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Freeing Myself from Sexual Repression

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

(Cross-posted from The Bilerico Project)

Those moments when we realize that we are always learning are the most humbling and most important for me.

I’ve been out of the closet since I was 22 and it’s safe to say that I’m very secure in my identity and very open-minded about sexuality, which I have explored ad nauseum. I have always carried this open-mindedness as a badge of honor given the often sex-negative society we live in today. Imagine my surprise this past weekend when I discovered a new side of my sexual awareness I never knew existed. I had a sexual awakening.

Fittingly, my sexual awakening happened in the Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend exhibit hall, which was on Capitol Hill and within a stone’s throw from the U.S. Capitol. I had never been before so I was excited about what was in store for me, but I certainly didn’t think I was going to tap into an unexplored area of my sexuality. To be sure, there was a lot to take in, and I saw many things, (the most intriguing for me was the leather cocoons) which I had only ever seen online.

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While casually strolling through the many rooms in the exhibit hall, I found myself captivated with all the live demonstrations going on, especially the wrestling demonstration. Picture two attractive and fit men, both in singlets and both quite obviously aroused, wrestling for passersby as a crowd begins to form. It was certainly a spectacle. Of course, grabbing attention is the point of any expo, but I was completely turned on and it wasn’t only because of the demonstration itself, but because I was also engaging in voyeurism. And, I wanted to do more of it.

I love my leather-loving friends, gay and straight alike, but I never considered myself part of their community. When I left the hotel Saturday, I started to think more about this since I had just had such a great time. I had automatically written off an entire sex community early on after coming out (and before, I guess) because I didn’t think it could offer anything for me. And, worse, I realized that I had even been critical of the leather community (and more broadly, the BDSM community) for promoting what I viewed as risky behavior. I had unwittingly repressed a  part of myself and I had never thought twice about it until just this past weekend.

I had repressed my very own sexual freedom.

I’m trying not to be too hard on myself about it. I am, after all, a product of a society that is still debating the merits of discrimination for certain minority groups, especially sexual minorities. To wit, some of America’s most prominent and influential citizens have been instrumental in codifying this kind of oppression through legislation in other countries. Can we say Uganda?

As I reflected on this new awakening I started to drift into the politics of sexual freedom as they currently stand in our own country and what life can be like when we celebrate sexuality and recognize it as a basic human right. In a couple of weeks, many of those at the helm of this movement will converge on Minneapolis for Creating Change, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual LGBT equality conference. Included in this conference is a day-long institute dedicated to sexual freedom and the integral role it plays in the ongoing fight for equality.

To keep the momentum going, Team Columbia and VenusPlusX.org will be hosting a free two-day sexual freedom mini-conference right next door at the Hotel Ivy (it will follow the day-long Creating Change institute and is free to the public and conference attendees) and it will include workshops, political caucuses and live- demonstrations. Attending either would be very beneficial for any LGBT rights advocate looking to make an impact.

Educating Americans on how sexual freedom is an essential part of their daily lives that should be cherished and celebrated is certainly a tall order. If, however, the LGBT rights movement can keep sexual freedom as one of its many driving forces, it could have a far more profound impact on society than it has ever realized.

What Does Solidarity Look Like in 2011?

December 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Back in July, I wrote about then recent observations of the relationship between the Latino and the LGBT communities. The observations were made while attending Netroots Nation and I was feeling especially hopeful that both communities were genuinely interested in building a bridge to each other, especially since this was the first real overture I had ever witnessed from the LGBT movement to address its abysmal record on diversity and outreach to people of color.  At a day-long LGBT pre-conference event, immigration was a breakout subject all its own and many of the attendees talked at length about the need for the LGBT rights movement to stand in solidarity with the fight for fair and just immigration reform. Recognizing the secret life and the kind of closet undocumented immigrants live in seemed to resonate with the largely white, gay male bloggers who were in attendance.  Witnessing these activists having robust conversations about how both movements can join forces in order to affect greater and more positive change was an encouraging sign that things were about to change going forward.

Of course, this was months before the devastating mid-term elections and the historic lame-duck Congressional work session that had everyone biting their nails in anticipation. This was before political maneuvering cast doubt on the passage of the DREAM Act (important to the Latino community) and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (important to the LGBT community). And, it was before the U.S. Senate dashed any hopes that these two communities could work together, as it did when the august body scheduled both DREAM and DADT repeal for votes in the last remaining weeks of the session. In a Congress that was as politically charged and partisan as this one, it seemed nearly impossible to ask the Senate to consider (gasp!) two difficult votes that would mean a great deal to both communities fighting for them. Suffice it to say that all that talk of building bridges and standing strong together went out the window as both communities galvanized their networks for the fight that lay before them.

We all know what has happened since then. The DREAM Act and Latinos got the shaft and DADT repeal passed and was subsequently signed into law just days later. The president says he is confident repeal will happen in a matter of months, not years, and before long the United States will join the rest of the developed world in its attitude toward LGB men and women in the armed forces. This is fantastic news and, while I’m still a vocal critic of the military who has many reservations about a standing army, I recognize what this means in the name of advancing equality and I wholeheartedly welcome the change.

