1) Gender roles are established and reinforced in many different ways and usually on a daily basis. Within the familial structure, society has deemed the female to be the “mother”, the one who bears children, and is expected to care for those children. The male has been assigned the role of the “father” who is supposed to play a different role, similar to that of the hunter-gatherer, who provides shelter and food for the family. When the couple chooses to reproduce, we assign a “gender’ to the child based on their genitalia (which we now understand can be entirely harmful.) In a quickly changing society, however, we may note that gender roles (specifically within the family) are changing. Female identified persons are no longer expected to stay at home and raise the child, nor are men expected to be the sole providers in terms of finance. These are all decisions that must be made between the two (or three or four, don’t forget those who are polyamorous!) individuals deciding to start a family together. Who will work? Who will do what chores around the house?
2) I personally have been working to shift attitudes within the gay, male community regarding gender expression (as well as in the larger society.) In the gay community we often label each other “masc” and “femme”, privileging the “masc” identified individuals and making them the most desirable. I, however, embrace my “femme” side fully by painting my nails often and dressing in drag. I politicize my identity and label myself a “Queen.” I have also done some work by writing on this issue, both for a limited audience (via blogposts on my personal tumblr) and for a wider audience (by publishing articles for “The Feminist Wire” and “Gay RVA.”)
3) For this question I thought best to start out by defining exactly what “institution” means. Institution can be defined as “an established law, practice, or custom” or “a structure or mechanism of social order governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given community.” Institutions, in turn, are influenced by religious, educational, governmental, or social organizations. Marriage is an institution, heavily influenced by religious communities, and in this country determines who has access to certain rights and privileges, and within our current culture gives the most agency to heterosexual couples.
It is certainly a “personal” issue for many, as they are effected by the issue. For members of the queer community who desire marriage rights, many are influenced by their desire to commit to another being. This may influence their decision to create a family. For those opposed to same-sex marriage, the issue becomes personal because they feel that is goes against their beliefs and certain “moral standards” they uphold.
It is also a “political” issue because as it currently stands, marriage in this country is very much a privilege of the heterosexual community that gives access to certain benefits that those who are not married are not eligible for. By denying a certain subset of the population certain rights, when they desire to have a legal partner of the same-sex, the law is making certain citizens “second-class.” For example, two men or two women who are in a same-sex relationship may face complications when trying to make medical decisions, or if one partner dies the other may not have rights to inheritance.
It can also be viewed as political issue for queer folk who are against same-sex marriage because they feel it is an assimilation tactic. I somewhat agree with this statement, mostly because the same-sex marriage movement has been labeled as a “fight for equality” and I am concerned that once all people in this country have marriage rights, to many the queer struggle will have ended and other issues that effect the community will receive little attention (and let’s be honest, a lot of issues in the queer community are already swept under the rug because big, typically heternormative organizations such as the HRC have massive sway and choose to focus their attentions on one particular issue (marriage) rather than other, more pressing issues.
"You should check out Fiona Apple’s newest album, Extraordinary Machine. It definitely has a more theatrical feel that most of her older work.” Those were the first words she said to me. She had come into the classroom clumsily, almost as awkward as most of the freshmen in my 9th grade English course. English, at the time, had been my favorite subject. I’ve always carried a list of high expectations for English teachers (something I’ve carried into college, carefully inspecting each English professor’s CV before taking their course) and when I looked into her eyes I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. What I didn’t know was the impact she would have on my life.
The first time I truly questioned gender roles in the context of my own family was when I was six and my family started changing. My parents had decided to separate after eighteen years of marriage, and suddenly my mother who had been a homemaker her entire life was thrown into new and entirely different circumstances that she had never been faced with before. In terms of her own life, my mother got pregnant for the first time at fourteen while a freshman in high school. My father, who was a senior at the same, had the luxury of graduating with a high school diploma. My mother, however, became a full time mother while still adjusting to the ins and outs of puberty. She would have three more children, giving her little time to focus on any form of formal education.
“What if he laughs with a horrible, wicked, high-pitched fey cackle, like a wicked witch, while he’s got his hand in Dad/boy, doing awful things to him?…Where do these faggots fit into the dropdown menu?” -Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?
In Tuesday’s class we were asked many questions. I find the question of how our various identities influence how we experience gender to be particularly compelling.
I myself am a self-identified faggot queen. And my object? Well…
…..naturally a queen needs inspiration! This was a photo given to me by a dear friend (and her mother, who happens to be a Yoga instructor!) before I left for college after high school graduation. Nearly three years later and it is still on my bedside table and is one of the first things I see in the morning.
So why is this important? Well, my favorite daily reminder to myself is “Be the best Queen you can be!”
Growing up I was called flamboyant, a sissy, and a fag (among other things) by my peers (mostly the male population of my middle school.) These names were hurtful, and I thought when I immersed myself in the gay male community I would find solace and a place of comfort. In many ways I did, but I still found challenges.
Even relations within the gay community became binary. On a typical gay dating profile it isn’t unusual to find terms such as “Masc only”, “no femme”, “top only.”
As a Bette Davis loving, nail painting, friend of Dorothy who loves to dress up and cackle (better than any ol’ Wicked Witch of the West, I might add) I understood early on that I didn’t exactly fit this “masc only” requirement that so many men were desirous of. And like the many essayists who contributed to Why Are Faggots so Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform I decided to take a different path. A path of openness. I decided to be unapologetically Nick, the self-described tired old Queen who embraces his “femme” side, as well as many other identities that have been devalued by the society I exist in.
Even my mother digs having a queen for a son (in a totally playful Joan Crawford-Mommie Dearest way):