Let Queer Kids be different

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This year we’ve seen a number of mainstream stories focusing on straight people’s relationship to queerness — which insist that queer people are “normal” and “just like you!” — rather than queer people’s relationship to their own identities.

The queerest part of Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon — the first major studio release to feature a gay teenage protagonist, which has been warmly received since its premiere last month — isn’t that titular gay teen. Instead, it’s Ethan (Clark Moore), femme and black with a Michelle Obama blowout and a sanguine rejoinder for every bully he encounters, who embodies the familiar high school figure of the kid everyone knew was gay.

The contrast between the two is sharpest following a bullying incident in the school cafeteria, when two jocks dressed like Simon and Ethan jump on a table and pantomime anal sex. Simon runs over, ready to fight them, while Ethan more or less rolls his eyes: To him, this is merely a change in flavor from the usual menu of ridicule. Before Simon can get to them, the drama teacher, Ms. Albright (Natasha Rothwell), marches in and, after a flurry of well-deserved shaming, sends the jocks to the vice principal’s office, along with Simon and Ethan, who wait to receive a forced apology nearly as humiliating as the incident itself.

Waiting with Ethan outside the office, Simon apologizes to Ethan, saying, “Nothing like this ever happened when just you were out.” But by this point in the film, Simon has personally witnessed Ethan getting bullied on at least one other occasion, so we have to suppose what Simon means is, This only used to happen to you. Ethan delivers a brief, moving monologue about his mother’s reaction to his gayness, and her obvious disappointment in who he is — an experience common to queer teens, but seemingly inconceivable to Simon.

In his few minutes of screentime, Ethan is exactly as sidelined in a film about a teen who is gay (but not that gay) as he would be in the hundreds of thousands of high school cafeterias that Ethans must move through. Ethan can’t hide or code-switch the way Simon (Nick Robinson) — white, masculine, conventionally handsome — is able to. Simon spends so much energy on preserving the secrecy of his own homosexuality that he fails to see the pain and danger for queer people who don’t have the luxury of keeping such a secret.

In an op-ed for the New York Times last week, one of a number of pieces to criticize the movie’s love affair with normalcy, activist and writer Jacob Tobia wrote a stirring critique of Ethan’s treatment in Love, Simon. “He is a sideshow, a subtle foil to show how palatable and masculine Simon is.”

Normalcy pervades Love, Simon, from the landscaped, Stepford-y suburb through which its protagonists drive to school to Simon’s parents’ cookie-cutter high school love story. In the film’s opening voiceover, Simon calls himself “normal” more than once, as if in a prima facie defense of his secret homosexuality. I’m gay, but I’m still normal! Even though, obviously, if he truly were like everyone else — that is, straight — there would be no movie to be made.

In a review for Time, critic Daniel D’Addario asks, “Can a love story centered around a gay teen who is very carefully built to seem as straight as possible appeal to a generation that’s boldly reinventing gender and sexuality on its own terms?”

Apparently, it can. Simon’s normalcy is one of the reasons why everyone from grown-up critics to teenagers themselves has loved the movie — it’s following in the footsteps of so many teen rom-coms before it about the lives of conventionally attractive straight kids; shouldn’t queer kids get a “normal” aspirational rom-com too?

Normalcy, after all, doesn’t only feel good — it also has political power. “Gays are just like everyone else” has been the rallying cry of a certain strain of gay liberation, a tactic that succeeded in ending policies like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, toppling the Defense of Marriage Act, and achieving federal marriage equality. And yet these efforts have been criticized from more radical corners of the LGBT community for their focus on issues concerning only the most privileged of Americans. The double-edged sword of normalcy-as-value is that it is always including and excluding with the same stroke.

Ultimately, Simon offers no more queer representation than hyper-mainstream antecedents like Will Truman (Eric McCormack) in Will & Grace, upstanding gay lawyer, or Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) in Philadelphia (1993), upstanding gay lawyer: a poster boy for well-behaved deviance, never forcing straight people to look directly at the boundaries of their world. Simon Spier is basically Wally Cleaver with an iPhone.

“I’m just like you” as an argument for equal treatment suggests that Simon Spier, or any other gay person, deserves respect and understanding by virtue of our similarities with straight people, rather than despite our differences — a construction we’re still being fed in queer media that sets the limits of acceptable queerness at the border of heterosexual comfort. Simon’s opening voice-over leans on his “totally normal” surroundings to excuse his deviation from them, rather than to question the boundaries “normal” builds.