Now that repeal has happened, however, I’m wondering if there is still interest in the LGBT community to restart that conversation that was started last July. It is pretty clear now that the LGBT rights movement is not going to have any other legislative victories akin to the repeal of DADT anytime soon. True, the president has said that he wants to see DOMA repealed but that’s a two to four year time frame we’re talking about and the reality is that the movement shouldn’t really expect to see the White House or the Congress do much to advance its issues in the next two years.

Given that reality, I humbly suggest that the LGBT rights movement do everything it can to continue that show of solidarity with the Latino community and pour energy into getting the next Congress to make the DREAM Act a reality. Now, I don’t think that we should rest on our laurels with the DADT repeal. We should continue the fight for equality, but we should also take the opportunity to show to the world just how inclusive and thoughtful the LGBT movement can be. Now is the chance to show Latinos, and indeed all LGBT people of color, that the movement cares about them and values them enough to help them take up arms in the fight against bigotry, racism and xenophobia even if its a fight that will help only a very select group of people. Indeed, the repeal of DADT has no effect on me whatsoever, but I supported the fight nonetheless. So did thousands of the DREAMers (many of which happen to be gay, I might add) who thought it was an unjust law.

Now is the time for the LGBT movement to get involved in the immigration struggle. Just this week, the White House announced an all-out grassroots campaign to get Congress to act on DREAM.

From HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel:

On a conference call with journalists Wednesday (12/22/2010), White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said the President is willing to “wage a very public campaign” to push the DREAM Act, which would grant undocumented students who were brought into the United States as minors by their parents a path to citizenship through higher education or military service. He added that grassroots activism will be essential to success.

The emphasis on the last sentence is mine. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few years is that LGBT activism is a force to be reckoned with. I’ve seen the intense lobbying, fundraising, and activism efforts the LGBT movement mobilizes when it needs to, and together with the Latino community, we could expose the worst of our national legislators and present a united front in the call for justice and equality. If the LGBT movement really wants to make inroads with the Latino community, it will heed this call and begin to lay the groundwork for the coming fight. And, for all you partisan Dems out there, imagine how the party could capitalize on a united effort between LGBT’s and Latinos working together to fight for immigration reform.

As you can imagine, the Latino community has been working feverishly to plan for the next Congress and it is working with the White House to explore the administrative courses of action available to the president.

As the New York Times put it:

Mr. Obama doesn’t need Congress to curb the Department of Homeland Security, which is deporting at a record pace many of the very people he says deserve a chance to stay. That means reforming Secure Communities, a fingerprinting program that will soon turn every local police department in the country into an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – a looming disaster for public safety and good policing. He can tell border agents to stop harassing and scaring innocent people.

He can halt deportations of students who would have qualified for the Dream Act, under the time-honored practice of deferred action for those who pose no threat. He can have the Labor Department redouble efforts to expose wage-and-hour violations endemic in the immigrant workplace.

Perhaps most important, he can stop enabling the Republicans who are itching to make things worse. He can defend against the propaganda that all illegal immigrants are by definition a class of criminals instead of people trapped in a web of bad laws, misguided policies and squandered potential. And he can repudiate the myth that all America’s immigration problems will be solved at the Mexican border.

Communities of color, especially LGBT’s, are paying close attention to what the LGBT rights movement does next. Its leaders would do well to show their commitment to communities of color by getting on board with this fight and doing what is right in the name of equality for all.

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It’s Time to Take Action

March 19, 2010 Leave a comment

So, it turns out Lt. Dan Choi’s action yesterday was what GetEqual.org, the new group behind the actions, says was the first of “many more actions planned for the coming weeks and months.”

GetEqual.org launched today and included video of Choi’s arrest as well as coverage of coordinated efforts in Speaker Pelosi’s DC and district offices.

GetEqual.org’s founders, Robin McGehee and Kip Williams, were also lead organizers behind the National Equality March last October. That march had many supporters, most notably Equality Across America, which McGehee and Williams have since left. This new effort includes Will Phillips, the 10-year old Arkansas boy who has become a new advocate for equality. I gotta say. I love this kid.

In their press release today, McGehee says GetEqual.org is doing exactly what the Obama administration and congressional supporters have said they should.

“D.C. politicians, including President Obama, have said they need pressure in order to move the right policy forward — and if they don’t live up to their promises, we promise to be back.”

I don’t really write much about DADT, but I definitely support its repeal and I’m behind all the efforts to make that repeal happen. I don’t understand why conservatives like Sen. McCain don’t get it, especially since they’re all about national security. How does it make sense to discharge an Arabic interpreter in the middle of a war and during a recruiting crisis?!

My thoughts on GetEqual? Well, a friend put it best when he said, “you gotta love those agitators.” I think he’s right. We need them.

There are other pressing issues, it’s true. Equality is no less pressing and repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is an easy lift for the federal government, despite what McCain says. I’m all for making sure the public doesn’t forget that this is a real fight happening. There are real men and women in uniform who just want to be recognized as an equal citizen in the eyes of the government they serve.

