Monday, February 28, 2011

Freedom Is A Constant Struggle with Dylcia Pagan & Cisco Torres

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Intercultural Dating & Relationships In The Media

cross posted from my Media Justice column

The first annual Rutgers University Sex, Love, and Dating Conference was this past weekend. There were over 250 registered student participants and a great group of workshop presenters, and I was one of them! I did two workshops, one on negotiating sexual identities and the other on intercultural relationships (I’m writing more on my specific experience at this workshop at my RH Reality Check blog so stay tuned for that).

As I prepared for my presentations I found myself more focused on the intercultural dating and relationships workshop. I felt as though there was more preparation for me to do around this topic and I also assumed that a majority of the students present were going to be racially White. However, that was not the case and I was surprised and impressed that a majority of my workshop were students of Color (more than 95%). With so much discussion about the relationships of celebrities who are in intercultural relationships (the break up of Halle Berry comes to mind immediately), I was not surprised there group was so big, rather that it was so diverse!

Part of my preparing for the conference was providing students with a list of resources so that the information and conversations we were having in that space could continue. One of the longer portions of that list was media images and representations. I included podcasts, websites, organizations, books, and film. I think this is a good space to discuss some of the more stellar representations because the list of films were not all of films that are fantastic, some of them are questionable, and I also wanted to hear what films many of you think would be good inclusions for future reference. I recognize that the films I’ve mentioned below only represent a certain relationship, one that is based on monogamy, but also those that are heterosexual; and that needs to change. So, I’m asking for your help in helping me build a list beyond heterosexist representations to ones that are more inclusive. I’ll begin with one of my favorites.

Mississippi Masala
This was one of the first films I saw that discussed intercultural dating, not just interracial but intercultural as well. Denzel Washington plays Demetrius and stars as the love interest of Sarita Choudhury who plays Meena, an Indian woman by way of Uganda whose family relocates to Mississippi after Idi Amin takes power (Amin’s story was the center for the film “Last King of Scotland” starring Forest Whitaker and also represented an intercultural relationship). One of the things I appreciate about this film is the multiple layers of each character, they are not just one-dimensional representations of two young people in love, but the intergenerational and international storylines that play into the relationship of all the characters is rarely seen in such narratives. Check out the trailer below, the film is 20 years old but amazing and fantastic! Then again, all Mira Nair films are.

Romeo Must Die
When this movie first came out I was not too excited to watch it; I thought (and kind of still do) that any film that has DMX in it couldn’t be a quality film. I actually waited until it was on television for free to see the film. Needless to say that was over a year and half, almost two years after it was in theaters. Once I saw the film, I had to admit that I was impressed. Starring Jet Li as Han and R&B singer Aaliyah as Trish, their relationship provides a modern day perspective to the classic Romeo and Juliet story. Han and Trish come from families that are fighting; their love for one another, and their attempts to maintain their relationship is challenged throughout the film. The challenges are not specific to just family tensions, but also to racial and cultural expectations and differences their families have for them. When I discuss intercultural dating, especially when an Asian male character is seen as “getting the girl” in a film, this film is the first one my students discuss. So I have to add this film as a thank you to my past students who have continued to remind me about it and brought to my attention.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding
A film from the last decade, I put this film on the list because it complicates Whiteness in some ways. Often when thinking of intercultural or interracial relationships folks lump people who classify as racially White into one category, not often recognizing the differences within groups. In this film Toula who is from a “traditional” Greek family falls in love with Ian, a young man from a different ethnic background. We watch as Toula preps him to meet her family, how his family interacts with hers, and what rites of passage each brings to their new partnership. I appreciate this film because it discusses age in a way we often don’t see represented. Toula is an older woman (over 25) living at home with her parents and pursuing higher education. We do not often see older women who live at home in such roles, and often when we do they are seen as “old maids” or as failures. In this case Toula is neither.

Chutney Popcorn
I first saw this film when my good friend Daniel Phoenix Singh did a presentation in our college class using this film. The film follows Reena, a young lesbian Indian American woman who lives in NYC and is partnered with a racially White woman, Lisa. This film adds an aspect of surrogacy when Reena’s older married sister cannot get pregnant and Reena decides to be a surrogate for her sister and husband. In an attempt to gain their mother’s respect and support, which we are to believed was lost a bit when Reena came out as a lesbian, we watch as three different relationships shift, are challenged, and transformed.

I Like It Like That
As many Amplify readers already know, I adore this film, it’s one of the first times I believe I saw myself represented in media and in a film. Starring Lauren Velez as Lisette and John Seda as Chino, we watch as they struggle to find themselves, maintain their family, and build a relationship. I find this to be one of the few strong feminist films that represent Latin@s in Hollywood, and that includes LatiNegr@s at that! We watch the –isms unfold within the Latino community Lisette and Chino are a part of, and learn about Lisette’s intercultural background as her father is Jamaican and her mother Puerto Rican. Gender identity is also at the center of this film as Lissete’s sister Alexis is a trans woman and owner of a botanica in the community and has a strong presence throughout the film and in helping Lisette discover her own independence.