Of course, all teenagers deserve to hear that they aren’t deviants and that they’re worthy of love — but what queer teens may need to hear more than anything is that popular notions of what’s “normal” are what make you feel wrong, or weird, in the first place.

Read on…

Is being Straight a Myth?

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This just in: A new study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that “fully straight” people don’t actually exist.

Researchers looked as the eyeballs of straight-identifying men to determine just how straight they actually were. Turns out, every single one of them was just a wee bit gay.

“It’s basically a study that assesses sexual orientation by looking at the eyes and whether they dilate or not,” Ritch C. Savin-Williams, the Director of Developmental Psychology and the Director of the Sex and Gender Lab in the Department of Human Development at Cornell University, told Broadly.

He continues, “You can’t control your eye dilation. Essentially, that’s what the whole project attempts to get at, another way of assessing sexuality without relying on self report.”

Savin-Williams and his team closely monitored the eye dilation of men while showing them a range of pornographic imagery.

“We show straight men a picture of a woman masturbating and they respond just like a straight guy, but then you also show them a guy masturbating and their eyes dilate a little bit. So we’re actually able to show physiologically that all guys are not either gay, straight, or bi.”

So what does this all mean?

“There are aspects [of male sexuality] along a continuum, just as we have always recognized with women,” Savin-Williams says. “Men have gotten so much cultural crap put on them that even if a man does have some sexual attraction to guys, they would never say it.”

Savin-Williams says another way of monitoring responses would be by monitoring a person’s genital arousal, but, he says “that gets a little invasive.” So they just stuck to their eyeballs.

Savin-Williams adds that while the study once again confirms that sexuality operates on a spectrum, it also finds that it’s not a binary system, which means that while someone can’t be 100% straight, they also can’t be 100% gay either.

Thousands of US Teens will undergo “Gay Conversion”

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More than 75,000 American teenagers aged 13 to 17 will face gay conversion “therapy” before they turn 18 according to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a university located in California.

According to the research, around 20,000 queer kids will receive the controversial treatment from health care “professionals”. Another 57,000 will undergo treatment from religious or spiritual charlatans. The research further found that approximately 698,000 queer adults already received conversion therapy. 350,000 of them received it in their youth.

Conversion therapy posits that pseudoscience or religion can “cure” people of homosexuality. Professional health associations condemn the practice and have consequently called on the U.S. Congress and politicians to pass laws against it.

“Our research shows that laws banning conversion therapy could protect tens of thousands of teens from what medical experts say is a harmful and ineffective practice,” said Mallory, one of the authors of the study.

Indeed, the study reveals 6,000 people would have received conversion therapy before 18 if it hadn’t been for state laws banning it. So far, nine states, Washington D.C., and 32 localities have banned health professionals from practising it. Recently, New Hampshire failed to pass a law banning the practice.

Professionals link the practice to severe mental health problems and suicide.

Opinion: Labels are good

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Opinions like “Labels are bad” and advice á la “Stop trying to put people into boxes” are widespread, especially among queer folks. And many people probably think they’re doing us a service by spreading that gospel.

The truth is more complicated. By trying to get rid of labels you actually end up risking to disenfranchise the marginalised groups within the queer community who are glad to have a small point of representation.

It might not be convenient to end up with seemingly infinite acronyms like LGBTQQIP2SAA (extreme example, to be fair) but guess what? Sometimes convenience is not the priority when it comes to treating people right and making sure no one feels like an outcast.

Finding out that there is actually a term for your orientation or your preferences can mean the world to someone, it can help you establish an identity and make you feel like you belong, that you’re not just some weirdo who’s different from everyone else in the world. Labels can literally save lives.

I often personally opt for the term “queer” when I talk about my own sexuality just because I can’t be bothered to explain the mess that are my preferences to people who likely don’t even care about the details (and how do you explain in one word that you prefer sex with girls, love a boy but don’t seek relationships with either not to mention anything that goes beyond binary genders…).

And I believe that queer is a great umbrella term for our community but that doesn’t mean that we have to take more nuanced labels away from the people who rely on them for representation. So let’s not.

Slate has more on the topic.

Homeless Queer Youth in the UK

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Over 10,000 young queer people were made homeless in the UK last year, new figures show. Freedom of information requests from 234 councils across the country show 45,000 18-24 year-olds came forward to local authorities in past year.

