Saturday, October 30, 2010

On GQs "Glee Gone Wild"

cross posted from my RH Reality Check Blog

The latest issue of GQ Magazine, which contains sexually provocative photos of several lead “stars” of the Fox television show Glee, has been at the center of many conversations among parents and youth. The cover image shows Cory Monteith who plays Finn, a football player, posing with Diana Agron his first girlfriend, Quinn, (who lied to him in Season One, and told him she became pregnant with his child when she was in fact pregnant with someone else's) and Lea Michele, who plays Rachel, who is his current partner.

I’ll admit my bias now: I’m not a fan of the show. Yes, I’m one of the several who got tired of them performing Blackness so early into the show (which they continue to do) and then all the other –isms they performed came into play as well. With that said I have a very simple response to this new concern/conversation that parents are now troubled to have with their children and youth in their lives who enjoy this show.

Now is the time to teach yourself and the young people in your life about media literacy. (That’s a link to an article I use often when teaching media literacy skills to my students and highly recommend it for everyone as it is a very accessible read, an updated article specifically for educators is available here.)

Instead of being disappointed that the young actors from a hit show are not in that same role 24/7/365, or that GQ Magazine created a cover that is very much objectifying of White women, or that many people are exposed to this form of media, I encourage folks to gain a new set of skills for how to deconstruct and critically examine these forms of media. Now, I will admit again, that I’m biased. I find it far too easy to blame the media for some forms of education and imagery when we as community members, educators, parents, mentors, partners, and activists must learn new skills.

I speak of this as someone who very much lives an analog life. I do not receive or send text messages, I still use my Polaroid camera (and yes I have plenty of film left for it in the fridge), still use rabbit ears on my television antennae, and the one stereo I have in my home has a dual tape deck and one CD player because I got it when I was in middle school circa 1989. I remember when the Internet was called the “information super highway” and I’m still trying to figure out how to spell check a Microsoft Word document in the latest edition my college offers.

I get it, learning new things is not always fun, nor is it always necessary. However, in this case I do believe it is a useful tool and skill. Without media literacy skills we would not be able to have a productive conversation around the fact that bodies of Color and bodies of size (which are exclusively ignored in almost all forms of media and especially in GQ) ignored in the media. Many of the critiques I’ve read have not even mentioned race, ethnicity, or body shape and size (and yes, I am biased about what and where I consume my media, that’s a media literacy skill).

Would the reaction be the same if the characters were different? Take White male actor Kevin McHale, an able-bodied actor who plays Artie, a young man who is in a wheelchair. Partner him on the cover with Amber Riley who plays Mercedes, the only Black character and also the only character of any size, along with Jenna Ushkowitz who plays Tina, Artie’s ex who leaves him this season for an Asian man, Mike, performed by Harry Shum Jr. Would we be disappointed we did not see Kevin McHale in a wheelchair? Would we want to? I’d argue that many people are not even willing to discuss sexuality and the intersections of differently-abled people in the media as the recent terror by readers of ESPN The Magazine’s body issue have shared regarding the nude photograph of Esther Vergeer.

I don’t doubt these conversations must occur, I just want us to have all the tools and weapons we need in our arsenal to have constructive conversations that are not only reactionary but that also lead to some form of action.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Latino Heritage Month Meets Reproductive Justice & Sexual Health: Focus on Sandra Cisneros

cross posted from my RH Reality Check blog

For Latino Heritage Month I’d like to try to expand our understanding and conversations about Latino sexuality during this month. Read previous people highlighted: Gloria Anzaldúa, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Rigoberta Menchú Tum and Gwen Araujo.

Sandra Cisneros
Author, Poet

You’ll hear a lot about Sandra Cisneros during Latino Heritage Month. I hope you hear even more about her every other month too! Cisneros has made a name for herself through her writing, storytelling, poetry, and testimonies. For many of my friends of various ethnic backgrounds, Cisneros’ poems and literature has affirmed many of our identities and choices we have made for ourselves.

