Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscars

It was a big night for LGBT rights at the Oscars! Here are the startling and amazing speeches made by Dustin Lance Black and Sean Penn:

Dustin Lance Black:

"When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life. It gave me the hope one day I could live my life openly as who I am and then maybe even I could even fall in love and one day get married.

I wanna thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you, God, for giving us Harvey Milk."

Sean Penn:



The politics of shame, being mobilized FOR queer rights and against Prop 8, is a keen rhetorical weapon. Penn also alluded to the protesters outside the building, who were holding anti-queer signs (shocker).

It was a pretty amazing night, all in all: Penelope Cruz celebrated the creative and redemptive power of global cinema in her speech, and even managed to mention Almodovar; Dustin Lance Black reminded queer and questioning kids that they're "beautiful, wonderful creatures of value"; and Sean Penn addressed every supporter of Prop 8 (no doubt some of them were sitting in the audience), telling them that they ought to feel deep shame for their disavowal of human rights.

We even got to see a clip from Milk, with Sean Penn kissing James Franco! Sure, they slipped it in just for a second, but it was there!

As Audre Lorde reminds us: "My silences have not protected me. Your silence will not protect you."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

LGBT Immigration Sponsorship

By Kerry Eleveld
An Advocate.com exclusive posted February 12, 2009

Rep. Jerrold Nadler Rep. Jerrold Nadler reintroduced in the House Thursday the Uniting American Families Act, which would amend current immigration law to allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their foreign-born partners for permanent residency on the same basis that straight citizens can sponsor spouses.

“The idea behind the bill is that it is wanton cruelty, gratuitous cruelty, to keep people who love each other apart,” Representative Nadler said on a press call with reporters. The legislation would stipulate that the word “spouse” be replaced by the term “permanent partner” wherever it appears in the Immigration and Nationality Act. No same-sex partner, whether they are legally married or not, can currently apply for expedited residency.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Prop 8 Challenged

The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO

A legislative committee has endorsed legal efforts to overturn California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee voted 7-3 Tuesday to put the legislature on record as opposing Proposition 8.

The California Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for March 5 on a series of lawsuits that argue citizens lack the authority to put the gay marriage ban directly to voters.

The resolution goes next to the full Assembly, and the state Senate is scheduled to consider a companion measure in coming weeks.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who's Afraid of Queer Theory?

Steamy sex courses fire GOP's ire

Effort to oust profs

By Greg Bluestein | Associated Press | Story updated at 11:38 pm on 2/6/2009

ATLANTA - Upset House Republicans are mounting a campaign to purge Georgia's higher education system of professors with an expertise in racy sexuality topics as the state grapples with a $2.2 billion shortfall.

State Rep. Charlice Byrd, R-Woodstock, took the House well on Friday to announce a "grassroots" effort to oust professors with expertise in subjects like male prostitution, oral sex and "queer theory."

"This is not considered higher education," Byrd said. "If legislators are going to dole out the dollars, we should have a say-so in where they go."

Byrd and her supporters, including state Rep. Calvin Hill, R-Canton, said they will team with the Christian Coalition and other religious groups to pressure fellow lawmakers and the University System Board of Regents to eliminate the jobs.

"Our job is to educate our people in sciences, business, math," said Hill, a vice chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. He said professors aren't going to meet those needs "by teaching a class in queer theory."

The regents, who oversee the state's colleges and universities, has bristled at attempts by legislators to dictate who they should hire. A regents spokesman said the university system's mission - teaching, research and service - is a broad field.

He said the state's schools hire faculty with expertise in a range of subjects as part of "a tradition of investigating the human experience." And he noted that they aren't teaching "how-to" courses, but rather they are experts on the sociological trends and risks.

"Certainly the mission of higher education is to broaden the field of knowledge and research," said spokesman John Millsaps. "That covers a lot of topics. Some may be considered to some as controversial, but to others it could be considered needed."

Hill and Byrd were incensed to learn a University of Georgia professor teaches a graduate course on "queer theory." They also took aim at Georgia State University, where an annual guide to its faculty experts lists a sociology lecturer as an expert in oral sex and faculty member Kirk Elifson as an expert in male prostitution.

Georgia State spokeswoman Andrea Jones called the critics' argument "flawed."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Al Awda

Al Awda just hosted the 4th "Let Gaza Live" conference at UCSD, La Jolla. For details, click here for the conference program.

Redux

I have this weird, recurring dream. It isn't exactly a nightmare, but it's not great, either. I end up having to repeat the tenth grade for some reason, because there's some error on my transcripts, and it turns out that I didn't actually graduate properly from high school. So, in the dream, I get sent back to tenth grade, and I have to do gym class again. I spend most of the dream arguing with counselors, trying to get out of doing gym, which is basically what I spent most of grade ten doing anyways. It's very nostalgic. I often have this dream when I'm stressed out, especially when I'm waiting to hear important news.