Brooklyn Babylon
Brooklyn Babylon is a story about Solomon, a young Black male rapper who falls in love with a White Jewish girl, Sara. Centered in Brooklyn, NY (hence the name), this film plays a bit on the Romeo and Juliet tip, but it adds an additional layer: geographic location and religious communities. I can’t recall if Solomon identifies as a Rastafarian, but the community does have a strong presence in the film. His desire to build a relationship to Sara, a woman from a nearby Jewish community, is difficult as Sara is betrothed to another young Jewish man who has problems with Solomon’s good friend. Tariq Trotter, the front man for the group The Roots, plays Solomon.

Robot Stories
The only science fiction film on this list, I really adore this film. It’s one of those films that I save up money to buy and when I do I end up giving it away as a gift to someone who needs to see it! The last short, “Clay,” of this four part short film, focuses on maintaining memories. We watch as an older Asian artist comes home and finds comfort in his digitized wife Helen, a Black woman. Here’s what writer and director Greg Pak provides about this short on the Robot Stories website:
In John Lee's world, technology allows people to scan their memories - and thus their consciousness - into computers. John (Sab Shimono), an old sculptor, struggles to complete his design for a major public square project, but his body is falling apart. His doctor, his son Tommy (Ron Domingo), and his digitized wife Helen (Eisa Davis) all tell him the same thing - it's time to get scanned. Then he'll merge with all human knowledge and experience, achieving perfect love, perfect art. But John resists, fighting for the right to struggle and die.

Greg Pak is a genius and somebody; anybody needs to fund his media, for life!

Something New
This film was one that I also did not go to see in the theater. I actually waited years until I got the film at the library to check it out. One of the reasons I think I waited so long to see this film was because I didn’t want to see a film about the struggles of a Black woman in the US dating and then her dealing with her frustrations around partnering with a White man. What I was glad to see when I watched the film was a more complicated story, one that included class into the discussion of race and gender and how class and work are also prejudged.

Akira’s Hip Hop Shop
Here is a more modern day film that highlights intercultural relationships in California between Akira and Daphne. Akira owns a record store that focuses on the hip-hop genre and hires Daphne as a part-time employee. Akira’s family lives in Japan and is hopeful he will partner with a Japanese woman. Daphne is a young Black woman who is working her way through culinary school where her specialty is Japanese cuisine. We watch as their communities, friends, and family share their disapproval and ask for confirmation about certain stereotypes connected to their cultural identity and sexuality. I appreciate this film as it provides a more accessible storyline. It’s considered a short film, and that makes it even more useful to promote discussion.

Some less than exceptional films, in my opinion, include: “Rachel Getting Married.” I was extremely uncomfortable throughout watching the film because of the numerous forms of cultural appropriation the couple participated in throughout their wedding preparations and ceremonies. I did however appreciate the familial structure and inclusively of their friends and family during the rituals.

“Bend It Like Beckhem,” I saw in the theater and left feeling odd. The folks I went to see the film with enjoyed it but I had a hard time expressing what my discomfort was with the film. Now I know it is because I found this film to be one where the Indian family living in the UK was seen as backwards and primitive. There was no discussion of the colonization and the attempt at preserving history, cultural practices, and belief systems that play into some families’ resistance to intercultural dating and relationships. This film, however, is not centered on the intercultural dating and relationship, instead its focus is on gender roles and expectations. I found the dating and relationship storyline to be forced, predictable, and tired.

Finally, “She Hate Me,” a film by Spike Lee, which didn’t get too much media attention but the content, sure did! Now, to be clear, I find this film extremely interesting, however, there are some issues of concern I have. The film follows Jack Armstrong, a young Black man who is a whistle blower in his corporate firm, which leads him to losing his job and having all his assets frozen. In an attempt to make money to maintain the lifestyle he is accustomed to, his ex-girlfriend, who is now in a same gender relationship, seeks his assistance in getting pregnant. She then offers to help him and the other women in her network get pregnant for a price. He finds some form of income in having penetrative intercourse with each lesbian-identified woman. There’s so much regarding female sexual pleasure, heterosexism, and male fantasy to deconstruct in this film that I get dizzy sometimes. At the same time the relationships he builds with the various women, and the ending of the film, demonstrate an intercultural relationship that is complex and an important representation of polyamory we rarely get to see.

So, I’ve shared some of my favorites, and not so favorites, tell me what some of your favorite movies and shorts that represent intercultural dating and relationships (and yes I know there are a ton more!) so let’s hear them!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Transformative Representations of Love

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

Many of my friends were surprised when they received Valentine’s Day cards from me. They thought I wouldn’t have contributed to a “made up” holiday centered on having us consume more than we need to and spend money. Yet, I find the idea of offering love to others on a specific day (even when we do this throughout the year), to be very satisfying. This year is no different. Instead of sharing media that I love and adore, I wanted to share media with you all that centers love. Love for our community, our social justice agenda, our creative spirits, and ourselves.

