Stone Butches and Lipstick Lesbians: Gender Role Construction in the Works of Ann Bannon

butchbannerBefore the days of Facebook and Twitter, lesbians were largely confined to meeting in bars or in secret, and they had few sources to link them to a broader community. Logging onto the Internet these days, one can literally find thousands of websites and social media groups dedicated to helping lesbians from across the country and around the globe forge a sense of virtual community.

Although we live in an age of hashtags and electronic tablets, many of us still read bound stacks of paper called books. Lesbian pulp fiction still has meaning for both young queers who are just coming out of the closet, as well as with lesbians from an older generation. What is it about these dated stories that both younger lesbians and those who made the journey to Stonewall find compelling?

One explanation is that younger lesbians are turning to these artifacts of the 1940s and 1950s to gain a sense of a separate lesbian history. In particular, what these books teach us about the construction of gender roles within lesbian relationships is a key component in that history. One of the most pervasive questions that helps one to identify her place within the lesbian community is “are you butch or femme?” Although these gender roles are hotly contested (some say they don’t even exist), it is my contention that they still serve an important function for lesbians of all walks of life. Lesbian pulp, then, is a means of tracing the development of butch/femme roles that is difficult to find outside of oral histories. [Read more...]

Feminist Conversations: An Interview With Lesbian Icon Ann Bannon

Ann Bannon, the queen of lesbian pulpFeminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists For Choice. Ann Bannon, in my opinion, is the queen of lesbian pulp fiction. Her books in the Beebo Brinker series served as a roadmap for many lesbians in the 1950s and 1960s. I was introduced to Bannon’s work in a Women’s Studies class at ASU. Bannon’s novels helped me navigate my own coming out process. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I was given the opportunity to interview her.

1. What was your initial inspiration for writing the Beebo Brinker novels?
I began by falling in “fascination” with the first original lesbian pulp novel, Spring Fire, by Vin Packer. It’s a story of two young women who meet in their college sorority house and fall in love—not a terribly original premise these days, but a dangerous and thrilling one then. The consequences of being outed in the 1950s were appalling, and I had been close enough to a similar disaster in my own sorority to empathize with the girls in Packer’s novel. I knew I wanted to write, and it turned out that this little pulp paperback I had found on a newsstand shelf was the creative trigger. [Read more...]

Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws Apparently Misinterpreted

LGBTQ balloonsLately, a lot of media attention has surrounded the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sotji, Russia, where concerns have been raised over the new anti-gay laws recently passed by President Vladimir Putin. These laws make it illegal to distribute gay/bisexual propaganda and information to minors, making the “crime” punishable with a jail sentence.

Apparently, Putin’s laws are being backed by Alexey Sorokin, who is in charge of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, also taking place in Russia. Sorokin meant that the laws are being misinterpreted and that they are intended to protect minors against gay/bisexual propaganda (whatever that is) and thus are not meant to discriminate against gay people and are not therefore really against homosexuality. But, the laws are going to be implemented simply if a person carries the LGBTQ flag or displays a non-traditional relationship with a same-sex person which then means that they will discriminate against gay people since they will not have the same rights as their straight peers do. This is called discrimination. Sorokin, however, defended the new laws by stating that people do not want a World Cup where people run around naked (like gay people usually do?) and market their homosexuality.

How can someone be against the displays of homosexuality but not homosexuality? The very act of being gay or straight (or other identities/preferences) means that you are displaying an identity and often a sexual preference. The laws basically mean that you can be gay if you never “live it”. You cannot be gay outdoors or wear the flag, especially so not around minors, which are basically everywhere. The laws mean that you can basically never have a social life together with a partner and that you can only hold hands or share intimacy at home. If there is not a minor around that is. If there is a minor around, the laws suddenly make it illegal to be gay in your own house around minors, like your  children, since the very act of kissing or holding hands would be enough to prove that you are not in a traditional relationship (I am guessing that a traditional relationship means marriage between a woman and man). How absolutely ridicilous. As if the laws are not bad enough, the pathetic attempts to defend them by stating that discriminatory laws are not intended to discriminate is laughable.

