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.

Sweden During the Time of Roe v. Wade

January 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. All month, we’ll be running posts examining various aspects of this landmark ruling. If you’d like to contribute, let us know!

Ever since its enactment, the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade has been frequently debated as anti-choicers fiercely battle to overturn the decision, while pro-choice activists fight to maintain women’s rights to abortion. Even though legislature in some other countries may not be as famous or as controversial as Roe, they are equally important to women’s choices and reproductive rights.

Growing up in Sweden, we will focus on Sweden’s present abortion law, which was put into place two years after Roe. The first law concerning abortion in Sweden was presented in 1938 when women were allowed abortion on specific grounds, namely due to health reasons (when the woman’s life was in danger); if the woman became pregnant during rape; if a minor was taken advantage of sexually; or if the parents were likely to pass on a disease or disorder that would render the child with severe difficulties. However, parts of the law were based on eugenics–for example, if the mother availed of abortion due to “unfitting genes,” she was also sterilized.

The current abortion law was passed in 1975 and is the one most closely related to Roe, both in time and content. This law states that a woman can have an abortion without naming the reason until week 18. After that she will need to consult with the National Board of Health and Welfare in order to obtain permission to end her pregnancy. After week 22 the child is believed to be able to survive outside the mother’s body (parallel to the concept of viability in Roe) and abortion is no longer allowed. There is no age limit in regards to abortion, but if the woman is under 18 years old, it is recommended that she consults with her parent/parents or guardian.  [Read more...]

Against Me! – Not Losing Touch

I have been a fan of Against Me! for quite a few years now. Even though I have seen them in concert twice before I could not pass up the opportunity to see them at a local place in Sacramento, Ace of Spades, on Labor day. Against Me! are known for their political and socially noteworthy lyrics, energetic performances and for the raspy and distinct voice of their lead singer. Earlier in May this year Against Me! singer Tom Gabel came out as transgender in an issue of Rolling Stones and discussed her plans to transition, while taking the name Laura Jean Grace. Laura’s decision was met with both support and criticism as some very opinionated people weighed in on the news. Laura’s openness and tell-all attitude about the process of transitioning and about her relationships is brave and commendable, but at the same time, if being transgender was more accepted, the news probably would not have spurred so much feedback or caused such a sensation. As a celebrity, Laura is nonetheless in the public eye, and public attention is warranted, but it is interesting to read just how involved the public becomes in another person’s private life, especially when it comes to the concepts of gender, sex and sexual orientation; notions that create massive attention, and depending on whom you ask, are either very fluid, or very firm. Gender, sex, and sexual orientation are all characteristics that shape our daily lives, and that we all have intimate knowledge about as humans. Perhaps this is why we are so interested in putting in our two cents on these subjects, in comparison to lets say an intense discussion about rocket science, since many of us only have limited knowledge about such a topic.

As intense discussions have flourished, what has been focused on less since May is the music. A few stories have discussed the next album titled Transgender Dysphoria Blues, what the album is about, and when it is to be released. I have however read quite a few comments where fans are worried that Laura’s voice or the band’s style of music will change, or that the band will break up. These comments can perhaps be described as personal concerns or gender policing about what gender, transitioning and hormones will “do” to their favorite band. Or, they can be described as general concerns about the sound of a band the fans love and want more music from? I am not sure. But I see no need to worry. The sound of Against Me! is distinct, and Laura’s voice is strong, expressive and raspy and like always, they kicked ass while the audience sang and danced along to songs such as Trash Unreal, Sink Florida Sink and Don’t  Lose Touch. My only concern is that I wished they could have played some more of my favorite songs, such as Reinventing Axl Rose, Those Anarcho Punks are Mysterious, or Animal. At the same time, they played for about an hour and a half (longer than any other of the previous Against Me! concerts I have been to), and my ears are still ringing, two days later (I know, that is not good).

Perhaps Against Me! are the same on stage because even though Laura was assigned male at birth, she has always been Laura, even though it is not until now she found the courage to express herself the way she truly wants to, both on and off stage.