Each year I’ve sent cards to folks I always quote the same phrase in the cards. The quote was made by Ernesto “Che” Guevara and

At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality... We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.
Guevara was an icon in my home that I grew up with, and to this day many of the images that I’ve seen of him are of him smiling, happy and content. I found this idea of “revolutionary love” to be something that shook me to my core, but that also made me make an important choice in my life: to work for change. I also decided to use this idea in the graduate work I was perusing. That’s when I found Chela Sandoval’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (this book is hard for me to read and I’ve read it three times! It’s “high theory” but it’s also amazing!). In the text Sandoval, a Chican@ feminist scholar and theorist, talks also about revolutionary love. It was like my life and the work I wanted to do made sense and had purpose! She concludes her book with “Love as a social movement is enacted by revolutionary, mobile, and global coalitions of citizen-activists who are allied through the apparatus of emancipation” (p. 184).
These ideas are central to the person I am and have guided me to the work I’m producing and am a part of today. This year I’ve decided to add a new phrasing to my snail mailing for next week. Instead I am quoting a classic film, The Matrix (I can’t believe it’s been over a decade since the film was released!). If you have not seen this film, I encourage you to do so as soon as possible. Consider this Media Justice homework! Watch them in order because there are three parts, yes, a trilogy.
This year I’m quoting The Oracle from The Matrix. Many of the snail mail I’m sending has this quote from her:
No one can to tell you you are in love, you just know it, through and through.
Check out Gloria Foster, who is The Oracle (that’s right! A capital “T” in The) talking to Neohere. Sadly, Foster died while filming The Matrix Reloaded in 2001, a decade ago.
The first video I’d like to share with you all was brought to my attention by one of my homeboys who posted this video on Tumblr. His comment accompanying the video read:
“Asian youth anti-bullying pink-shirt flash-mob in a Vancouver shopping mall (viaangryasianman).” When I went to the video, titled Anti-Bullying Flashmob January 2011, I read the description that was uploaded with it which reads:
In honour of International Anti-Bullying Day, two schools came together to create a message about Acceptance and challenge others to use social media as a positive tool. Choreographed by Jheric Hizon, Directed by Anita Perel-Panar - A Star Studio Productions
Here’s the video:
Shortly after seeing the video, it was live all over social media and ColorLines even added it to their Celebrate Love series. The youth who are participating really do an amazing job of representing all of the powerful things we can do with media. They are all media makers as are the folks who are watching. Take a look at all the people who are recording with their cell phones alone! All of the perspectives we see, from an aerial view, to audience reactions, to folks performing in the center of the mall; all of them represent the multiple people who are recording and consuming this media.
I’ve written about how I see dancing as a form of media making, and what I love especially about this video is the inter-generational inclusion. You see folks from all ages as participants and dancers, but also the folks who are watching and enjoying themselves. Media does not always have to be something we critique, it is something that can give our lives meaning and make us feel affirmed.

Along the same lines of anti-bullying is a new single by R&B performer
Marsha Ambrosius who was one half of the R&B duo Floetry. Her video centers on highlighting same gender relationships within the Black community. I wrote a piece about this video earlier this year and how we can use it as a form of media to begin discussion. Check the video out below:
Another film that I came across was created by my homegirls Mia and Stacey. I’ve mentioned them often as they work to build a home together as queer disabled Corean women living in the US. Here we get an update from Mia and Stacey, learn about their experiences, and hear a bit more about what help they need to build the home they need to live sustainable lives together:

Asking for a Lift ...From the Bathroom TOSD from Mia Mingus on Vimeo.

One of my favorite parts about this video is their honesty and discussion of love. Stacey shares:
“The exciting thing is we’ve been having a lot of community support out here, and so different people have been coming everyday to help me do attendant work getting me out of the bed in the morning. And it’s really cool because it feels like for the first time access isn’t an individual thing I have to figure out by myself, but something that community is really committed to making happen, so I can be included.”
This speaks volumes to me about how important community is, especially community that is supportive and centers on inclusively. Stacey sharing how she has been able to experience access and not from an isolated and individual space, is testimony that love comes in various forms and can be collective. She also is hilarious when she says right before the video ends that “if we don’t look cute, we can’t post this.” I adore them! If you can help them please do, even if it means sharing this video with your communities!
This February, I’m going to trust my instinct and enjoy the love that surrounds me. I choose to imagine a world where we are loved and we are reminded of that each day. In case you have not been reminded yet: you are loved!
Share some of the media that is inspiring you or that is centered on love!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Support The Black Girl Project

I am on the board for an amazing organization: The Black Girl Project. I've written about the fabulous work and national screenings of this film and of the educational work we are doing as an organization. We are in need of funds and have started a virtual fundraising opportunity for folks to contribute and help us because more Black girls need to share their stories and we need more dialogue in our communities! And YES this includes ALL ethnic backgrounds!