Figures from the Albert Kennedy Trust show that of young homeless people in the UK, about 25% are queer. Therefore, of the astonishingly high number of young people who have come forward to say they are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless – an estimated 11,250 are queer.

However, with more than 100 local authorities not providing information – the Guardian reports the real number could be much higher.

The AKT figures make the LGBTI representation among homeless young teens hugely disproportionate. Additionally, they also show coming out is the reason nearly four in five of the young LGBTI teens AKT spoke to become homeless.

Moreover, once homeless, queer youth are more likely to experience targeted violence and discrimination. They are also more likely to abuse drugs, face sexual exploitation, and take more risks in their sex lives.

Speaking at the announcement of their partnership with National Student Pride, Tim Sigsworth, CEO of the Albert Kennedy Trust says:

“AKT believe that youth homelessness is the most pressing human rights issue facing the UK LGBT+ community. No young person should have to choose between a safe home and being who they are.”

Gay singer Troye Sivan has spoken out about LGBTI homeless youth

Troye Sivan spoke to queer kids in New York about being homeless. The singer visited the Ali Forney Center in New York City and spoke to three LGBTI youth aiming to turn their lives around.

Sivan met Skye, Maddox and Lala, who all had their different reasons for being homeless. The three are part of the centre’s youth ambassador program and are looking to, and working on, turning their lives around.

“As a community, we’ve come so far,” Sivan said. “But we clearly have a very, very, very long way to go. Now it’s my job, and our job, to keep pushing that forward and keep moving things in the right direction.”

The fierce Teen Boys stirring up the Online Beauty Scene

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Would you be inclined to buy makeup because a 10-year-old boy is showing you how to create a look on Instagram? If we’re talking about Jack Bennett of @makeuupbyjack, then the answer could well be a resounding yes.

Since convincing his mother to start his account in May, young Mr. Bennett, who lives in Berkshire, England, has amassed 331,000 followers and attracted the attention of brands like MAC and NYX, which have offered products to create looks. Refinery29 has celebrated him as the next big thing in makeup.

He is the latest evidence of a seismic power shift in the beauty industry, which has thrust social media influencers to the top of the pecking order. Refreshingly, they come in all shapes, sizes, ages and, more recently, genders. Hailed by Marie Claire as the “beauty boys of Instagram,” the early male pioneers, like Patrick Simondac (@PatrickStarrr), Jeffree Star(@jeffreestar) and Manny Gutierrez, (@MannyMua733), have transcended niche to become juggernauts with millions of followers. And their aesthetic is decidedly new: neither old-school-rocker makeup nor drag queen.

Read on.. 

Submitted by Jon Snow

The weird Science of Homophobes who are gay

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2017 has been a banner year for the armchair psychological theory that anti-gay public figures are secretly gay themselves. Never mind the long-running jokes and memes about Mike Pence covering up some secret homosexual identity. There have been actual examples this year of outspoken anti-LGBT figures exhibiting behaviour that seems to contradict their political ideology.

The same idea emerges every time: The hypothesis is that their bigotry doesn’t just make their sexual behaviour hypocritical, it actually functions as a cover for it, consciously or otherwise.

Recently, there has been former Ohio state Rep. Wesley Goodman, who resigned late last week after it came out that he had had sex with a man in his office. In March, former Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey resigned after being hit with child prostitution charges for allegedly soliciting sex from a 17-year-old boy. Shortey has reportedly decided this week to plead guilty to a child sex trafficking charge.

Both Goodman and Shortey are married men who were clear political opponents of the queer community while in office. After Shortey was arrested, the Associated Press noted that he “routinely” voted for anti-LGBT bills, quoting the director of the LGBT advocacy organisation Freedom Oklahoma who said, “He was never vitriolic about it, but he would make the bad votes.”

More strident was Goodman who, as the Columbus Dispatch reported, “consistently touted his faith and conservative values,” with a Twitter bio that read: “Christian. American. Conservative. Republican.”

As more information about their alleged misdeeds emerges—Goodman now stands accused of fondling an 18-year-old man at a conservative event, and of pursuing several young gay men—there is a certain grim catharsis in seeing such hypocrisy exposed.

The LGBT community will never tire of bringing up the long history of Republican gay sex scandals every time new—and increasingly unsurprising—allegations emerge, precisely because they seem to be so predictable in hindsight. (As GQ sarcastically put it in response to the Goodman news: “Anti-Gay Ohio Republican Resigns After, Surprise, Having Sex with a Man in the State Capitol.”)

