Patriarchy

Patriarchy is a nightmare. It is a system of terrorism. I don’t care about hyperbole. It is a system that has destroyed many lives. It is a system that has brought many of us to the brink of death. And it is a system that needs to be completely obliterated.

Patriarchy is a system based on cis-het-male supremacy. When I was born, I was assigned male. I quickly learned as soon as I left my parents clutches to attend first grade at age 6 that I did not fit the cultural definition of a boy. It was not until Women’s Studies in college years later that I learned that I was a victim of patriarchy. Patriarchy hates women, queers and trans people. It is a system that delights in dude bros, the most toxic variety of masculinity you can imagine.

Patriarchy is a theoretical concept. It names the system of male supremacy we live under. It is not only a word of Women’s Studies or feminism, but it is heavily featured in both. There are some who may see the word patriarchy as second wave or as dated but I believe it is timeless. As long as there is sexism and misogyny there will be patriarchy. I actually look forward to the time when there is no need for the word patriarchy because it will finally be destroyed.

Men are the primary agents of patriarchy. They benefit from it and they revel in the privilege they receive from it. They hurl their hatred at women, queers and trans people every hour of every day. It is difficult to list all the ways that men foment patriarchy because the list is endless: through violence, rape, battering, exploitation, gas-lighting, LGBTQ bashing, economic domination, emotional abuse, employment discrimination and hyper-normative gender roles. Women, queers and trans people face a lot of time having to heal from the violence: physical, mental and financial that men commit against them.

Are women agents of patriarchy? I am not sure I would use the word agents. But women are very much affected by patriarchy. There are some women whose minds are colonized by patriarchal ideology. There are some women who have severe internalized oppression. So they act in collusion with patriarchy. Even though it goes against their own personal interests, they have internalized dominant ideology and hope to curry favor with the oppressor. The same goes for LGBT people who collude with heterosexism and cissexism. It is sad when women and LGBT people don’t realize how they are aiding and abetting patriarchy.

Patriarchy is world-wide. It plays out differently in different cultures, but the persistence of gender inequality is stunning. I don’t see an end to patriarchy in my lifetime. But I do see people rising up and fighting back against patriarchy. These are people called women. These are people called feminists. These are people called radical queers and radical trans folks. The Time’s Up movement and the #MeToo movement are encouraging signs. Women are stepping up and speaking out. Feminism hasn’t gone anywhere, but it has been strengthened. We may not end patriarchy, but we will commit a full-frontal assault on it.

 

Performance

There is something very special about performance. Unlike film or TV, it is live and in person. There is something unique about the live-ness of performance. When people gather together to see a live performance, to me it represents hope. And our society certainly needs way more hope. The live-ness of performance elicits an emotional response that is hard to find in pre-recorded media. I rarely see live plays but when I do I am very much transfixed and brought right into the present moment. I would like to start seeing more performances because there is nothing like them.

The other thing I would like to talk about in relation to performance that queers the subject is the way in which gender is a performance. In 1990, queer theorist Judith Butler wrote the groundbreaking academic text Gender Trouble. It is brilliant, difficult and foundational. She applied a postmodern lens to gender and took social constructionism to the next level. In the book she interrupts the specious notion that gender is constructed while “sex” [the category] is real and essential. Both sex and gender are thoroughly constructed and imbedded with multiple cultural meanings. “Gender is performative” has become a common slogan now within the fields of women’s, gender, sexuality, queer and transgender studies.

What does it mean? If we think about drag, we can easily see how someone of one assigned biological sex/gender is performing the expression of the “opposite” sex/gender. Drag performance highlights the constructedness of gender. Gender is not a real, stable or coherent essence. It is something that is filled with social, cultural and political meanings. The meaning of gender is constantly being created by social actors. It is constantly being made, remade and unmade. Its meanings differ across cultures and across historical periods. But drag is simply the more obvious manifestation of the performativity of gender. It is literally performed on a stage. We see an exaggerated version of femininity or masculinity that the drag queen or king is typically portraying on that stage. So while it highlights the constructedness of gender, it should be known that this “drag” performance moves beyond the stage to the realm of everyday life. RuPaul said you’re born naked and the rest is drag.

Some misunderstand the performativity of gender to mean that it is as easy as wearing a suit one day and a dress the next. While that may be true for some non-binary or gender fluid people, for others it is not that simple, including many trans people. Judith Butler states that this mistakenly see gender as voluntarist. In Philosophy, voluntarism is the doctrine that the will is a fundamental or dominant factor in the individual or the universe. What makes people perform gender in a particular way is not entirely known. Just like we don’t know why some people are trans and so thoroughly dis-identify with the sex/gender assigned to them at birth. Gender performativity for everyday people is usually not done in a willful manner like it is for drag performers.

But we must not stop the analysis there. Why is gender expression so automatic for so many people? Is this due to something essential within the person or due to the fact that the binary gender system is so ubiquitous and so tyrannical? Gender expressions that do not conform to one’s assigned sex are heavily punished, even to the point of violence or murder. If all gender expressions from A-Z were routinely accepted, I doubt if people would feel so boxed in to the gender role expectations of only one rigid category. In fact, I believe expressions of gender would become so variegated and multiplicitous that gender would cease to have any meaningful existence, hence my desire for gender abolitionism.