Below is the trailer for the video as well as a formal letter we have drafted. If you would please send this letter to folks in your network, every little bit helps!

Formal Letter (Please send to the folks you think would be interested in supporting The Black Girl Project!)

Dear XXX,

I hope this message meets you in good spirits! I'm excited about an organization called The Black Girl Project, which is the educational outreach arm for the film of the same name. It's a wonderful organization dedicated to empowering young girls. You can check us out at

The film has screened successfully at universities and organizations nationally, but there is a need for more materials in order to support their mission. The filmmaker, Aiesha Turman, has started a Kickstarter page to support the outreach portion of the film. In order to meet their funding goal of $8000 in March, 2011, they need your support. I am asking you to spread the message to friends and family to help us reach our goal. By making a pledge to The Black Girl Project, you'll be helping them do more vital work. Go to Kickstarter to learn more, there's less than 45 days to go!

Please pass along, every pledge counts! Many thanks for reading.

With warm regards,


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Using Social Media To Find and Donate Breast Milk

cross posted from my RH Reality Check Blog

I talk a lot about breast milk, more than I ever thought I would, in the HIV work I do around NYC. Young people of all ages have a lot of questions about drinking and touching breast milk, and now with new technology in the US, women who are living HIV positive can give birth to negative babies, their questions continue. I remember my first NYC college class a student asked about accidentally drinking breast milk that was in the refrigerator and the risk of HIV transmission. There is still a lot of interest and curiosity around breast milk, and not just among pregnant and parenting people.

Often folks I meet and work with think of breast milk and associate it with pregnant and parenting women. When I read an NPR story last week by Nancy Shute, “Moms Who Can’t Nurse Find Milk Donors Online,” (audio and transcript available) I was really interested in a use of breast milk in a way I’ve never been before.

Before even reading I thought about class and access. I also thought about my pregnant sister-in-law and how I’ve been talking to her and my sister about birthing centers, mom and the “other mother” (as my sister says) journals, and baby showers. I had asked my sister if her wife had planned on breastfeeding and I remembered her response was “she wants to as long as it doesn’t hurt so much.”

The article by Shute is about women who have built a community of support in finding and sharing breast milk with one another, often for free, or in exchange for small donations or as mentioned in the article, bottles. One of the communities built, and that continues to flourish, is Eats on Feets GLOBAL (EOF) which is on Facebook. Many of the current members have found chapters or founded chapters via Facebook. I would think that Twitter is not far behind, especially for pregnant and parenting people who are wired. After all, there are so many of my friends who have had children who posted images via their cell phones hours after giving birth!

Eats on Feets GLOBAL shares in their About Us section:

Eats On Feets GLOBAL is a network that facilitates local woman-to-woman milk sharing via regional chapter pages on facebook. We assert that women are capable of making informed choices and of sharing human milk with one another in a safe and ethical manner. Eats On Feets GLOBAL does NOT sponsor the selling or corporatism of human breast milk.

Eats On Feets Global was created by a worldwide network of women coming together for a common cause; Feeding babies human breast milk. Spearheaded by activist Emma Kwasnica and inspired by the local action of Shell Walker LM, Eats On Feets is quickly becoming another example of the creative functions available through social networking.

Eats On Feets does NOT: diagnose, delineate, dictate, direct, determine, debate, debit, deal, deputy, deliver, deposit, or otherwise participate in the dogmatic control or outcomes of human breast milk sharing.

Eats On Feets DOES: Provide an online space where families who want human breast milk for their babies can find women who have breast milk to share. We encourage milk-sharers to utilize the principles of Informed Choice when establishing milk-sharing relationships.

I was fascinated and excited about this movement as it speaks to so many communities that are built all over the world. However, with such communities centered on sharing, building, and nurturing in a collective way, there are critiques. Many of the critiques are in the over 140 comments that accompany the article. There are concerns about safety, health, transmission of various diseases, and communication. As EOF shares above, and I completely understand these concerns and they are real and should not be ignored. At the same time I see connections to how the women and people (because not everyone who is pregnant identifies as a woman) who participate in these communities gain so much more than breast milk and nutrition for their child(ren).

Among those who critique EOF are the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Shute’s article quotes Lori Feldman-Winter, spokeswoman for AAP as saying “We cannot recommend the sharing of breast milk over the Internet” and encourages people to use one of 11 breast-milk banks in the US. Eleven breast-milk banks in comparison to the 110 EOF local chapters available for people in need. Plus, EOF does not charge in the same way breast-milk banks do. Seems to me that there could be collaboration, but, to the surprise of no one, the resources does not allow for such merging, especially when financial profit is not attached to the union.

There are two events I’m thinking about that connect to this NPR story: Salma Hayek’s breastfeeding while in Sierra Leone in 2009, and programs supporting new parents to breastfeed, especially young parents. These two events have been on my mind for a while, and I think they are most definitely connected to this story and community building.

