Thursday, March 29, 2012

out of the closet

In light of this week’s readings that talk about the closet and queer theory, I have been thinking a lot about my own life and my experiences with my roommate, who we will refer to as Kate. I have known Kate since the beginning of freshman year, and this semester she came out to me as a lesbian. We were talking in class about whether or not people “owe” it to us to come out, especially as close friends. In Kate’s situation she wasn’t really hiding anything for me—she didn’t come to the realization that she was a lesbian until Christmas break. Though I would not say she “owed” it to me to tell me, per se, coming out of the closet to me is a way of saying “I trust you, and I want you to know about me fully.” Such trust is essential to any strong relationship, so perhaps it is vital to know if a close friend is a lesbian. As for personal and social relationships, knowing Kate’s sexuality has actually been helpful for the both of us. We are still both perfectly comfortable walking around in our towels and changing in the same room (despite our jokes about this in class today, it really does happen!), but now I know better than to drag her to the dance floor with me when she would rather dance with new girls, and she can tell me straight up, “Yeah, I’m going to quirl movie night tonight.”  Translation: quirl=queer girl. This fits in nicely with our discussion of whether or not people actually use the word “queer,” and whether or not this has a positive connotation. In Kate’s case it is important to note the distinction of queer girl movie night. I’m not sure if Kate and her friends did this intentionally, but it shows the need to distinguish beyond the umbrella term of “queer” to establish that these particular queers are lesbians.
Since Kate came out to me, I have learned a lot more about LGBTQ culture here at Notre Dame. I became an ally last year, yet I still went on with my heteronormative lifestyle. I didn’t personally have anyone come out to me, and I didn’t really know what all of the PSA and Core Council events were about. Now I feel like I’ve been introduced into a whole new culture. Though I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, I never really thought about the social life of LGBTQ students here at Notre Dame, and how different/difficult it can be when trying to meet new people. One thing I’ve learned about is the use of technology and websites to meet new people. Kate actually met a friend using a website, and she and her friend have completely hit it off. I will always love Kate and be her friend, but because I am straight I will never be able to really understand what it is like to be in her position. I am so happy that she has embraced her identity and is able to connect with other people, both on and off campus, who are able to understand her in this way. Another thing that definitely rang true when reading Sedgwick is that coming out of the closet is not a one-time thing. This is especially true in college, when you are meeting new people all the time and are automatically back in the closet you state otherwise. It’s not like there is anything about Kate that screams “I am a lesbian!” Though it makes sense in hindsight, I was actually very surprised when Kate told me. Kate is definitely not out to everyone. Sometimes we talk about conversations with other people or mention a situation, and she’s is like, “Wait, does she know or not?” At the same time, however, I don’t think everyone needs to know that Kate is a lesbian. She is not intentionally hiding it from people, but it just doesn’t really come up in casual conversation with, say, professors or girls who live down the hall. And you know what, it doesn’t really affect people one way or the other whether or not they know Kate is a lesbian. The way I see it, the fact that Kate is a lesbian is an important part of her identity that should be shared with those she cares about, as should other important characteristics. But people who are not a big part of her life do not need to know whether or not Kate is a lesbian, just like they don’t need to know whether or not she’s a vegetarian, has a rocky relationship with her brother, or if she brushes her teeth every night before bed.    

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"you have a nice chest"

One of my friends, we will just call her Sarah, is performing in a skit for Arabic Culture Night. Last night they had to film something for it, and she was acting as one of the broadcasters. Before she began filming her teacher came over to her and said that she should remove her sweater. And why should she do this? Sarah’s teacher proceeded to tell her that she should not wear her cardigan because she was wearing such a pretty dress and has a nice chest. In other words, Sarah should remove her sweater in order to look sexier for the camera.

When Sarah was recounting this tale to me, she passed it off as an awkward and laugh-worthy situation. I have been thinking about it though, and it’s more than just a little anecdote to share at dinner. I immediately thought of Mulvey’s piece on the male gaze. In removing her sweater Sarah would be exposing her shoulders and showing off her chest, appealing to the heterosexual male gaze. It’s interesting to note that Sarah’s teacher is a woman. She did not tell Sarah to remove her sweater for any gain of her own, but rather she has bought into the idea that one should look as sexy as possible for the camera. Have you ever considered why nearly almost every actor is ridiculously attractive, at least in the eyes of some majority of people? It doesn’t stop with movies and television. Sports broadcasters, news anchors, reporters, and the like all face (and often reinforce) the expectation to be as attractive as possible before going on camera. And if they don’t their producers and make-up team have something to say about it. When thinking about Sarah’s situation I also recalled the airbrushed photograph of Katie Couric that my class discussed freshman year of high school. Couric, who became the first ever female network news anchor, was airbrushed in a promotional photograph. Apparently intelligence, success, and realistic beauty don’t cut it. Here’s the picture to see for yourself:

In my discussion of Sarah and Couric, I have taken a heteronormative approach, as we have discussed with Millet and Rich. I have only talked about the woman looking the part for the male viewer. We also must acknowledge that men, too, face expectation and objectification regarding their appearances on camera. Ten minutes into the Twilight series and you’ll realize there’s no argument to be had. Nevertheless, regardless of the gender of the looker or the one on camera, it is clear that appearance on camera is meant to target human sexuality. And why is this so? Because we go for it. After all, Sarah did take off her sweater.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

a spirit of inclusion (?)

As you are probably well aware, fried chicken parts were recently placed in the mailboxes of the Black Student Association (BSA) and the African Student Association (ASA) here at Notre Dame. Though I see this as low, crude, and quite frankly shocking considering it’s the 21st century, I am not writing about my personal response. Rather, I want you to consider the university’s response. An e-mail was sent out alerting campus about this hate crime, the story was covered in the Observer, and a town hall meeting was held tonight to address this incident and the greater social context from which it came.  I applaud the university on its response, and I think these steps should be taken. The university’s official statement, quoted in the Observer, said that "These acts of harassment are a clear violation of University policy, unacceptable in every way, and will not be tolerated on our campus.” I think it is great that the University is taking the situation seriously and making its point clear.

But now I want you to consider another situation, one that is hypothetical but not unthinkable given the situation just described. What if there was rotten fruit placed in the mailbox of Core Council? Would the university promptly address the student body, have an article written up, and address the occurrence at an open meeting? Sadly, I think I have to answer this with a no. The university’s actions regarding the BSA and ASA are in accord with the mission statement, which claims The University of Notre Dame does not discriminate on the basis of race/ethnicity, color, national origin, sex, disability, veteran status, or age in the administration of any of its employment, educational programs, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, athletics, recreational, and other school-administered programs.” But the mission statement is SILENT about sexual orientation. It follows, then, that the university would not follow the same procedures for my hypothetical situation as it did for the real situation at hand. Yet both acts are equally vulgar and discriminatory. To put it frankly, the university is stupid for not including sexual orientation in the spirit of inclusion. Our GLBTQ classmates, roommates, and friends are no less human than the rest of the student population, and they deserve to be treated with the same degree of care and respect. One of the goals of the Four-to-Five movement is to change this spirit of inclusion to include sexual orientation. We are not asking the University to condone gay marriage or homosexual relationships, for that matter. We are merely asking that the university recognize all human INDIVIDUALS, whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or straight, to be treated as such, to be promised to receive equal love, respect, and protection as ALL Notre Dame students should in a place where they are supposed to call home. THIS inclusive love is what Christianity is all about, and in not realizing this, the university acts in a way that contradicts its own teachings.