Monday, September 21, 2009

New Brunswick Girls’ Ice Hockey Team Says No to Homophobia

Here is a great story about a high school girls’ ice hockey team in New Brunswick, Canada. Two members of the team came out as lesbians to the rest of the team. The team supported them. However, as word spread around the league, the team received taunts on Facebook and harassment in the rink. One team taunted them and refused to shake hands at the end of the game.

Now, this is the place where things can start to go wrong in so many cases. Sometimes the non-lesbian members of a team get defensive and uncomfortable. They start to resent their gay teammates for “causing the problem” and attracting negative attention to the team. They don’t want anyone to think they are gay by association. They get caught up worrying about stereotypes of women athletes. They might make a point of talking about boyfriends or change their appearance to accentuate their feminine appearance off the ice. They might even start hurling anti-gay insults back at their opponents during matches.

The New Brunswick team, however, took a different tack. They did not respond to the taunting with insults of their own. They went to their school GSA and asked for support. The GSA came to matches and supported their team, gay and straight. The whole team began wearing rainbow patches on their uniforms with “No Homophobia” printed on them as a show of solidarity and support. As a result of their actions, new conversations about homophobia in the league opened up. Another team asked for some rainbow patches to wear also. As people began hearing about the New Brunswick team and their actions, the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission decided to present them with a Human Rights Award. Now doesn’t this make you feel good?

This is such a powerful story of a group of high school young women who said no to homophobia and yes to inclusion and respect. I am honored to add my thanks and congratulations to the New Brunswick girls’ ice hockey team. They are great role models for other teams who have experienced similar anti-gay taunting and harassment for how to respond with an impressive show of solidarity, commitment and refusal to be intimidated by hate, prejudice and fear.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

First We Are Born. The Rest Is All Drag.

I shoulda seen this coming. Caster Semenya, the South African gold medal runner whose gender is being challenged, has had a “make-over” and her new safely feminine look is on display on the cover of a South African magazine. The accompanying text gushes, “We turn SA’s power girl into a glamour girl - and she loves it! Wow! Look at Caster Now!”

Caster is quoted, "I'd like to dress up more often and wear dresses but I never get the chance.” This feels so fake given everything we have been told about Caster in the media. She also says, “I am who I am and I'm proud of myself." This feels like an actual quote from Caster. Does anyone else see the contradiction here?

Poor Caster. She appeared to be quite comfortable with how she was expressing her gender prior to all the controversy at the World Championships. Her family supported her. Her community supported her. Her country supported her. Baggy pants, short hair, muscular build, That was Caster: “I am who I am and I'm proud of myself."
Now, this. It feels so phony and, in hindsight, so predictable. What better way to prove she is a real woman than to get a new hairdo, apply some make-up and fingernail polish, and don a little black dress.

I am not criticizing Caster here. Who knows what I would do if I were an 18 year old young woman from South Africa who suddenly finds my gender questioned on an international stage and is then subjected to all kinds of invasive and embarrassing medical exams by a team of strange doctors to determine whether or not I qualify as a woman.

This photo shoot feels like another invasion to me. The message is the same: Who you are and how you express who you are is not ok. We need to fix you up so you will be more acceptable to us (and we can feel more comfortable with you). And, of course, sell a few magazines in the process.

As if the traditional trappings of femininity, white western trappings of femininity, had anything to do with Caster’s sex, gender, gender expression or sexuality. Quentin Crisp was right – First we are born, the rest is all drag. Why is that so scary?

Thanks to One Sport Voice, where I first read about this.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Contradictions and Connections: The Perils of Being A Strong Woman Athlete

Here is an interesting article that puts the “gender verification” challenge of South African runner, Caster Semenya, into a broader social context and discusses the outcry of support for her in South Africa in the context of nationalism, racism and aspirations to live up the South African constitution. South Africa’s constitutional protections based on sexuality and gender expression, as well as support for same-sex marriage, are among the most progressive in the world.

Despite a progressive constitution, old prejudices and privileges die hard and, at the same time that South Africans have rallied and embraced Caster Semenya, other women athletes who are openly lesbian and butch appearing have been raped and murdered for living their lives outside sexuality and gender norms.

Last spring Eudy Simelane, captain of the South African women’s football team (that’s soccer to Americans), was viciously attacked by a group of young men. She was gang-raped and beaten and stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs. Simelane was openly lesbian and butch in appearance. She was the most well known victim of what has come to be called “corrective rape”. The young rapists see their brutal violence as both punishment and cure for lesbianism and non-traditional gender expression and themselves as entitled to perform the “correction.”

The Triangle Project, a South African gay rights group, published research last year reporting that 10 cases of “corrective rape” are reported in South Africa every week and that 31 lesbians were reported murdered because of their sexual orientation since 1998, but only two cases have been tried with only one conviction.

This article includes a shocking video interview with some of the women who have been targeted by “corrective rape” and comments from some young South African men who believe in it. Be forewarned, the language is strong and the content is disturbing.

Gang rape and murder are used to punish women who challenge heterosexism, sexism and gender norms all over the world. It isn’t just South Africa. We haven’t come anywhere near the progressive stance on human rights in South Africa’s national constitution here in the United States and women whose sexuality and gender expression don’t fit heterosexist and feminine norms run the risk of violence and discrimination here too.

Sometimes the punishment isn’t as violent or extreme as gang rape or murder, but the “crime” of being a lesbian, an uppity woman or a butch looking woman (or heaven forbid all three) is also punished in more subtle ways too. It all grows from the same oppressive roots. Gang rape and murder are on one end of the continuum, disapproval, teasing and bullying are on the other.

It is a reminder that the tools of silence and intimidation can be as openly brutal as rape and murder or as quiet as a hateful text message received alone in the school cafeteria, but they both have the same intent: conform, back down, stay in your place.