When Mexican-born actress, activist and media maker Hayek traveled to Sierra Leone in 2009 and breast-fed a baby, I remember how people in the media interpreted this story. Hayek was questioned as to why she gave a hungry baby her breast milk, as if breast milk should only be shared among a birth parent and their baby. Hayek is a breastfeeding activist and breast-fed the baby boy to help alleviate the stigma in the country around having sex with a woman who is still breastfeeding.

On an ABC news story by Kimberly Kaplan, they quote Hayek as sharing:

She told "Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden that she thought her daughter wouldn't mind sharing her milk. "Am I being disloyal to my child by giving her milk away?" Hayek said. "I actually think my baby would be very proud to share her milk. And when she grows up I'm going to make sure she continues to be a generous, caring person."

Hayek told McFadden that that the idea of helping a child in this way had a long tradition in her family. She related a story about her great-grandmother many years ago in Mexico saving the starving baby of a stranger by breastfeeding the child.

I remember some of my own community repulsed by Hayek’s actions and sharing these openly on social media outlets. The irony in all of this, that historically, this nation was built on breastfeeding other children’s babies and never once was that a concern. It was more an expectation that enslaved women who were lactating would provide for whomever needed feeding, most especially their master and mistress’ children. Wet nurses have often been attached to class status, and breastfeeding and access to breast milk remains an issue of access and class.

So maybe the concern is an issue because the sharing of breast milk is among “our” (read US-born) children and not those who are living outside the continental US. Many may assume that because a wealthy and well-known woman shared her breast milk that she is also free of communicable diseases, drug and smoke free, and all the other illnesses of concern. Or perhaps it’s that we just don’t really care as much what happens to that African baby? Either way it seems to me that this “modern society” of the US we like to think we find ourselves in, has found a way to ignore, debunk, vilify and, erase community building and sharing of resources that has occurred for centuries all over the world. This nation also does a great job of erasing the legacy of sharing breast milk that has sustained many families for generations.

My second thought was tied to encouraging young parents to breastfeed. I have shared before that I’m unapologetic about being one of those folks who watches 16 & Pregnant as well as Teen Mom. Rarely have I seen an episode where a young parent is encouraged to breastfeed. There was one young parent, whose name I can’t remember, who was encouraged and provided with nursing bras, yet the support did not go beyond that. I’ve also never seen an episode where the young parents are in a birthing center or seeking care through a midwife or doula, but that’s another issue for another time.

When I was working with young parents in the foster care system while at the Child Welfare League of America, I remember one of the main concerns for the parenting teens was their feelings of sexual arousal during breastfeeding. For those of you who are familiar with oxytocin and its connection to uterine contractions during delivery, milk release during breastfeeding, and uterine contractions during human sexual response, this is not new to you. However, for many young parents this experience, or acknowledgement that this may occur, was often one deterrent for them I heard often. I remain wondering why there are limited discussions with young parents about this, and even with older and seasoned breast feeders.

As my work has moved me in a different direction from where I was over a decade ago working with young parents, my conversations around breast milk have shifted. Nonetheless, breast milk has remained a topic of discussion for me, just in different contexts. Now, as I will be my niece or nephew’s only (read best and greatest) aunt by the end of the summer, breast milk and it’s access is becoming more important to me.

I always find it interesting when our life’s work and experiences leads us down paths and information we rarely thought we would go into. Often I’m cautious of using Facebook and (sometimes) Twitter to share some forms of content, but I have to admit that being in another state four hours away from my growing family, it has helped me stay connected to them. The pride I feel when I see sonogram posts of my sister and her wife’s baby on Facebook is indescribable. For that, I’m grateful for social media and yes, modernization to an extent.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Gaga Fans: Please Explain

cross posted from my Media Justice column

I’m pretty honest about not being into or know too much about certain types of media or issues and events that arise. Lady Gaga is one of those phenomenons I’m just not well versed on and have limited desire to be. With that said, I don’t follow her career, nor do I keep up on what she does or wears. This doesn’t mean I’m completely ignorant of what she produces and some of her songs; I have friends that are total stans!

Part of my lack of interest in her stems from recognizing some of the cultural appropriation she participates in. Most apparent to me was he use of costumes, which I’ve seen and grew up with by various performers, such as Celia Cruz and La Lupe (yeah she’s before Madonna, Cher, and Cyndi Lauper). It’s one thing to be inspired by an entertainer, it’s another thing to completely use and claim as one’s own aspects of their identity and performance art.

When I heard that Lady Gaga had leaked the lyrics to a new song “Born This Way” I wasn’t really giving it any thought. Then I read an article by Miguel Perez that discussed why some Latinos are turned off by some lyrics in this song and have connected them to racism. To be honest again, last time I really listened to or cared about something Lady Gaga did, it was when she did NOT cancel her concert in Arizona. I watched part of a video a fan uploaded about her commentary regarding SB1070 and wasn’t really impressed.