I’ll admit, that when I read House On Mango Street I was much younger and did not appreciate the text upon first or second read. Her text was a part of a US Latino literature course and I remember thinking “why are all the authors Chican@ and only two authors from other countries?” This was a very usual space for me to occupy: trying to find myself represented in the texts we were reading. Yet, there were no LatiNegr@ authors on the syllabus at that time.

Not until I read >Loose Woman: Poems did my love affair with Cisneros begin. When I knew I was to do this work in the sexual science field, I was very much alone. There were so many people who made assumptions about the work I wanted to do and how I wanted to create change within our communities. As I began to read Cisneros’ poems in Loose Woman, I realized that the stereotypes and questioning of my intentions was nothing new, but had occurred for generations to women, especially women of Color who challenged the ways we were socialized to examine and understand our sexuality.

There was power that I found in reading about the ideas, and the forms of resistance that Cisneros' presents through her poetry. It was as if her words were a new weapon in my arsenal towards becoming the radical sexuality educator I desired to evolve into. Aside from having her books translated in over 10 languages, Sandra Cisneros represents resistance through creativity and spirituality, many things Anzaldúa wrote about creating.

Cisneros approaches the ideas of assimilation from a very different perspective than we hear about usually. The idea that any group of people is “better off” or more successful assimilating to a dominant culture, or a different culture (whatever it may be), is overwhelming. Almost all the research I’ve read that connects teenage pregnancy, STI rates, and sexual violence mention assimilation. This is especially true for Latin@s living in the US. This data always left me with the questions of: what about youth who grew up like me? What about youth who grew up to 4th and 5th generation families who are not Chican@?

I’ve always taught Cisneros’ book Loose Woman: Poems in my Women, Art & Culture and in my Human Sexuality classes. Not only does she give voice to lived experiences that are often demonized in some Latin@ communities, but also among communities that have socialized women to desire monogamous partnerships and marriage. Her poem "Old Maids" is one I reread often as a reminder that the choice I have made about partnering and marriage. She writes:

But we’ve studied
marriages too long—

Aunt Ariadne,
Tía Vashti,
Comadre Penelope,
querida Malintzín,
Señora Pumpkin Shell—

Lessons that served us well
Pg. 10 [italics in the original]

This poem speaks to choice, expectations, and wisdom. It is rare when critiques consider how observation may play a role in the choices some people make, especially women, in their choice to not partner in traditional ways. Cisneros discusses women from Greek mythology (Ariadne and Penelope), women from the Old Testament (Vashti), Nahua women from Mexico (Malintzín), and discussed in popular nursery rhymes (Pumpkin Shell) as people she and her cousins have observed.

Other poems I adore from this text include “You Bring Out The Mexican In Me” where her line “I am evil. I am the filth goddess Tlazoltéotl./I am the swallower of sins./The lust goddess without guilt” (p. 6). Her poem “Full Moon and You’re Not Here” I’ve literally recited to potential lovers as an important example of women of Color "controlling the gaze" and controlling our own sexuality. She ends the poem: “You’re in love with my mind./But sometimes, sweetheart,/a woman needs a man/who loves her ass” (p. 55).

I recall reciting the poem “Down There” about menstruation and claiming how “I’m artist each month” (p. 83) at a Latino Heritage Month event 7 years ago. The room was silent. What I most adore about Cisneros is her metaplasm, or word play, on names. In her poem “Loose Woman” she declares “By all accounts I am/a danger to society./I’m Pancha Villa” (p. 113). She feminizes the iconography of Pancho Villa, Mexican revolutionary, by claiming herself “Pancha Villa.”