The picture was taken by Hennie during the Against Me! concert.

Gay and God-Fearing

Guest blogger Talia bat Pessi is a teenage Femidox (feminist Orthodox) pro-Israel Jew. Her work has appeared in over 40 publications, including the Jewish Week, Ms. Magazine blog, Jerusalem Post, Girl w/ Pen!, Jewish Press, and FBomb. She’s not quite sure how she manages to find spare time, but when she does, she enjoys going to rock concerts, fuzzying with her rescue dog, eating (a lot), messing around in Photoshop, and procrastinating on the Internet.

As well as being a feminist, I am an Orthodox Jew. While I had always been active in gay rights advocacy through my feminism, I never really thought about how Orthodox individuals who are LGBT+ grapple with their sexuality. I recently did some research into this. Considering that the religious right, including the mainstream Orthodox Jewish community, is known for its anti-gay stance, it may seem surprising that there are observant Jews who also identify as LGBT+. However, they do exist.

Over the past two decades, observant LGBT+ Jews have organized in order to petition for increased recognition and inclusion within the Orthodox Jewish community. In 1994, the Gay and Lesbian Yeshiva Day School Alumni Association (GLYDSA) was established as a social group for Orthodox gay and lesbian Jews. Jewish Queer Youth (JQY) was created in 2001 by observant Jewish undergraduates who “were looking for other people in similar ­situations that could understand and relate to each other’s struggles” about sexuality, according to the JQY website.

[Read more...]

A Discussion of Feminism and the Trans Community

Feminist Conversations is a regular series here at Feminists For Choice. We spotlight feminists from across the interwebs to find out what feminism means to them. Today we are talking with blogger and activist Helen. Helen writes and blogs for sites such as Bird of Paradox and the leading British feminist site The F-Word, where she is the Events Editor.

1. When did you first consider yourself a feminist, and what about the feminist movement appealed to you?

I’d been aware of the inequalities faced by women for a long time, probably since the 1970s, but didn’t really call myself a feminist until I began my transition. At that point, beginning to experience at first-hand the discrimination and prejudice and sexism that women face every day, it was more a question of, ‘how can women *not* call themselves feminists?’

It’s often been said that we only become politicised when we are directly affected by something happening to us, and so it was for me and feminism.

2. You have mentioned that discrimination against the trans community can be common within the feminist movement. What are some common forms of discrimination?

I’ve noticed many improvements, even in the 5/6 years since I began my transition, and many feminists now are well-informed about trans politics and are very good allies to trans people. The most obvious exceptions are those who call themselves ‘radical feminists’ but who cling to an ideology with its roots in the last century. These women seem to have the most hatred for trans women, even going so far as to demand that we be ‘morally mandated out of existence.’ Others will demand that we be refused access to essential medical care; that we be refused access to ‘their’ spaces, and so on. They will misgender us, publish our personal details on the internet, run blogs and forums that are nothing but transphobic hate speech, and so on. That branch of the women’s movement has no place in any contemporary feminism, I think. Thankfully, it seems to have little influence on a majority of feminists these days and I hope it will soon become no more than a footnote in academic textbooks.

3. You often discuss the violence that the trans community and especially transwomen face. How common is violence and how do you think we can minimize it?

Even though I blog very little any more, I do maintain a page called “A selection of published statistics of violence against trans people”, which lists links to various reports and websites where information about anti-trans violence is documented. I would especially recommend spending a little time at the TvT Project website; they have an update from March 2012 here.

These statistics are only the tip of the iceberg, for various reasons; this page talks about why.

Of course, we must not overlook the effects of the intersectionality of oppressions – I may suffer certain problems as a woman who is also transsexual, but I also benefit from such things as white privilege, class privilege, and so on. A trans woman of color who lives in poverty suffers many more oppressions and, statistically, is much more likely to be a victim of transphobic violence than me.