So, the history of Lady Gaga not having too many politically/socially conscious and happy Latino fans was nothing new to me. What was new to me was her use of some forms of language, so I read Perez’s article to see what was used. A full list of the lyrics to her songwas provided by the website Pop Eater where you can see all of them and some snippets of her performing a bit of the chorus.

When I read the lyrics Perez discusses in his article, I found more issues with some of her lyrics in the rest of the song, including the part discussed. Below are the lyrics in question, I didn’t add any emphasis nor do I know how or if she capitalized any of the terms (as I would have), so I wrote them as I saw them listed:

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
‘Cause baby you were born this way

No matter gay, straight, or bi
Lesbian, transgendered life
I’m on the right track baby
I was born to survive
No matter black, white or beige
Chola or oriental made
I’m on the right track baby
I was born to be brave

Now, I have three issues with three terms she has used in this song: “Chola [descent],” “Orient/al,” and “transgendered.” Perez’s article only discusses the (mis)use of the first term “Chola” which, over the past 2 generations in the US, has been associated primarily with Mexican, Mexican-American, Chican@ and Xican@ women. As with many Spanish language terms, they are gendered. The term “Chola” is referring to a woman as it ends with an “a;” if it were to end with an “o” it would be masculine.

As someone who is not of Mexican descent, I was not raised with a familiarity of this term, however, when I began to read Gloria Anzaldúa, specifically Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, I was introduced to different languages. Among the various languages that have been derived from Spanish and English is Caló and Pachuco. From my understanding Pachuco was the language created by people of Mexican descent in the 30s and 40s (maybe even earlier as language is constantly evolving) and as Anzaldua writes in her fifth chapter “How To Tame A Wild Tongue”: “From kids and people my own age I picked up Pachuco.Pachuco (the language of the zoot suiters) is a language of rebellion, both against Standard Spanish and Standard English. It is a secret language. Adults of the culture and outsiders cannot understand it. It is made up of slang words from both English and Spanish” (p. 78).

Caló, many folks agree, emerged from the Pachuco language and is still used among youth and communities in attempts to have their own language that keeps outsiders out. It is through these languages that we have come to understand and recognize the term “Chola” which was embraced by many in social justice movements in the US (if you are unfamiliar with the Brown Berets I encourage you to read up on them and their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement). Today, it seems there is a different use and understanding of the term. As many folks may understand, the terms when used in-group as they were created by members of the community, they mean and represent something very different in comparison to what meaning outsiders using the term may associate.

As a result, we have some disagreement and even allegations of racism (which I think are more connected to White supremacy and Lady Gaga’s use of it in this song to her advantage than a hatred or dislike for a group of people), when outsiders, as Lady Gaga is, in using this term. I’m not surprised that Perez, who identifies as Mexican American, finds this use of the term inappropriate and oppressive. I’m also not surprised other commentators who identify as Latino do not share Perez’s perspective. After all not all Latinos are of Mexican descent. Nor are all Latinos speaking the same language.

Another aspect that was not addressed in Perez’s article that I believe to be important to this discussion is her misuse of the term “Orient” and “Oriental” as a proper noun. Now, call me old school, but I thought that these terms were only used when talking about rugs and noodles, never in talking about people. So why are so many folks choosing to focus just on the term “Chola” when this term is just as offensive and has a long history of vilifying people from various Asian backgrounds?

Finally, her use of the term “transgendered” and associated that with “life” is just wrong, grammatically and in general. We do not say “womened” or “maned” to describe someone’s gender identity, so why are we doing that for transgender? It’s wrong folks, please know this and spread the word! Now, when we attach a community to a word like “life” or “lifestyle” that’s a whole lot more ish to deconstruct. I’ll look to GLAAD's (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Reference Guide suggestions to help clarify why using terms such as “life” and “lifestyle” are incorrect and what alternatives are offered:

Offensive: "gay lifestyle" or "homosexual lifestyle" Preferred: "gay lives," "gay and lesbian lives" There is no single lesbian, gay or bisexual lifestyle. Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are diverse in the ways they lead their lives. The phrase "gay lifestyle" is used to denigrate lesbians and gay men, suggesting that their orientation is a choice and therefore can and should be "cured

Although this description speaks specifically to LGB communities, I think we can also apply it to trans people as well. Claiming that there is a “transgender lifestyle” is wrong. The lives of transgender people are often always already ignored and not valued. As a result, I can see how some folks may argue that Lady Gaga even mentioning trans people (even if grammatically incorrect) is a step in the right direction. However, these are not the types of steps we need! What does it mean to us that we appreciate less than exceptional forms of media simply because we see ourselves somewhat represented? Our standards and expectations must be higher. I think for many of us here at Amplify this is why we do the work we do.

It seems fitting that I end with some of Anzaldúa’s thoughts about language:

“..for a language to remain alive it must be used….So if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself. Until I can accept as legitimate Chicano Texas Spanish, Tex-Mex, and all the other languages I speak, I cannot accept the legitimacy myself. Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me my tongue will be illegitimate.

I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice: India, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue-my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence” (p. 81).

