Camille Reyes

Posts Tagged ‘gayrights’

Culture Police?

In Culture, media on September 13, 2012 at 11:48 am

A few years ago I attended a panel on gay rights issues hosted by NYU Law. The President of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) was among the panelists. He was most intrigued by a question I asked about the social arc of gays in the media. I used portrayals of blacks as an analogy. In television, we went from the offensive Amos ‘n’ Andy (on radio first) to The Jeffersons to The Cosby Show to Bernie Mac.

I’m oversimplifying, ruling out Roots and Julia, for example, but basically one could interpret the representation of blacks as lead characters on American television (sitcoms) as racist, then a sort of separate but equal, then white-washed (white-normative?) with Cos, then perhaps more authentic. I say ‘perhaps’ because I’m not black; but Bernie seemed more real to me, more reflective of the middle class black people I knew then. My point of tracing this interpretive arc was to ask if it was analogous to representations of gays; does society, and therefore media as social constructs, follow this sort of path from prejudice/fear of the other to normativity to authenticity?  (This is not a linear process.  See Reality Television.)

Of course, these terms are terribly tricky. Take authenticity.  For example, The L Word is enjoyable, but laughable in terms of realism. One could argue all those straight women playing lesbians on the show are analogous to black face/ minstrelsy. I would not go that far, especially since gender and sexuality construction is qualitatively different from racial identity formation. But I would take The L Word over Will and Grace (funny show) if I had to choose which one better represents “my people.”  Lesbian drama, anyone?  And there’s another problem with my question about media representation and social arcs: defining an entire group of people is a hell of a lot of pressure to put on a television show.

This gets to why I respectfully declined when the GLAAD Pres basically offered me a job after the talk. I do not agree with the element of control or attempts to control media on the part of GLAAD and organizations like the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC). I’d rather celebrate those media that do offer fair representations and discourse on marginalized communities (Let’s hear it for Bitch magazine, for starters!) Don’t get me wrong, GLAAD knows how to fete great media (e.g. their annual awards). But when I think about studies like the one recently announced by the NHMC, I get a little angry.  The study found:

Media contribute to negative stereotypes. (I am SHOCKED, shocked.)

What a fucking waste of research money. I’m sorry, but it needs to be said. Let’s spend more money on solutions and more complex understandings of social problems. I am even more disturbed by the underlying goal in these studies, the subtext of suppression seeping through the data points. Censorship is seldom the answer. (I’m only persuaded by arguments involving children). Create media, people. Speak, knit, roll on the floor, occupy, code, dance, turn nouns into verbs, semaphore until your heart explodes. Do it because you have to do it; do it because you have the freedom to do it. Culture is what we make it, not how we break it.

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Beware the Single Story

In Culture, Education on March 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm

I’m going to a talk at NYU tomorrow night about Transgender issues. As a Queer activist, I’m guilty of often forgetting the end of the LGBT alphabet. Sometimes I have a “me first” attitude—let’s secure my equal rights as a lesbian, and then we’ll get to the transgendered among us. Although I’m very open about my sexuality with family, friends and colleagues, I seldom say I’m a lesbian or a queer. Aside from the unfortunate, vaguely disease-like sound of the name, “lesbian” is far down on the totem pole of my story. Due to my outward appearance, I’m also able to control that story, i.e. unless you watch me walk (so I’m told), you can’t tell I’m gay.

This has caused frustration at times, as when I walked into Austin’s Rainbow Cattle Co. to two-step with a lovely stranger only to be asked, “You do know this is a gay bar, right?” Although it makes dating harder, at least I get to own my narrative. My trans sisters and brothers have less control, and not necessarily because of outward appearances. The gender binary is even more culturally loaded than the false gay/straight divide.  A brief example to explain why…

As a publicist, I work with many reporters. Talking shop with co-workers includes, naturally, sharing stories about journalists-their profiles, their quirks.

This one falls asleep in interviews (so be sure to invert your pyramid early). That one picks scabs. He is a funny, gifted writer. She slept with your client.

Such talk laid bare smacks of gossip and makes me uncomfortable, save for the compliments, yet this is how we relate to one another; this is how we process information. This is reality.

Clearly, the water cooler is tough no matter what your story, because more often than not, people feed on the negative, the strange, the culturally acceptable (notice the woman in my example is noted for her sexuality). This is like rain on your wedding day for the transgendered–not ironic, just craptastic.  When I first heard about CNET journalist Ina Fried, I was told, in the same sentence, she used to be Ian Fried. This story was repeated constantly until eventually I started to repeat it myself. Ina’s identity as a writer rode shotgun; we stole the keys.  I eventually discovered that Ina is talented, crafting flavorful reads in a sea of typically snooze-worthy tech writing. In fact, Ina is about to return from the Vancouver Olympics after a triumphant two weeks of wonderful storytelling. She makes software sing even in duller settings, yet we snicker about pronouns.

Without intention, out of cultural habit, I once reduced Ina to a single letter, T. This, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains below, is the danger of the single story. Stereotypes are dangerous because they are “incomplete.” Telling a single story “robs people of dignity.” I hope you will make time to watch this video. I humbly suggest that the moral of her brilliant story is not to censor, but to shine.

Include unexpected authors and stories on your reading lists, especially if you teach, and we teach every time we communicate. Shake up the white male cannon, but don’t negate the value of those words, the beauty of Shakespeare. Write your personal stories, lest someone else write them for you. Report multiple facets of people and places. Attend talks on subjects you know little about. Advocate. Do whatever is in your power to shift power, to change the story. Start by watching this clip.

I Do, Keith

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2008 at 2:05 am

To quote a friend of mine, “I kind of want to marry Keith Olbermann right now.”  I am stunned by his passionate plea to those Americans who vote against gay marriage rights.  As he says, he has no personal stake in the debate; an impartiality that makes his words all the more powerful.  I seldom want to shout at my television like a preacher looking for a witness.  Thank you Keith and MSNBC for making a bold stand here and for making a deceptively complex situation quite simple.  As Keith makes clear, the issue is about loving your neighbor.

We should all be so blessed to find such love in the face of terrible odds, in the face of a country that allows hatred to masquerade as religion or false tradition or “decency.”