The many ways Cisneros has made a space for herself in US Literature is something folks usually hear about. The many ways she’s moved conversations about sexuality, Latin@ sexuality, and our bodies as women of Color are often overlooked or a side or footnote. Yet, for many of us doing this work around reproductive justice, she gives us a form of art in amazing forms that represent, appreciate, support, and transmit culture. A culture where Latina sexualities are not dichotomies, centered in pleasure, expected and celebrated. This is my kind of party!

foto credit:© Ruben Guzman via Random House, Inc.

I Love My Hair

self-explanatory post

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Latino Heritage Month Meets Reproductive Justice & Sexual Health: Focus on Gwen Araujo

cross posted from my RH Reality Check blog

For Latino Heritage Month I’d like to try to expand our understanding and conversations about Latino sexuality during this month. Read previous people highlighted: Gloria Anzaldúa, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Rigoberta Menchú Tum.

Gwen Araujo is one of the top searches that leads people to my website and blog (Vanessa del Rio and uterus didelphys). I see her name everyday and am reminded of the privilege I have and of the power of Latino families.

Gwen Araujo

Beloved daughter, sister, aunt, niece, friend

October 4 will mark the eight year since Gwen Araujo was brutally murdered. Eight years that her family has missed her, shared their stories in an attempt to collectively heal. A 17 -year-old transgender Chicana living in Newark, California, Gwen aspired to be a make up artist. Her family supports, loves and fights for her to this day.

Daisey Hernandez of Colorlines shares the details of Gwen’s murder:

In October of 2002, Gwen Araujo had also tried to go home. She was 17, transgender, dressed up to celebrate the birthday of her namesake idol, singer Gwen Stefani. But Gwen never made it home from the party. A group of men beat her repeatedly with a shovel, strangled her with a rope and buried her body in the woods near a campground. Her killers went to McDonalds for breakfast.

According to her mother and newspaper reports, she had been living as a girl since she turned 14, getting her nails done, finding in her Mexican family a warm acceptance. She had been pushed out of the local schools but no worries. She and her mom had talked: Gwen would find a job to help pay for beauty school. It was all working out somehow. She even knew these guys, Michael and Jose, who had taken an interest in her.

But on Oct. 3, 2002, they turned on her. According to court testimony, the two men, who had had sex with Gwen, suspected her biological gender and attacked her with two other men at a house party. The other party-goers left the house, chalking it up to a guys' fight. No one dialed 911, even as the men punched Gwen and hit her across the head with a kitchen skillet. She bled profusely, and they told her to get off the sofa because she was bleeding on it. In her last hours, she must have thought of her mother, her sister, her brothers. She begged, "No, please don't. I have a family." The men beat her with a shovel and strangled her.

Murdered by four young men, all under 25 years old at the time of the murder, each young man had different sentences. Michael Magidson (15 years to life), Jose Merél (15 years to life), Jaron Nabors (11 years), and Jason Cazares (6 years). Magidson and Merél’s sentences were upheld last year.

A Lifetime movie called A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story was aired in 2006 (I have not seen the film so I cannot comment on whether it was well done, problematic, or something else). In addition, the Horizons Foundation created the Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund for Transgender Education which provided school-based advocacy to “promote understanding of transgender people and issues.”

The power of the Latino family is so present in this story. Reading the OpEd piece that Gwen’s mother, Sylvia Guerrero (pictured above holding Gwen's foto) wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, clearly demonstrates how her family is using the pain, anger, sadness of losing Gwen to create change for more youth. Sylvia writes:

I'm also grateful. Grateful that my family and our friends rose to the challenge and sat through two gruesome and explicit criminal trials to make sure that everyone knew that Gwen was loved for who she was. I'm grateful for the support we've all received from perfect strangers who have told us in-person and through e-mail that we are in their thoughts and prayers. I'm grateful for the remorse that two of the defendants and some of their family members have expressed to me and my family.

And I'm sad. Sad that I'll never get to see Gwen grow into the beautiful woman she would have become. Sad that four men chose to end my daughter's life, and throw away their own simply because they thought they were acting like "real men." And sad that other transgender women have been killed since Gwen's murder and that we don't have a realistic end in sight to that violence.