For me, gym class represented everything that was the worst about high school. Enforced 'fun.' Gender segregation. Teachers yelling at you to kick the ball harder, do one more situp, etc., and then making you feel like crap in front of everyone when you couldn't. Guys posturing, preening in the locker room, trading homophobic and misogynist taunts, and searching for any point of weakness to exploit. I wonder if even the jocks felt like shit during gym class. Maybe they always felt like they were under observation, that they couldn't perform well enough, that they weren't man enough. I've always wondered that.

I actually don't mind going to the gym nowadays, although part of that has to do with this imaginary feeling that I'm somehow an 'adult' now, that nobody's going to call me a fag because I don't know how to use the elliptical machine. There's this thin social veneer that kind of settles over everything, and yet, watching everyone else working out, you start to wonder: what was gym class like for them? How many queer folks and formerly-fat kids and outcasts are here right now, doing the same thing that I'm doing? Wouldn't it be cool if everyone could just go out for drinks with each other and swap horror stories? This is why it's my firm belief that gyms should be attached to bars. It's probably also why I'm out of shape. :)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"I think I screwed up."




"I think this was a mistake. I think I screwed up."

A president who admits he screwed up after only the first day. Talk about transparency in politics! I think we're getting somewhere. I think I really, really respect Obama for his candor, and for his ingenuity.

I'm excited to be living and working in a time where these kinds of politics are out in the open, are being discussed and debated. This is the same president who mentioned gays and lesbians, disabled people, and seniors in his acceptance speech. It made me think of Harvey Milk's politics in 1973. This shit is amazing, and it's happening to us right now. I just feel lucky that I'm at a point in my life where I can situate myself within these powerful currents, where I can really pay attention and make critical decisions--and the spectrum of politics to engage with right now is incredible, exciting, charged, and important.

But in my hometown, I see all sorts of homicidal politics, slashes to social programming, visible poor-bashing, failures to protect sex-workers and provide living wages for people who work in all sorts of marginalized private sectors in global cities like Vancouver. I see the passage of Prop 8, and the enormous wave of pro-queer sentiment that was rallied and emerged as a result, like something bright coming out of blood and ashes. I see the quiet, largely unremarked-on passage of the tenth anniversary of Matthew Shepard's life and death in Laramie, WO. I also see new AIDS and oncology research, and online protests transmitted through blogs, and the rise of a strange and amazing counter-culture on sites like Youtube (and Xtube). I see my queer friends and colleagues doing exciting, inspiring work in a diversity of fields. Banal as it sounds, I even see online photographs of the wedding of Ellen Degeneres and Portia di Rossi, and Gavin Newsom asking us "what people we want to become" by voting to annul same-sex marriages, and therefore "writing discrimination into the constitution."

And I think, it's a fucking great time to be writing and teaching. I'm the luckiest queer in the world. We're all the luckiest queers in the world, and hopefully, we can do cultural work and make art that will change the spectrum of human rights. We'll do that. We have to, right?

Let's try to be kind to each other in new, even critical ways. Critical kindnesses. Remember what the fox says in Exupéry's Le petit prince. "Tu deviens responsable pour toujour de ce que tu as apprivoisé." You are responible, forever, for whatever you tame. But once you let yourself tame and be tamed, everything changes. "Tu seras pour moi unique au monde. Je serai pour toi unique au monde." You'll be unique to me in all the world; I'll be unique to you in all the world, like the little prince's golden hair in field of wheat. Like Butler says in Precarious Life, there are ways to organize politics around vulnerability, around not knowing. It's scary, but it probably makes us better humans, since we act most honestly when we're facing pain of all kinds. Being vulnerable and naked within your politics is hard, and I'm not good at it yet, but I think I'm getting less afraid with the passage of time.

One hopes, anyways.

Prop 8 Funds



Recently, a list of companies (and individuals) who made substantial donations in favor of Prop 8 was made public. It's a bit eerie to look at, and gives me the feeling that we're embroiled in some very McCarthy-esque politics around disclosure and secrecy. I've included a link, but I'm not even sure how I feel, myself, about knowing this information:

The California 'Dishonor Roll'

Are We Special?

Thomas Benton has a fierce, eviscerating article in Chronicle Careers about grad students and unemployment. I agree with a lot of his points, although I think, in turn, that a certain amount of healthy optimism in this field is necessary for survival. We do have to believe, as grad students and postgrads, that we'll find a place in this hostile system from which to 1) change things for the better, 2) continue to do good, valuable work, and 3) help future students. But, at the same time, there's a lot of inflated praise and unrealistic expectations out there. Here are some of the critical highlights from Benton's piece:

"The reality is that less than half of all doctorate holders — after nearly a decade of preparation, on average — will ever find tenure-track positions."

"The follow-up letters I receive from those prospective Ph.D.'s are often quite angry and incoherent; they've been praised their whole lives, and no one has ever told them that they may not become what they want to be, that higher education is a business that does not necessarily have their best interests at heart. Sometimes they accuse me of being threatened by their obvious talent. I assume they go on to find someone who will tell them what they want to hear: 'Yes, my child, you are the one we've been waiting for all our lives.'"

