is at work on her second novel,a bildungsroman of sorts, and all she wants for Christmas is a sweet movie deal.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

And Another Thing: Parable of the Skinny Brunette

By Carole Taylor

Everyone who has ever come out to anyone, especially to parents, has surely gone through this scene: You say you're gay and somewhere in the middle if you're still having a conversation, regardless of the volume, the other person will say, "I just don't understand."

That point, of course, an insect would have snagged by now. We already know you don't understand. What is puzzling to us is why you don't understand. Affection is not a difficult concept. Attraction is not a difficult concept.

Empathy is another matter. Shifts of perception require some effort. It's not that these folks are stupid exactly. It's that there's this "aha moment" that they've not allowed to happen, usually due to pure laziness.

This is not solid geometry, but it's close. It takes some mental effort. It's as if there is this chasm between certain neurons in the person's brain. He understands how he can be attracted to his wife, but he can't make the mental leap to see how you might be. Or say this obtuse soul is a woman. She can fathom why she sees Brad Pitt as the father of her children, but can't understand why you as a lesbian would rather have Jodi Foster parent yours. The combinations and permutations are endless, but you get the picture.

In my travels, in presentations to college groups and others, I've used this little parable to help people have a tiny aha. You are welcome to borrow the concept.

First of all, the person you're talking to has to have an imagination in order even to listen to parables. Otherwise, this and nearly all other conversations with this soul will be less than useless. If the person will shut up long enough to let you lead them through this, you begin your topic sentence with, "Imagine a world where..."

Watch the person carefully. If the person's eyes glaze over this early in the process, it's probably best just to attempt an escape unscathed. Intelligence is essential to imagination,imagination is essential to empathy, and empathy is essential to understanding. (See how this is sorta like solid geometry?)

Now then, here is the parable. With small changes of pronouns and examples, this works with any reasonably intelligent person, but for the sake of coherent syntax, lets say I'm talking to a straight man:

Me: Tell me one thing, preferably one physical
thing, about a woman that is an absolute yuck to you.
Something that you just could not get past in order to be
attracted to her. Something that would just about make
you hug the porcelain bus.

Guy: Nothing. I like em all.

Me: Come on. There has to be something.

Ok. Skinny brunettes. My older sister is a
skinny brunette and she used to throw these teensie
flower pots at my head when we were little. Sometimes she
didn't miss. (I think this may be part of the problem,
but I don't say this.) I love round, blond women. (He
looks off in the distance, and I realize that he does
indeed have the ability to picture a limited number of
things in his mind. There's hope.)

Me: Then close your eyes and imagine a world where
the entire female population consists of skinny brunette
women. All of them. As far as the eye can see. At least
in your country. Occasionally a girl will be born who is
blond, but her parents die her hair brunette the day they
discover this horror. Say she tends toward roundness when
she grows into adolescence. Her parents, the government,
advertising, the church, her school, all her friends are
so insistent on skinny brunettes that the girl gets
anorexic and buys stock in Revlon.

Guy: This is kinda hard.

Me: I know this hurts, but help me out a little. You
try with your entire being to like skinny brunettes, but
it's just not there. You even marry one. For one thing,
everything around you, all written history, everything on
television, everything all your life says there's no
alternative, so you believe it. And in any case, you
can't find any alternatives because you're not allowed
to look.

Everybody who's not naturally a skinny brunette
is hiding. Or has moved to another country. You know
something is missing in your life, but you just can't put
your finger on it. Or you might have this sneaking
suspicion that round blonds exist. But you can't find
them. Wanting something you can't have takes a toll on
your life, on your marriage. Your wife can't help it that
she's not round and blond, but she senses she can't
really get close you you and she doesn't know why. And
you can't tell her what the problem is. If you know
what the problem is.

Otherwise, you spend most of your
life in denial that you like round blonds. You feel
cheated. Your wife feels cheated. You don't particularly
like your children because they are both skinny and
brunette. How do you feel? How does it feel to be forced
to live a lie inside a world that says your personal,
individual concept of what's attractive is sick, even

Guy: Uh, not too good. I wanna go to Sweden.