Sterilized Swedish Trans People Will Not Receive A Government Apology

We’ve previously discussed how trans people in Sweden were forced to undergo sterilization procedures before being allowed to transition, as well as a new law in which this discriminatory regulation was removed. In June, the  Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL) and many of the trans women and men who were sterilized sued the government for compensation.

The Local recently published an article about the controversy.  The trans community has asked the Swedish prime minister to apologize on behalf of all the women and men who were sterilized; according to Aleksa Lundberg, an actress and trans woman, the prime minister’s response has been that “the government can’t apologize every time a group wants an apology.” It is terrible that the prime minister will not apologize to the men and women who were treated so poorly  and robbed of a future involving biological children. He is not acknowledging the treatment these women and men faced, and is not treating their suffering as anything significant. [Read more...]

Carlos A. Ball Talks About His Book “The Right to Be Parents”

Feminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists For Choice. Today I am very excited to introduce Professor Carlos A. Ball, author of The Right to Be Parents, From the Closet to the Courtroom and The Morality of Gay Rights. I asked Carlos a few questions about his latest book The Right to Be Parents.

1. What was your inspiration for writing The Right to Be Parents?

I wanted to bring attention to the committed and courageous LGBT parents who have turned to the courts to protect their relationships with their children. While the issue of same-sex marriage has received an immense amount of attention by the media and the public, there has been a quieter revolution going on in terms of getting many courts to recognize and protect the relationships between LGBT parents and their children. I had previously written a book about the amazing human stories behind some of the leading LGBT rights lawsuits, but none of those cases involved parents. So I wanted to dedicate an entire book to this important subject.

2. In The Right to Be Parents you include extremely powerful stories of both success and discrimination that really highlight the struggles for LGBT families. How did you go about choosing the various stories?

I chose the cases based on a combination of their legal importance and the extent to which materials about them are available to researchers like me. As time goes on, it becomes especially important to honor and recognize some of the pioneering LGBT parents who, in the 1970s and 1980s, fought for their children in the courts before there was any real social acceptance of LGBT people and their relationships. It is important to me that the stories of these parents not be lost to history. I hope that my book contributes in some small ways to that process.

3. Over time, LGBT individuals and couples have gained many judicial rights when it comes to parenthood, but discrimination is still rampant. What do you believe needs to be done to continue working towards greater rights and equality?

Most of the progress that I document in my book resulted from judicial rulings. I think it is very important, going forward, to also focus on what legislators and child welfare officials can do to prevent discrimination when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity in matters related to parenting. There is only so much that courts can do, which means that long-term solutions will have to be found elsewhere.

4. The notion that heterosexual couples are better suited to instill gender conforming values in a child is discussed in the book even though you mention that research states that sexual orientation does not matter. Why do you believe this idea still persists?

The idea that children need both a mother and a father (as opposed to simply parents who love and support them) in order to thrive remains a deeply ingrained one. The social science literature is actually quite clear that neither parental gender nor sexual orientation is associated with child well-being. But it takes time for that evidence to overcome the strong assumptions and stereotypes that many people have about what children need in order to thrive. At the end of the day, what matters most in promoting the welfare of children is that they have adults in their lives who are able to care for and nurture them. The gender and sexual orientation of those adults matters little.

5. Several states, such as Mississippi and Utah still have laws that prohibit LGBT individuals and couples from adopting. Do you believe that these laws will change anytime soon?

I think it is likely, unfortunately, that some of the more conservative states will retain their legal restrictions on LGBT parenting for some time. But I think those states are to some extent already outliers. Most states do not impose explicit restrictions on the ability of LGBT individuals to serve, for example, as adoptive and foster care parents. I am hopeful that, as with the issue of marriage, equality will eventually prevail in matters related to sexual orientation/gender identity and parenting.

Bernadette Barton Talks About “Pray the Gay Away”

Feminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists For Choice. Today we have the pleasure of talking to Bernadette Barton, author of Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers (2006) and Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays (2012). Today we are focusing on Pray the Gay Away and homosexuality in the Bible Belt area.