"They don't know that you probably will have to accept living almost anywhere, and that you must also go through a six-year probationary period at the end of which you may be fired for any number of reasons and find yourself exiled from the profession."

"With the prospect of an unappealing, entry-level job on the horizon, life in college becomes increasingly idealized. They think graduate school will continue that romantic experience and enable them to stay in college forever as teacher-scholars."

"Universities (even those with enormous endowments) have historically taken advantage of recessions to bring austerity to teaching. There will be hiring freezes and early retirements. Rather than replacements, more adjuncts will be hired, and more graduate students will be recruited, eventually flooding the market with even more fully qualified teacher-scholars who will work for almost nothing. When the recession ends, the hiring freezes will become permanent, since departments will have demonstrated that they can function with fewer tenured faculty members."

---

Although I agree with a lot of what Benton is saying, I also have misgivings about simply telling students that they're crazy to enter graduate studies. And all of these critical points are debatable, at least in my experience so far. Yes, we are in a recession, but that isn't news, and academia has been dealing with financial crises for at least the past several decades. Having watched several friends go for technical training, land jobs outside academia, and work successfully for years--only to be unexpectedly laid off without compensation--I feel like humanities grad studies is certainly not the only hostile, competitive job market. Training does not necessarily equal a livable wage, no matter what field you're in.

Universities will always take the path of least (financial) resistance in terms of hiring. A certain amount of money will be allocated by deans for searchers, and departments will then have to assess 1) which teachers they need in which areas, and 2) how to conflate/collapse certain pedagogical areas together in order to hire someone cost-effectively who can do a variety of different things for them. This is why you see positions like 'Queer studies with emphases in ethno-history and area studies, with sub-specialty in minority literatures.' Break a position like that down, and you're looking at about five different teachable areas. If departments had enough money to hire people in every needed area, they certainly would, but they have to bargain and make difficult choices. When I was the grad student rep on a hiring committee, I lobbied as much as I could for positions that I thought were valuable and necessary--global feminisms, queer studies, critical race studies, disability studies--only to be told that it wasn't economically feasible. Often, departments have 'wish lists' that they've been compiling for years, with needed positions that are just waiting for funding, and these are affected by retirements, sabbaticals, and other faculty departures.

When students ask me if they should pursue grad studies, I usually tell them to come up with a list of concrete reasons why they'd like to enter the field. This doesn't need to be ironclad, but they should be able to visualize something more realistic than the 'romance' of delivering brilliant papers at conferences and getting lots of time to read. In actual fact, I'd say I've spent the last 10 years or so reading close to 100 pages per day, often more. My eyesight has gone from bad to worse, and when I was doing my comprehensive exams, I had a variety of physical ailments from overwork and lack of sleep. So, the labor required to finish MA and PhD degrees is considerable and debilitating. Students should think very hard about this. And they need to prepare themselves for years of relative (i.e., First World) poverty, lack of medical insurance, lack of child support/daycare, and definitely lack of sleep.

That said, I don't necessarily believe that it's somehow quantifiably 'harder' to find a job now than it was 10-15 years ago. There are less positions, certainly. I'd say about 30% of tenure-track job postings were cut last year in the United States due to financial instability, and that includes massively endowed schools like Duke U, which we often conceptualize as being somehow immune to economic crisis. Jobs are being cut all over the place, and the market is saturated with over-qualified applicants who have taught, given papers, published, won awards, and are, in many ways, indistiguishable from each other. It's very difficult to even get a preliminary interview at a mega-conference like MLA and AHA, let alone a campus interview. This does seem pretty grim.

In terms of optimism, I can only speak from my own experience. I've been lucky enough to receive generous funding from a variety of inter- and extra-departmental sources, and I've been able to get interviews. Being a grad student gave me the flexibility to get a lot of writing done, to travel, to interact with lots of brilliant people, and to teach a variety of courses. I've learned so much from my students and colleagues, and on a more personal level, I've been able to figure out things about myself that I doubt I would have had the opportunity to in another field. I like the person I've become as a result of all this hard work, and I can't, in good conscience, tell a student not to pursue grad studies simply because there's a good chance they won't get a job.

A job may appear that's unexpected: teaching a subject you never thought you'd teach, in a city you've never been to, maybe in an entirely different country. But we all have to be open to changing our perspectives, leaving our inscribed comfort zones, and doing something that seems different and terrifying. Although the first 7 years or so of graduate academia are fairly safe and proscribed (aside from financial instability), the period directly following earning a PhD can be the most terrifying and disorienting of all. But that can also be a good thing. When human beings are under terrific pressure, they tend to make extraordinary decisions about their own lives. And without this tension, we might miss an opportunity that, although scary, is precisely right for us.

I think Gayatri Spivak is right about academics having to leave their safe Western comfort zones. If we're going to change the system of academia for the better, we need to learn new languages (both concrete and theoretical), move to new places, teach in a variety of different environments, and give ourselves permission 1) to fail, and 2) to be scared. That's all we can ask of any profession.