Performance is live and agentic. It gives spectators hope and inspiration. With gender, however, gender is performative but not voluntarist. We do not know the limits of gender performativity because we live in such an oppressive binary gender system that punishbes people for transgressing assigned gender roles. If we lived in a radically different culture, there’s no telling what gender would look like and how its expressions would multiply due to a lack of fear of reprisals for stepping outside of the narrow box.

 

 

Spirituality 2: Queering the Spirit

What does it mean to be queer and spiritual? I think this has been a central question for me. The reality is that many religions are overtly or subtly homophobic or transphobic. This streak of bigotry throughout so many religions is something found in the U.S. and across the globe. And it is what has turned many LGBTQ+ people away from religion. Some have gone running and screaming. And who can blame them? Religion and spirituality should be all about acceptance, inclusion and diversity. Every church, mosque, synagogue and all other places of worship should be open and affirming. No one should be turned away at the door because of their sexual orientation of gender identity/expression.

I think this is one of the reasons that for so long I avoided religion. Way back in Sunday School, I remember one of my teachers saying that when she went to Boston and saw a “homosexual” she walked to the other side of the street. It was around junior high that I dropped out of church and went my own way. But as stated in my previous entry, this eventually did not work for me. I needed a place to ask the “big questions” that started to plague me as I felt increasing alienation from our culture. What I now know is that any religious or spiritual tradition or path that shuns LGBTQ people needs to acknowledge that their traditions are not acceptable. There have always been LGBTQ people in their faith and there always will be. It is not a question of whether LGBTQ people will be there or not; it is a question of whether LGBTQ people will be openly embraced, accepted and celebrated or not.

My religion’s official stance on LGBTQ people is not one of inclusion and acceptance. Despite this, there are many LGBTQ people in the church, both “out” and not out. Many wonder why I don’t simply walk away from my religion. I understand where these people are coming from. My response is that I am standing in my truth and demanding my place at the table. I fully sympathize with those who choose to walk away. But the church is never going to change unless some of us stay put and advocate for transformation from within. We deserve to fully be who we are within the faith traditions of our rearing or of our choice. It is going to take a tremendous amount of work to change these deeply ingrained attitudes and traditions but I know it can be done and in fact change is happening in big and small ways all around us.

Spirituality can help queer people. The reason I choose to embrace religion and spirituality is because I need something to give me gas for the car. I have faced so much adversity as a queer and trans person in this society. Because of this, I have a strong need for something that fuels my fire. I need determination, I need grace and I need perseverance. And I need something that makes life more than something to simply survive. I need something to make my life worth living and to make it meaningful. Spirituality gives the journey, the search for meaning, so much of its life and power. I am delighted that spirituality found me once again and I am determined to make a place for myself and for all queer people in religions. The good thing about spirituality is that it does not require religion. Being spiritual is an immensely personal journey and we can do it anywhere, anytime. As I continue this blog, expect issues of queer spirituality to bubble up many times. It sits at the very core of who I am.

 

 

Laughter

Laughter is an instant vacation. – Milton Berle

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter. – e.e. cummings

In writing previously about hope, it occurs to me that one thing I didn’t mention was laughter. Laughter makes hope easier, more possible. Laughter is the gateway to hope, and an antidote to fear. While I am not the best at cracking jokes per se, I definitely have a good sense of humor and like to laugh. Sometimes people get the wrong impression about me because I am an activist and social justice practitioner. I also am a feminist and a Women’s Studies professor. Feminist are thought to be dour and humorless. In actuality, feminists are some of the funniest people I know. We have to be. After all, we are doing battle with the patriarchy, and that is no small feat!

One of the most important things for me about laughing is that the laughing does not involve the dehumanization of any individual or group. Too much humor punches down rather than punching up. Humor that punches down routinely goes after women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, poor people, people of size, old people, religious minorities and people with disabilities. Given how oppressed these groups are, “humor” against members of these groups functions to further press them downward and perpetuate status quo power relations. Humor can still be funny and not go after any specific group. Poking fun at people in the dominant groups can be sharp analyses of the power structure and the unfair privileges that these people receive.

Queer people are often very funny. I feel that members of oppressed groups are often funnier out of necessity. Due to the pervasive prejudice and discrimination we face, we must develop coping strategies to survive. One of these coping strategies is being funny and frequently laughing. Laughing is a medicine that is free and readily available. Life can seem less harrowing when you can laugh and make other people laugh. Stand-up comics can be very hateful and bigoted, but others don’t rely on degradation for their humor and can be fantastic. Queers have a long history of “camp” humor, humorous drag performances and there are many fabulous queer stand-up comics. I think queers also often have a sarcastic or sardonic sense of humor that also reflects our difficult life circumstances. This humor is a healthy outlet of expression and freedom.

I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder. While laughter is no cure for this serious condition, it can help to lift the symptoms, at least for me. I am thankful for every laugh that each day brings. This is one way to practice gratitude. Laughter can be taken for granted; it shouldn’t be. And the ability to make other people laugh is a true gift. I marvel at some people’s wicked senses of humor. Without thinking, they can make jokes about the most mundane of circumstances. They often don’t know how much their humor can benefit people who are suffering. So many people with depression and other mental health challenges are suffering in silence. Laughter can be, as the quote above states, an instant vacation. It can jolt somebody out of their current despair and provide hope. Thank the Universe for every laugh you have every day and remember that the silly joke you crack could be a healing balm on somebody’s else’s soul. It could even be a life-saver. Namaste.