So, fight on GetEqual.org. Don’t let the public forget.

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Get Your Racism On and Dance the Night Away!

January 5, 2010 1 comment

***UPDATE:***

The owners of Town Danceboutique have changed the wording of their ad and have issued an apology. Here’s what my friend Juan Garcia received in response to an email to Town’s owner Ed Bailey:

Mr. Garcia,

Thank you for your well written, respectful email. I actually appreciate your point of view and I understand your concern.

In marketing for the last 20 years, I have learned that when you push the boundaries, some one gets offended. I have similarly learned that, because people’s tastes and responses to certain things are unique, there is no use in debating weather something is in good taste or not. It is completely relative…. See More

Obviously, the intention of our promotional language was to be humorous and obviously you felt as though it was not.

It is clearly not my intention to ever offend anyone at any time and I think that if you knew me or my business partners, you would know that we have more integrity and a higher ethical standing than probably any nightclub ownership has ever shown…from our sponsorship of many current employees for citizenship, to our employee healthcare plan to our continued charitable practices.

Prior to the receipt of your email, the language of our emails and website has changed. (re-occurring MW ads had already gone to press) As a group, we feel terrible that we actually offended anyone and will work diligently to keep from doing so in the future.

Ed Bailey
Town Danceboutique

I’m glad to see they corrected their mistake and that they issued a sincere apology. Other small businesses could learn a thing or two from Mr. Bailey’s business ethic.

I hate mega-clubs.

I hate straight mega-clubs and I hate gay mega-clubs.

I suppose they play an “important” part in the lives of young gay men in the coming out process, but the novelty of it quickly wore off for me. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with beautiful shirtless men dancing their butts off, or, necessarily, the excessive drinking and the drug use that goes on at these places. This happens at most establishments, many of which I patronize, and I would be a hypocrite if I criticized these clubs for those things. I think there might be some truth to the criticism that these institutions only detract from the gay rights movement because they only perpetuate stereotypes, but I don’t really hate them for that either. That’s a highly debatable notion, after all.

Add in the terrible generic “thumpa thumpa” sounding music, the overpriced drinks, and, worst of all the outrageous cover charge (I HATE COVER CHARGES) and you’ve got the makings of what I consider hell on earth.

Today, though, I discovered a new reason to hate on these clubs.

A friend pointed out an email he recieved from Town Danceboutique today. It’s one of DC’s biggest gay night clubs and it’s right in the heart of the historic U Street district. Naturally, it attracts a fair number of patrons every weekend.

The email is a standard weekly notice about the upcoming events. Today’s email included this little gem, coming up on Sunday:

Sunday, January 17th

WTF? is an event that defies definition and where anything can happen…from the bondage Elmo to the fried chicken to the unicorn will pulled out of a giant turkey for thanksgiving…

This time WTF? presents: Que es el Fucko?…climb the border fence and eat a taco and explora with Dora…

WTF, indeed. Someone should tell Town’s owners to STFU!

First, this is just plain stupid writing. Fom a PR perspective, this has got to be one of the worst descriptions of an event ever. I understand wanting to be vague so as to pique interest, but you’ve got to give folks something. You’ve got to provide them with some tidbit of information that’s going to make them want to go out, on a Sunday night no less, pay a cover and then pay for the outrageously priced drinks. This email does not achieve that.

Second, and worst of all, this is overtly offensive! If you’re going to be crass and be funny at the same time you have to know how to do it. Achieving this is hard enough whilst speaking, let alone writing. As my friend pointed out, what if the email read “WTF? presents: what the fuck ni**@, eat some watermelon and pick your pants up” would that have passed muster?

What if you got wind of an event that Tatoo Bar or The Park was hosting and their marketing material included emails that read: “OMG! presents: Haaaaay, girl! Let’s tweak and shove dildos up our asses! A revue of gay culture in DC.” Would you be okay with seeing that in your inbox? I think not.

What is so funny about the image of men, women and children risking their lives to cross our southern border to find a better life? Who thought it would be a good idea to have a laugh at the expense of this country’s largest minority? There’s an immigration bill making its way through Congress that could have a real positive impact for the thousands of gay families that are routinely ripped apart because of our inane immigration policy. It has several detractors, of course, and seeing things like this advertised only presents more fodder for the anti’s who would love to see nothing more than a fight between the immigrant community and the LGBT community.

This is all too symptomatic of a LGBT community that is often ignorant of its racism and which has no sensitivity for any group but its own.

Sadly, this is something gay people of color have to contend with all the time. I know there are folks who are working to change this dynamic in the community, but that job is made increasingly difficult when businesses like Town, which has played host to many a HRC and Capital Pride event among others, send out messages like this to their giant email list.

And for those critics who would say I should calm down, that it’s just a night club, I say you’re wrong. It is not just a night club. Town is a place where thousands of DC’s young gays congregate and share on a weekly basis. What kind of message are Town’s proprietors sending when they host an event that from the outset seeks to negatively caricature an entire group of people?

It is certainly not one of inclusiveness and equality. It is anything but.

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