What Gwen’s life and murder says to me about reproductive justice and Latino Heritage Month is that we are not creating a world/society/space that loves our youth. We are not allowing ourselves to love our youth. We are not creating a reproductive justice movement that welcomes, centers, and sustains our transgender family members and friends. We are not holding ourselves accountable for the transphobia and transmisogyny that we perpetuate in the movement. We have a lot of work to do.

As Latinos alone, we have a lot of work to do as well. Gwen was not the last Latina to be murdered because of her gender identity. Our Latina hermanas are murdered more often than we care to even recognize. Angie Zapata’s murder gained a similar form of attention when she was murdered in Colorado last year. Unfortunately, limited Latino media outlets found her story important enough to cover. Ashley Santiago Ocasio was stabbed to death in her home in April in Puerto Rico and the bodies of two transwomen were found murdered on September 13, 2010 in Puerto Rico.

We must remember all of our family members regardless of gender identity and sex assigned at birth, and work to ensure their memory lives in ways their bodies have not. One way to begin is to put the same effort, time, money, and energies that we have into Latino Heritage Month (LHM) into the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), a day “set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.” One month after LHM ends, TDOR occurs. Imagine the conversations, education, and opportunities for building community and establishing networks for support and care if we put the same amount of devotion into ensuring our community does not forget those of us who are no longer here in physical form because of transphobic actions.

Transgender Europe, a non-profit organization focusing on transgender people all over Europe, published an international report in 2009 that found every 3 days a transgender person is murdered, but a recent 2010 update shows a horrendous increase to 2 days. The report states: “The starkest increase in reports is also to be found in Central and South America, e.g. in Brazil (2008: 59, 2009: 68, January-June 2010: 40), Guatemala (2008: 1, 2009: 13, January-June 2010: 14) and Mexico (2008: 4, 2009: 10, January-June 2010: 9).” Let that sink in: A transgender person is killed every 2 days around the world, but a majority of these murders are in Latin America.

There is a lot of work to be done. Lives are being lost and there are almost no plans to end the violence. We must collectively value the lives of all of our community members. Let’s use this Latino Heritage Month to embrace everyone in our Latin@ family.

Foto credit: Horizons Foundation

No Wedding No Womb: Also No LatiNegr@s or Youth Perspectives

cross posted from my Media Justice column

While most of ya’ll were getting ready to have a dope weekend at Advocates For Youth’s Urban Retreat, I was listening to and trying to work through my ideas around the “movement” Now Wedding No Womb (NWNW). If you have not heard of NWNW (which you can follow conversations on Twitter using the hashtag #NWNW), the goal of this “movement” which is discussed under the tab “No Wedding No Womb FAQ” is to:

NWNW calls for both MEN and WOMEN to put the needs of children first, and advocates that couples abstain from having children until they are emotionally, physically and financially able to care for them. In my opinion, marriage is the ideal. However, if marriage is out of the question, NWNW parents are “wedded” to their commitment to their children, providing daily emotional and physical nurturing. I’m advocating for women to think more of their bodies and their future children BEFORE sperm meets egg. I’m advocating for men to STOP spraying their seeds all over The Creation.

Now, although the above statement it reads in a very race neutral way, however the focus is on Black men and women. NWNW is lead and organized by Christelyn D. Karazin who is a writer and journalist (you can read more about her on the NWNW website by clicking the tab “About Christelyn”) and has received a lot of attention from the media as she hoped. She envisions one way of reaching the goals mentioned above was to first ask several bloggers to write about the topic on September 22, 2010. In an interview with Michael Eric Dyson , Chriselyn stated she reached out to 200 bloggers and got 100 to agree to participate in the September 22 event. I think that’s a pretty good number.