Me: Exactly. Sweden is your equivalent of a gay

At this point, I see a small, yet
hopeful beam of light flicker somewhere behind his eyes.
It is true that people have a difficult time
understanding a new concept when they think it has no
relevance in their lives. If they have an inclination
toward empathy, it's because they work at building this
complex structure of understanding. They will work at it
if the universe gives them some reason to expend the
effort. Like a child they love. Or a friend who cares
enough to help them dig the foundation.

Affection is not a difficult concept.

Booga booga . . .

Carole Taylor holds a masters degree and most of a doctorate, which she used as a university administrator for much too long by all accounts. She has been a commercial artist, a journalist, a grants writer, a house cleaner and a Renaissance woman. She is at work on her second novel,a bildungsroman of sorts, and all she wants for Christmas is a sweet movie deal.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

And Another Thing: Remember GI Jane?

By Carole Taylor

This week, I'm musing about Demi Moore. I do that on occasion anyway just for fun, but this weekend I saw her movie, GI JANE, and there are a few things that could stand a comment or two, from the lesbian and gay side of the distaff, as it were.

We all know the armed services are homophobic and one of the largest, most insistent perpetrators of the institutionalized mandatory closetThat's not news, nor is it news that that position is not likely to change. We also know that Hollywood is one of the largest closets in the country, so that's not news either. But the difference is that Hollywood has always had the option to be socially responsible. And for PR's sake, often does make the claim that it *is* an instrument for positive social change. Godnose, the industry could be if it really wanted to be.

Demi is one of the producers of this film, and stars in it, so one would think she could have had a modicum of influence over its content. Although her abs are great, and she shaves her head, and she takes it on the chin, and puts her combat boots in a few deserving groins, all this Xena-esque gymnastics doesn't erase the fact that what the movie is *about* is not what it says it's about: equal treatment for women in the military. If that were what it were about, it would be about equal treatment for lesbians in the military, since there are so many of us there.

What the movie is about is the right of *straight* women to die for their country. Equity has little to do with any concerns of any people with power. And the world was ever thus.

Except for lacking a dangling participle, no one can tell the difference between the movie's costar, Ann Bancroft, and any of her male counterparts in the Senate. They all play games and do back room deals and sell anyone they think is weaker down the Potomac.

Bancroft's character is the one who's allegedly pushing to require the military to allow equity in the ranks. But what Bancroft makes clear is the premise above, that only straight women should serve with straight men. When it's up to her, as part of one of her deals, to be the one to select the applicant for this test case of a woman in a combat role, as the first woman Navy Seal, she rejects any female applicant whose body type even hints that the applicant might be a lesbian. And more than that, she *says* that's why she's rejecting them.

Demi is a girlie girl, a smart one and in great shape, so she gets the nod. You can almost hear Bancroft go woooof just like the audience does when she sees her photograph, so one wonders what *else* Bancroft is thinking at the moment her eyes wander over Miss Thing.

In the interview with Demi later, Bancroft does a bit more in depth investigation to make sure that Demi has a boyfriend at home and that she's getting *properly* fucked. As opposed to the kind of screwing Bancroft has in mind for Demi at the hands the Navy and the Senate. Can you say "prurient interests?"

Digressing from an exploration of the plot for a moment, I'm confused here about the premise of straight women being the only brand of woman acceptable to the military. If the point of keeping out gays and lesbians is that we create havoc in the ranks by introducing an unwanted sexual component into the morale of the unit, what advantage exactly does a straight woman in a platoon of straight men have over gays and lesbians?

Let's look at this a second. Gays are a threat to morale in a unit by being the ever present and nightmarish dropped-soap-in-the-shower menace, and lesbians are a threat by being...what? As good as men and *not* interested in them?

It would seem to me that a lesbian in a group of straight men would make infinitely more sense. And a lesbian in a work group of *any* men, would make more. Gay men aren't interested in her and she's not interested in *any* of the men, gay or straight. They might all actually be friends and comrades, or something really radical like that.