It has been said many times that ‘women are second-class citizens but trans women are second-class women’ and I think that is quite true. Really, only a change in attitudes amongst mainstream cis society is going to lead to full acceptance and equality. And although things are slowly improving, there is still a very long way to go – and I don’t honestly think I will see that day during my lifetime.

4. The language used to refer to LGBTQ concerns and different identities seems ever changing. What language/words are most important to know and be aware of?

I’m always concerned about the way trans people are pushed under the umbrella of ‘LGBTQ.’ I understand that it is important for oppressed minorities to form coalitions and alliances, to work together towards our common causes, but it seems that trans voices are often lost in the noise made by other larger and more powerful groups. So, although we may be preoccupied with equal marriage (and it is important to many trans people), other trans-specific issues (access to healthcare and employment, for example) are often sidelined.

The language is definitely in a state of flux; part of the problem is, I think, that trans people are (historically) defined by cis society’s perceptions of us, particularly by the medical profession. We are pathologised, stigmatised and demonised; objectified, fetishised, and generally treated as figures of fun. Moving away from the language of our oppressors is a good step forward towards being able to identify ourselves on our own terms. But it isn’t easy; there is much debate about what is and what isn’t acceptable language even withing trans communities (see the debates that go on around the use of the word ‘tranny,’ for example). And, of course, the power base held by our oppressors resents and fights our attempts at defining ourselves in our own right (see the hatred that some feminists have for being called ‘cis’, for example – even as they continue to call us ‘trans’ – are we not all ‘women’, when everything’s said and done?).

5. When discussing reproductive issues and rights, what rights do you wish to see for the trans community in the future?

The freedom to make informed choices, bodily autonomy, the removal of medical pathologisation without affecting our rights to access relevant healthcare… But all these things are, I think, preconditions of our being fully accepted by mainstream society for who we are (not who people think we are, or would like us to be).


Books About Women, For Women

We thought it would be interesting to share with the readers some of the books we have read and really found valuable to us. Many of these books are written by women, for women and highlight various forms of issues that are relevant to women. The books about LGBTQ issues are important no matter gender and age.

[Read more...]

Pride, Smoking, and Choice

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is from Lindsay Marie McAllister. Lindsay works for an anti-poverty non-profit agency as the Program Coordinator. Lindsay currently lives in a small town in Northern Ontario in Canada with her two dogs and partner. You can follow her on Twitter @LindzMcAllister.

Last weekend was Pride in Toronto, Ontario, a week after the similar event in New York and the passing of same-sex marriage in the state. Timed to coincide with the anniversary of Stonewall as the political nature of the event is becoming more threatened each year, especially under the new Toronto mayor. Mayor Rob Ford failed to show support by spending the weekend at his cottage instead of with the LGBTQ community as past mayors have done.

Being a resident of Northern Ontario, I had to travel to Toronto in order to participate in the festivities. My friend had booked a hotel room for us and I was responsible for getting us there. Here is where the story really begins … He struggled to even find us a hotel because we are both smokers and as it turns out, most hotels do not permit smoking at all anymore. The one we both normally stay at other times of the year was fully booked for almost a year in anticipation of Pride. He managed to find another hotel which promised suite type accommodations, complete with a kitchenette. We arrived and were informed that “the smoking floor” had not yet been renovated, and needless to say it was painfully obvious. The rooms were dirty and the air conditioning barely functioned. It makes sense to keep all the smoking rooms on the same floor out of consideration for the other guests, but to have these rooms literally be second class seems a bit unfair. [Read more...]

When Does Defining Your Sexuality Matter?

I think it’s fair to describe myself as a pretty sexual person. Before I met my current partner, Jason, and got married, I identified my sexuality as bisexual because I thought it was the only “don’t really care” category of human sexuality. But since then I’ve learned a lot more about myself, gender and sex. If I were to define my sexuality today, I would identify as pansexual or omnisexual.

I say “if” because this thought recently occurred to me: Does defining my sexuality matter anymore? [Read more...]