Let me be clear (and biased), I’m not a supporter of NWNW. I’m not a supporter for all of the reasons my homegirls have shared over the past two weeks. Check out Sparkle’s very accessible list here, Dr. Goddess’s pieces on the topic/a> and one of my favorite online spots the activists at The Crunk Feminist Collective. There are two other reasons I’m not in support of this “movement” and they are the focus of this piece.

1. Blackness, as presented in this “movement,” does not include LatiNegr@s (i.e. me) or any other ethnic identity that intersects with a racial classification of Black.
2. There are no youth perspectives by youth.

I joked with my homegirl Sparkle and my homies on Twitter that I really am happy, for the first time EVER, that my Blackness was excluded in a conversation about sexuality and Blackness. Often I have a LOT to say about such omissions. I’ve been pretty vocal about my perspective about being a Black woman, a woman of Color, a LatiNegra, so none of this should come as a surprise. I do wonder why it is so easy to omit us. Then I wonder how that would kind of mess up the goal, focus, and argument of the “movement.” If there were an understanding and recognition of how ethnicity and race intersect and complicate who we are, then there would have to be a different conversation. A conversation about systemic oppressions that work to ensure that certain communities remain under-resourced and without access to basic daily needs (i.e. food, shelter, health care, protection NOT surveillance, etc.). And solutions to those challenges and struggles have been rooted in moving towards a more democratic form of capitalism (if there is one), or completely moving away from capitalism and other forms of hierarchy in general (in my opinion).

This idea that we must protect children (and youth) but not have any youth share their own experiences, ideas, and solutions is a pretty big deal for me. Of course one can argue that youth who are under a certain age would need permission from parents, or are not the target audience. I would argue that’s kind of my point with my problem around this “movement.” How are we talking about what happens to our young people but don’t talk to them? I mean those of you reading this already know this, because it still happens all the time. I’m probably one of the older bloggers here, but I vividly remember how condescending adults are to me (still are because they think I have a “baby face” so assume I’m younger than I am, so that ish keeps going into your 20s!). I’ve often found myself as the one (sometimes only) person who mentions the omission of a youth perspective, which is sad.

There are so many assumptions about age. That young people would not have anything to say about this topic. Young people are too busy doing too many things (possibly with technology) or too busy consuming media to care about X issue. That with age comes wisdom, thus youth do not have any good valuable ideas to share. The list goes on and I’m sure many of you are more than aware of what they include. What the real issue I find is: We don’t care what young people think because we are too busy patting ourselves on the back for thinking we can come up with solutions to their problems without having them be a part of those solutions.

What I’d love to know is what your thoughts are about this “movement.” Even if it’s one sentence, or several, or a link to a post or comment you wrote somewhere else. This is the perfect example about talking about youth but not talking with youth. This is also the perfect example of creating media so that y/our perspective is recognized; to let us adults remember we can’t work this way, claiming we have your “best interests in mind.” We get it wrong, and I’m sorry we get it wrong so often and don’t learn. I’m sorry this “movement” excluded you claiming to care for you. I’m sorry nobody has apologized for this until now.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Something’s Missing: What The Media Is Not Telling Us

cross posted from my Media Justice column

It’s Latino Heritage Month and I’ve been writing several blogs over at RH Reality Check about this month/time of “celebration.” These posts introduce several Latin@s to move a conversation about Latin@s and sexuality forward during this time. My most recent post focuses on Gwen Araujo, a Chicana transgender teenager who was murdered 8 years ago in California.

In finding updates on the Araujo family’s efforts to educate people regarding Gwen and the transgender community in general, I also found some updates on her murderers attempts to decrease their incarceration sentences, and research on the murder of transgender people all over the world.

An update to research done in 2009 around the world found that every 3 days a transgender person is murdered. Last week, researchers with Transgender Europe, an international organization, updated this to share that now every 2 days a transgender person is reported murdered. A majority of our community members who are murdered lived in Central and South America. They are Latin@s. A keyword here for me is “reported.” It means that this data can be extremely underestimating the number of transgender people who are murdered. What about the people who are not reported, who are lost and/or forgotten?