Friday, February 4, 2011

UPDATED! Review: Hypnotic Dreams Audio Stories

UPDATE: One of the audio stories referenced below and linked to was incorrectly titled. I've changed the title and the links to represent the correct audio story that was reviewed and have indicated these changes in bold.

I’ll be doing reviews more often and posting them on this space. Last week I wrote about the AntiBacterial Foaming Toy Cleanser. Today I have a special treat for you, a review of Hypnotic Dreams: Erotic Hypnosis Audio Stories.

When I was approached to review the Hypnotic Dreams audio stories I knew it would require some time to listen and absorb the content long enough to write a strong and honest review. I’ve listened to four of the several audio stories they offer about three times each.

Unlike other items I review, this one was a challenge. It used my senses in a way other items have not required. I immediately saw how this provided another layer and source of pleasure for people with different abilities. Often many items are created for able-bodied people, rarely considering how people with different abilities may interact and enjoy the item. However, Hypnotic Dreams has created a product that can be utilized by people with various needs and seeking a somewhat “untraditional” experience.

I also saw this as having a value for folks who are in treatment or working with a health care provider for various topics that may come up in their sexual and reproductive health. Some of the audio stories I listened to may be useful for people who are attempting to overcome some level of trauma connected to their sexual health and/or experiencing pleasure. This feature is unique as not all “toys” or items for sexual pleasure can be utilized in such a way. Often such “toys” may be for people who are more advanced in their treatment and/or healing, whereas these recordings and exercises are for folks who are at various levels in their healing.

The creator of Hypnotic Dreams has an interesting background in engineering, storytelling, literature, and mythology. He has advanced degrees and is well known in the community of practice he currently works in as a professional. He is open about his reasons for maintaining anonymity; to have those people who reference and support his to not “discount the value of that work just because I also produce erotica.” This speaks volumes about where our society is with regards to respecting and seeing sexual science and the various forms of work within the field as valuable and important. It’s a struggle I understand very well, there is a level of risk you must take and assess in putting your name and image to sexuality and erotic centered work/media/production.

The use of hypnosis and audio stories of scenarios and narratives are not completely new. I recall obtaining a bag of demonstration items that included several cassette tapes that had scenarios of various encounters with different narrators. I’ll admit that when I found these items I got a chuckle, especially because the images that accompanied the cover of the cassette tapes were very decade-specific. However, Hypnotic Dreams are more modern and advanced. There is science and theoretical thought that supports and is utilized to create these audio stories and that may be why they are so effective.

When I was able to begin my review I was provided with access to the website in similar ways to how you would when you pay to download the tracks. If you are familiar with MP3 players or iPods of any form and have purchased music online the downloading process will be easy to navigate. If you are not, there are instructions on what to expect and look for, you will be downloading the audio stories to your hard drive and able to open them on the program of your choice (I have iTunes, so it opened there, but if you have Windows Media Player or something else it may work there too). I also do not use a PC, instead I have a Apple computer and did not have any challenges accessing the media onto my iPod.

If you are using iTunes the audio stories will download as “recently added.” From there you’ll want to make sure that you categorize your audio stories so that they either do not show up when you shuffle your music (similar to books on tape), and that they appear where you can easily find them. I didn’t do this when I first downloaded the tracks, so I speak from experience.

The four tracks I listened to and will discuss include:

Hypnotically Seduced (31:53 minutes)

The Pleasure Principle (25:00 minutes) UPDATED (this audio story was only partially referenced and listened to, the review focuses on the audio story Obedient Desires)

Obedient Desire (27:30 minutes) UPDATED

Enthralling Rhythms (23:00 minutes)

Introducing Erotic Hypnosis (25:52 minutes)

As I’ve indicated each audio story is over 20 minutes in length with Hypnotically Seduced being the longest of the four. I listened first to Introducing Erotic Hypnosis because I thought it would be a good introduction to this form of media and play. The audio story does exactly what the title says: provides an introduction to the listener of what erotic hypnosis can be and become. This was a good place for me to start so that I could gradually move through all four audio stories.

A soothing and masculine voice welcomes a new client (you) to the session and begins by sharing a few suggestions to relax. A focus on breathing is for the first several minutes. I really appreciated this guided meditation as sometimes it’s difficult for us to know what breathing and beginning to relax is all about. These are useful tools to use in various situations, not just in erotic experiences.

Hypnotically Seduced begins with helping you visualize how we are in tune with our bodies and “let our mind wander.” It begins with helping us imagine the last time we prepared for a special event, which allows us to suspend some level of consciousness, and focus that we can move through the scenario. This specific scenario is a date/engagement with a man who is a great storyteller with a fantastic voice. The recording then flows into a conversation with this gentleman.

UPDATED (this description was incorrectly applied to an audio story called The Pleasure Principle. The correct audio story is Obedient Desire. The Pleasure Principle is a different audio story that centers on a less intense power play scenario. I only listened to a portion of The Pleasure Principle, and of that portion I would provide a trigger warning for people healing from certain types of trauma.)