A 2012 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology generated a fair number of headlines that year—including The New York Times’ “Homophobic? Maybe You’re Gay”—for suggesting that some self-avowed straight people who showed signs of same-sex desire were more likely to hold discriminatory attitudes.

Two authors on the study—psychologists Richard M. Ryan and William S. Ryan—wrote in their accompanying New York Times opinion piece that they had asked 784 college students to rate their sexual orientation on a 10-point scale and then told them to sort “images and words indicative of hetero- and homosexuality” into categories.

The “twist,” as they put it, were subliminal flashes of the words “me” or “other” before each image that can theoretically reveal subconscious bias based on how long it takes the subjects to sort images that don’t match their self-described sexual identity into the right category.

The result: The researchers isolated a “subgroup of participants”—more than “20 percent of self-described highly straight individuals”—who “indicated some level of same-sex attraction,” and who were “significantly more likely than other participants to favor anti-gay policies; to be willing to assign significantly harsher punishments to perpetrators of petty crimes if they were presumed to be homosexual; and to express greater implicit hostility toward gay subjects.”

“Thus our research suggests that some who oppose homosexuality do tacitly harbour same-sex attraction,” they concluded. The psychological mechanism behind this subgroup’s anti-LGBT vitriol is, in theory, relatively simple: They are taking out their own issues with sexual identity on other people.

As Netta Weinstein, the study’s lead author, said in a press release, they “may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves.” So if you’re an American politician, there may be no more effective way to prove to yourself that you’re straight than to target LGBT people. The 2012 study is certainly suggestive. It’s continually cited whenever it seems to apply to a homophobic figure, like after Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen was rumoured to have frequented the LGBT nightclub in the buildup to the shooting.

There are other studies that have come to similar conclusions. As Science magazine reported after Pulse, there is a “scattering of research” that suggests “some conflicted gay men might indeed be homophobic,” like a small 1996 study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology that measured penile arousal and found a link between “homophobia” and “homosexual arousal.”

But the keyword in all of the above literature is “some.” There is, at this point, enough research in this area to suggest that there may be something deeper to the armchair psychology. But the “secretly gay homophobe” theory is far from being a complete explanation of anti-LGBT prejudice in American politics.

Twenty percent of people who describe themselves as “highly straight” is still 10 percent fewer than the 32 percent of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage. Just because that 20-percent subgroup is “significantly more likely” to tout an anti-LGBT ideology doesn’t mean we can assume someone like Mike Pence is likely to be covering up a secret past as a gay clubgoer just because of his anti-LGBT track record. So-called closet cases may be abundant, but there’s no way to prove that every Republican who tries to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination is hiding something.

In fact, overgeneralising and joking as if that were the case may hurt LGBT people. As queer writer Lindsay King-Miller wrote earlier this year, “Making fun of ‘closet cases’ only reinforces homophobia” because it “underscores the idea that being gay is shameful and should be hidden.” In King-Miller’s view, it provides an “excuse for straight people” to laugh at a man like Goodman or Shortey while still feeling like “they’re allied with The Cause.”

As it becomes less and less acceptable for comics and late-night hosts to make fun of people just for being gay, the recurrent trope of the closeted anti-LGBT politician can serve as a release valve for society’s lingering casual homophobia. They create a context in which it’s safe for liberals to laugh at homosexuality.

Indeed, when I overhear jokes about these cases, I might laugh—but I’m also wondering how many of the straight people in the audience are laughing at hypocrisy and how many of them are laughing at the mere idea of a man having sex with another man.

Because the less obvious counterpoint to the theory that virulently anti-LGBT people are closeted is the experiential knowledge that people of various political backgrounds are often less OK with LGBT people than they let on. There may be some truth to the notion that loud expressions of homophobia are a case of “protesting too much.” But in the absence of further data—and in a world where sex between men is still a punchline in and of itself—it may do more harm than good.

Sometimes people hate the difference within themselves. Sometimes people just hate difference. But either way, hatred doesn’t necessarily need to be explained in order to be combated. There are better ways to get anti-LGBT politicians out of office, after all, than waiting for them to get embroiled in a sex scandal.

Swedish Pronoun: Hen

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Identifying as non-binary can be difficult but Sweden has an official gender neutral pronoun: hen. It’s  similar to the use of singular “they” in English. It took inspiration from the neutral pronoun in the Finnish language (hän) and after much debate “hen” was officially adopted.