She could be proficient at the stated task without wanting to go to bed with her coworkers. What a concept. Or is that the problem? Is the military about sex, or is it about serving one's country? I think we might already know the answer to this, but I'm just asking.

Back to the plot: when Demi doesn't fail as Bancroft expects her to, Bancroft then tries to set her up for accusations of lesbianism. By now, to anyone who follows these things, it should be apparent that don't-ask-don't-tell has become a bigger excuse for a witch hunt than at any other time in the history of the military.

I must have had popcorn-induced aphasia at some point in the plot development though--you know how those husks caught in a tooth can distract you--because I didn't really catch why Bancroft wanted Demi to fail, why picking a woman who would fail in the implementation of her publicly announced pet policy would advance Bancroft's career.

But somehow, Bancroft has it in her head that it's an advantage to have as the test case a woman who is not obviously physically strong and therefore not a "lesbian-looking" woman, but rather a girlie girl, as if lesbians can't be both. I guess so that if a pretty girl fails, there is no possibility of success for an "unattractive" one. I'm tellin' ya, the plot was more frustrating than that popcorn husk.

The film is as full of homophobia as the military is, and there's no excuse for it. Demi doesn't have to be a lesbian to make the movie socially aware. It would have taken the filmmakers less than a minute of script writing time and only a few frames of film to add a simple and thought-provoking line to fix the entire movie and make a little progress in Hollywood. I know this is like suggesting that one bail the boat
with a sieve, but try this one on.

When Demi is called in front of the brass to endure what they intend and what she interprets as her reputation being slandered, that she is being labeled a lesbian, all she had to do was say, "I appreciate the compliment, but, thank you, no, I'm not a lesbian."

The most memorable line in the movie is Demi's when she screams at a physically abusive sergeant,"Suck my dick!" Which is nice to have a woman spit out, and makes the audience cheer, but which is homophobic in itself. It's the quintessential taunt of a man who assumes that that activity could have no value and that the activity consists entirely of an act that is abhorrent, tantamount to rape, I suppose.

And of course,that's what men in the military are afraid of about straight women, or gays, or lesbians: that they DO have a metaphorical dick; that they have power. The same power straight men have. Whoa. Booga, booga. Scaaaawy.

The whole point of any witch hunt is that *calling* someone a witch is sufficient. No proof is needed. But for a witch hunt, or a lesbian hunt, to be successful, it is mandatory that the *label* be slander.

There are very many straight men seem bent on proving that any woman outside of the home for any reason (that is, any woman who is not attached at all times to another man who appears to control her) is either a whore or a lesbian, and it's this man's personal duty to find out which. If she's not interested in him sexually, she must be a lesbian. If she is interested, then she must be a whore.

There's no middle ground here, and there's no such animal as a situation wherein this man exists where sex is not the subtext. Come ON, boys! Lordamighty. Can't you just go to work and do a *job*? Like most women have to do every live long day to survive? Must all contacts with every other living soul be about your precious Mr. Johnson and the Boys?

Ok, I'm ranting here, but I'd venture to say that not a few women out there have wondered if it's possible to get through a day at work by just *working*. This seems to be the subtext of this movie, anyway. It's what women, lesbians or not, want to be able to do, and gay men, too: Just go to work and do the job. And not be called names, or have who they are BE an epithet to begin with.

I want Hollywood to wake up. I want the military to wake up. I want a million dollars and immortality, too, but while Ed McMahon doesn't have my phone number, at least there is an outside, eventual chance for the first two. But only if we make enough noise.

Besides, there *is* really in the universe a cosmic sense of poetic justice. I just know in my heart that every person who ever maligns us, who ever wishes us ill, will have a child who is gay. And they will have to wake up or lose the love they find most precious on the face of the earth.

Or if not a child, they will have a gay proctologist.

Carole Taylor holds a masters degree and most of a doctorate, which she used as a university administrator for much too long by all accounts. She has been a commercial artist, a journalist, a grants writer, a house cleaner and a Renaissance woman. She is at work on her second novel,a bildungsroman of sorts, and all she wants for Christmas is a sweet movie deal.