1. What inspired you to write Pray the Gay Away?
I write about what I call the “abomination incident” in the introduction to Pray the Gay Away. A neighbor told me being gay was an abomination after I came out to him. Although this kind of testifying is relatively commonplace in the Bible Belt, I had never before encountered a stranger who felt entitled to judge me as sinful, and tell me so, based on my sexual orientation. I grew up in Massachusetts in a politically progressive family and was unaccustomed to this kind of interaction. So, even though I had lived in Kentucky for 11 years by this point, I had not experienced much homophobia. My experience as a graduate student at the University of Kentucky, surrounded largely by lesbians, led me to believe that this sort of homophobia had ended.

I was both surprised and troubled by this encounter – the abomination incident – in 2003. Shortly thereafter began the 2004 presidential election season with an anti-gay marriage amendment on the Kentucky ballot. At this point, the homophobic discourse in the public sphere amped up considerably. Marrying a same-sex partner was compared to marrying a dog, horse, child and cousin. Homosexuality was constructed as polluting and contagious. And yard sign and bumper stickers displayed people’s public attitudes about gay people, many of which were in opposition to gay rights.

It became forcefully clear to me that homophobic attitudes and actions were alive, and integral to many people’s understanding of their social worlds. Since I had found my relatively small encounters with stranger homophobia so disturbing, I began to wonder how such attitudes affected gay people who grew up in the region. I was relatively lucky not to negotiate bigoted beliefs directed against my person-ness until I was in my mid-20s. What would it be like, I imagined, to process this kind of condemnation while one’s identity was still forming? Thus, Pray the Gay Away was conceived, and I formally interviewed 59 people from the Bible Belt and have had informal conversations with over 200 others. [Read more...]

Sweden Receives Its First Gender-Neutral Changing Room

transgenderAn LGBTQ organization at a school in Stockholm made headlines as they lobbied for and received an LGBTQ changing room, or a gender-neutral changing room, at their school. Two of the spokespeople for the organization said that they wanted a changing room for individuals who identify as LGBTQ. Last week the school held a ceremony celebrating the very first gender-neutral changing room in the nation.

We believe that this is a step in the right direction since there need to be spaces for LGBTQ individuals where they can feel safe and have access to accommodations that does not force them into stereotypical gender categories, or the categories of simply female or male.

At the same time, there is a lack of understanding of the LGBTQ community, as was demonstrated in discussions surrounding the opening of the gender neutral changing room. Rather than focusing on violence against LGBTQ individuals and their need for safe spaces the person who covered the story wondered how safe it would be to have both men and women change in the same room. The interviewer seems to assume that in an LGBTQ changing room the categories of male and female still rigidly apply, without being aware of the fact that many people within the LGBTQ community do not simply identify as male or female.   [Read more...]

Trans Identity and Public Restrooms

The other day, an article in our local newspaper caught our attention. The article discussed how a Swedish trans woman filed a claim of discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

The trans woman was, on two separate occasions, not allowed to use the women’s restroom after she was told by a “restroom host” that she was in fact a man. Despite explaining her transgender identity and her gender belonging, the woman was not allowed into the restroom.

[Read more...]

Update: Good News for Sweden’s Trans Community!

In a recent piece discussing Sweden’s abortion law during the time of Roe v. Wade, we described how trans women and men in Sweden were forced to undergo sterilization before transitioning.

The forced sterilization was much debated, both in Sweden and in other countries, as it completely went against human reproductive rights; and a revocation was planned for July 2013. But it seems that the decision to end Sweden’s discriminatory sterilization law has come early: our local feminist website has reported that the law has now been removed. The revocation is a great–and long overdue–victory. RFSL (The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights) is planning on suing for compensation for the men and women who have been forcefully sterilized.

Trans Men and Women No Longer Considered Mentally Ill

Earlier this month, the American Psychiatric Association decided to remove Gender Identity Disorder (GID) from the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s (DSM) list of mental disorders. GID was defined as a condition in which the person experiences dissatisfaction with the sex they were assigned at birth and with the gender stereotypes associated with that sex, often leading to dysphoria, or intense feelings of discontent.

This is welcome news, since GID is being replaced by the term “Gender Dysphoria,” which is less pathologizing since it does not signify a mental disorder or that something is “wrong” with the person who identifies as a trans man or a trans woman. Instead, the focus is placed on the distress experienced by the person undergoing the transition.

[Read more...]