Its use is:
– for talking about someone who’s gender is unknown
– when the gender is unnecessary in the conversation
– for talking about someone who identifies as neither male nor female

It’s been used in various places in Sweden, some say since the 1960s, but was discussed in mainstream media in 2013 and eventually placed into the official Swedish dictionary in 2015.

It has two main uses in Sweden. The first is, obviously, for LGBT+ groups but the second is interesting. Some schools and pre-schools have started using “hen” for their pupils so as not to push gender roles or identities on their students.

First studies suggest that the use of “hen” in early education doesn’t reduce children’s tendency to use gender to categorise people but it reduces their tendency to gender-stereotype and gender-segregate.

The use of hen is the same and just as simple as han (he) or hon (she), for exmaple “hen är vacker” – “they are beautiful”.

19 Years Later

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It has been 19 years since Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, died as a result of being beaten and tortured by two classmates who targeted him because of his sexual identity. His injuries were so severe that the person who found his brutalised body tied to a fence initially thought he was a scarecrow—a lifeless, human form meant to scare.

Since Matthew’s horrific death and the subsequent murder trials of his attackers, the US has taken small, but important, steps to protect queer individuals through legislation—including the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, which made assaulting an individual because of sexual orientation or gender identity a federal crime. In 2013, President Obama also signed into law a reauthorizing of the Violence Against Women’s Act, which included added protections for LGBT victims of violence.

Yet 2017 has been the worst year on record for hate-related homicides of LGBTQ people in the US. In August, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) released a mid-year report that found that as of August 23, there had been 36 anti-LGBTQ homicides—the highest number NCAVP had recorded in its 20-year history of documenting this information. Three-quarters of these victims were people of colour; 19 were transgender or gender-nonconforming.

“This number represents a 29% increase in single incident reports from 2016,” the authors note. “So far in 2017, there has been nearly one homicide a week of an LGBTQ person in the US”

Cathy Renna is a longtime LGBTQ activist who spent more than a decade as GLAAD’s primary spokesperson, and actually travelled to Laramie in October 1998. She says how “extraordinary” it is to have a sense of “the change that has occurred because of the response to Matt’s murder and also how far we still have to go.”

On October 6, 1998—the morning Shepard was found, still alive but barely—Renna was living in Washington, DC. She’d just returned to her office after leaving a press conference announcing national advertising and advocacy against gay conversion therapy. Her phone, beeper, and email, which was still fairly new at the time, were lighting up with messages, she says. One of the people she spoke with was a friend of Shepard’s and the president of the LGBT student group at the University of Wyoming: They were feeling overwhelmed as media outlets began to converge on campus. The next morning, she jumped on an airplane and headed to Wyoming.

“The media and the community paid so much attention to this murder and was so motivated to action that it completely changed the way this issue was dealt with in American culture,” Renna says. “I spent a lot of time educating the media, both local and national, that were there about issues related to hate violence. The media were trying to portray this in a very sensational way … it was such a horrific case, and the reality was that this happens all the time. It had been happening for decades.” She clarified that gender nonconforming individuals and queer people of colour, especially, are often targets of violent crimes that go largely unreported in the media.

In the wake of Shepard’s murder and the subsequent coverage and activism, “there’s been an extraordinary amount of progress in terms of the education and awareness by so many,” she says. “However, with increased visibility can also come a backlash by those who are harboring anti-LGBTQ feelings. In a climate like the one we’re in now, not only do they feel emboldened, but they also feel they have permission to act on their hate and their homophobia and their transphobia. That is the reality of what the current administration has created.”

“It gives us an opportunity not to talk about Matt but to talk about all the other cases that did not get the attention that Matthew Shepard’s murder got.”

There’s evidence, she continues, not only in the political rhetoric used today but the actual policies and the actions that lawmakers are taking. For example, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley recently voted against a measure that condemned the use of the death penalty to punish people in same-sex relationships. And last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a guidance that would make it legal for any business to fire someone based on their sexual orientation.

“What happened to Matt is not unique. It happens all the time, and it mostly happens to those who are more marginalized,” Renna says. “That’s why I think it’s important we always go back and look at what happened to Matt—because it gives us an opportunity not to talk about Matt but to talk about all the other cases that did not get the attention that Matthew Shepard’s murder got.”

via Broadly