Obedient Desire has a power play scenario. I think this may be the only audio story I listened to where I would offer a trigger warning. If you are new to power play scenarios, this one may trigger some experiences you may have with violence and/or domination/non-consensual encounters. As a result, you may want to avoid this if you are still healing or not wanting to be exposed to such scenarios.

The scenario in Obedient Desire is to train the listener to become more obedient and gain pleasure in pleasing her partner and doing what he asks of her. We follow a young woman for an extended period of time beginning in high school. We listen as she finds pleasure in becoming the most reliable person on a team and emerges into the most disciplined person, which brings her to the attention of a man she is attracted to. Her new interest is attracted to her discipline and they create a relationship that pleases them both through her ability to do as he says.

Enthralling Rhythms is the only audio story that I listened to that is narrated by a woman for a man-identified listener. The scenario is an experience with a lap dancer who helps her client (you) become hypnotized by the dancer and her desire to help you experience pleasure. This was an interesting audio story to listen to from a different perspective. I was able to imagine myself as the lap dancer speaking to a partner of my choice. It was in this audio story that I connected more with the narrator and was able to image a larger range of possibilities. This was an unexpected surprise.

There were times that it was a bit difficult or challenging for me to get “into” some of the scenarios because I was so focused on the diction, phrasing, and flow of some of the narration. The Hypnotic Dreams website says that these “[a]udio stories are told with sophisticated NLP language patterns that induce hypnotic trance. This brings the listener into the story, enabling you to see, hear and feel everything described as if it is happening to you.” There is a glossary and FAQ on their site and under glossary they define NLP as “Neurolinguistic programming. A collection of methods for constructing words and sentences to bypass conscious filters and influence subconscious thought processes.”

When I first listened, I could tell immediately when some words were being emphasized and also how there was a flow to many of the scenarios. But it is this flow, diction and tone that make the recordings useful and effective. This is how the hypnotic and trance-like experience associated with the erotic stories works. Many people will have different responses to these recordings, which I find interesting. I’d like to hear how some of my friends and partners would react differently to the audio stories; did we have a similar experience? What did we enjoy? Respond to more eagerly?

After listening a few more times, I did have a trance-like experience. For the second time I was aware of my wanting to fall asleep and I believe I did as I could not remember when the last audio story ended and the next one began. However, I think by the third time I listened I was able to suspend some of my original focus and allow myself to relax and be open to a new experience. Trying new things do sometimes make us nervous, and I’m sure there was probably some nervousness I experienced that was unconscious and that may have been why there was a bit of resistance. As the Hypnotic Dreams website suggests, if you want a more intense hypnotic or trans-like experience keep trying! I think my experience is a good example of how this is true.

I also think it's important to share that I am currently doing "energy work" with a good friend who is studying at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing and through my energy work with her I believe I was more open more quickly to experiencing pleasure. As the BBSH website shares this work, "draws on scientific and metaphysical sources to bring together many aspects of human experience which describe and explain the healing process." In many ways, reviewing these audio stories was very timely for me.

Some areas I hope are in the “works” for Hypnotic Dreams are multi-language recordings. We all know not everyone speaks English as a first language (or at all), and offering recordings in Spanish, French and other (romance) languages seems like a natural next move to expand their market. Of course offering the recordings in languages that are outside a “romantic” categorization would be just as useful to expanding their catalog, we all know I just have a small bias towards Spanish. Sometimes things do just sound better in Spanish!

I’d also love to hear a multi-lingual recording. I believe that many of us think and live in more than one language, and including languages such as Spanglish and Patois or even some levels of slang would be another demographic to target. As of now, the audio stories are centered on English-speaking scenarios.

The recordings that I listened to were of a man speaking. I think it would be fabulous to maybe even switch this up, have a narrator who has an accent of some sort, or even women narrating scenarios centered on women (which I’m sure exist already, I just didn’t listen to them). These would be a bit more inclusive and challenge heterosexist ideas that women only want to hear a man, and that men would only want to hear women talk to them in these scenarios. And to be honest, I racialized the voice of the person on the recording as a racially White man, even though there were no images or reasons for me to do so. I interpreted and associated the voice as one connected to a White man. You may do the same thing or have a different connection. Either way, I’d have to say that it did impact my experience with the audio stories and my response to them may have been different if my imagination had racialized the voice as a person of Color.

Finally, although I did not share listening to these recordings with my partners, you may. That could add a new element of play and experience for both/all of you. Unlike other items I review (except for books), I kept this item to myself and had a different experience with myself and for that I’m very grateful.

Just in time for a Valentine’s Day, a gift for someone you love, or, more importantly yourself, I encourage you to check out the sample audio stories as each available story has a sample. Consider today taking a chance at a new form of pleasure. Audio stories may be purchased through the Hypnotic Dreams website using paypal or via

Many thanks to the folks at Hypnotic Dreams for reaching out to me and offering me this new experience for myself and my partners.