The press release stated that:

“The starkest increase in reports is also to be found in Central and South America, e.g. in Brazil (2008: 59, 2009: 68, January-June 2010: 40), Guatemala (2008: 1, 2009: 13, January-June 2010: 14) and Mexico (2008: 4, 2009: 10, January-June 2010: 9).”

To bring this “home” a bit more (at least I consider Puerto Rico my home, even if it is still a territory of the US) are three murders of three transgender women in Puerto Rico. Ashley Santiago Ocasio was stabbed to death in her home in April in Puerto Rico and the bodies of two transgender women were found murdered on September 13, 2010 in Puerto Rico.

So now, I wonder, why have we not heard about this new research? How is it that I can hear all about other aspects of Latinidad, but not hear about the intra-racial/ethnic murders of our community members? It does not become more clear than this to me: the media, especially Spanish-speaking media, does not care about their transgender community members.

Then I hear of Asher Brown’s suicide, a 13-year-old boy living in Texas, who was bullied for being poor, small, and gay. Classist and homophobic taunting lead Asher to take his fathers handgun and shoot himself. Asher is the first young person who I’ve heard this year of committing suicide. You may remember the two young men who were remembered last year because they committed suicide based on the homophobic bulling the endured: Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera. Both Jaheem and Carl hanged themselves in their home.

What conversations will Asher Brown’s suicide force our country to have? Will it force them to recognize the bullying the US government upholds and sustains toward the LGBTQI community in the military? Shift all the attention from the film “Waiting For Superman” about how poor our public schools are in the US and of some charter schools that are succeeding to realize that none of these schools have any anti-bullying programs that have proven to be effective in working against anti-homophobia and classis?

Finally, in writing this piece, I came across several friends who were posting the following status on their facebook pages:

is reposting this: Lohan,24, is on the news because she's a celebrity addict. While Justin Allen, 23, Brett Linley, 29, Matthew Weikert, 29, Justus Bartett, 27, Dave Santos, 21, Chase Stanley, 21, Jesse Reed, 26, Matthew Johnson, 21, Zachary Fisher, 24, Brandon King, 23, are all Marines who GAVE THEIR LIVES THIS WEEK, no media mention. Honor THEM by reposting.

Now, I had to do some research and see if this was as accurate as it was presented and there are some discrepancies, such as some of the service people are not Marines, their names are misspelled, and, unfortunately, they are not the most recent service people to have died as all the men listed died in July 2010.

Staff Sergeant Brett Linley died in July 2010, Army Sergeant Matthew Weikert died July 17, 2010, Marine Staff Sergeant Justus Bartelt (whose name was spelled incorrectly in the quote above) died July 16, 2010, Marine Corporal David Santos died July 16, 2010, Army Spc Chase Stanely died July 14, 2010, Army Spc Jesse Reed died July 14, 2010, Army Spc. Matthew Johnson died July 14, 2010, Army Sear gent Zachary Fisher died on July 14, 2010, and Private First Class Brandon King was killed in Afghanistan on July 14, 2010 and was buried in Jacksonville, FL July 26, 2010.

Just today (September 28, 2010) two more service people were reported dead in Afghanistan: Army Sergeant Mark Simpson and Army Spc. Donald Morrison. And yes, we should be just as enraged that their service in the military is not being appreciated or discussed as much as Lindsey Lohan’s recidivism and failure of her drug test.

There are many other stories just like these and I wonder if we recognize how powerful we as viewers and consumers of media are at the end of the day. If we demand and make it clear that we seek to have media that is more representative and inclusive versus celebrity gossip, perhaps a larger social justice agenda can be made. Perhaps it is a lack of attention to these stories that leads us to continue to create and make our own media. Whatever your response, I hope there is a response to these omitted stories.