An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

July 27, 2010

Shove Your Teachable Moments

For, what, the second or third time in as many months, I’ve found myself jumping into a commenting fit of such epic proportions over at Gin and Tacos that I couldn’t resist dragging it out into it’s own full post.

Long story short: Jennifer Keeton,  student in Augusta State University’s counseling program is suing the school, because she both wants to become a school councilor and insists that homosexuality is a disease in need of curing (by her, I guess). And because the school has pointed out that, professionally, that’s not acceptable. It’s a little hard to tell what’s going on at all, because the Augusta Chronicle report is both muddled and leans heavily toward Keeton’s perspective, avoiding any discussion of exactly how she managed to annoy her professors into suggesting a ‘remediation plan’ to dissuade her from, er, “voice[ing] her Christian beliefs inside and outside the classroom on homosexuality and other biblical teachings.”

I am honestly a little impressed that Keaton managed to make such a nuisance of herself that the school got up the guts to tell her she can’t just rant at the children she councils about how Jesus hates them. It’s not easy to get a Georgia university official to tell students to keep their insane brand of Christianity a little more to themselves.

Now, for starters, I am dubious of the idea that extra training will help here. And honestly, I’m a little skeptical of the implied approach here–they seem to be hoping to actually change her mind, by ordering* her into diversity training and telling her to go to Augusta’s Pride last month. First, I don’t think they’ll be able to make her change her opinion so easily. Bigotry doesn’t just melt the first time someone tells the bigot they’re not very nice. Secondly, I think she has a right to hold her fucked up beliefs, even while graduating from a public university. She just needs to understand that she can never, ever let them enter her professional life, because doing so would be a serious ethical breech. Or she could find another line of work.

Also, on behalf of all queer people everywhere, I have one thing to say to the professors who suggested Keeton head to the nearest Gay Pride Parade to learn some tolerance: What the hell are you thinking?! Pride parades aren’t there to show insane homophobes that we’re Just Like Everyone Else. That’s what PFLAG pamphlets and the more risqué Lifetime made for TV movies are for. Pride parades are a chance to wear ridiculous outfits, get drunk in the middle of the day, and enjoy some strength in numbers for once. Sort of like St Patrick’s Day was, back when Irish immigrants faced some actual hostility in the US (but also wanted to get drunk and party). I can’t imagine being heckled by drag queens or browsing the lube selection of local sex toy shop is going to help Keeton warm to treating some poor gay high school student with respect or human dignity. Don’t get me wrong, I love drag queens and sex toy stores, but this is just not the way to go.

And more importantly, I doubt any of the actual participants would want her there. It’s a public event and Keeton can come if she wants to, but I’m a little disappointed that her professors thought it was more important to blow her little mind than to let the entire LGBT community of Augusta enjoy their biggest event of the year without one more hater sneering at them. Not everything queer people do together is about helping sheltered, bigoted assholes realize the error of their ways. Actually, most of the fun of something like pride comes from taking a break from worrying what people who hate you think. The ASU faculty shouldn’t ruin that in a misguided attempt to change Keeton’s mind, they should tell her to go home and think very hard about whether she’d rather keep her homophobia private or pick a new line of work.

While I was an undergrad, there was a controversy that started when a student made some hyperbolic but genuinely mean death threats to a gay professor on his student evaluation. The professor complained to the administration, who shrugged. The evaluations are supposed to be anonymous (though they were done online in a traceable way) (Correction: He recognized the student’s handwriting), and the administration didn’t think the threats were serious enough to bother with. When the professor got the same threats at the end of the next semester (he’s in a small department, and is the only instructor for several mandatory classes), he called the campus paper and the LGBT life office. Long story short, the administration threw up a flurry of ass-covering, it turned out the school’s only route for filing bias complaints was to call the cops (which inspires another rant unto itself), and eventually, the school ponied up the offending fratboy, who they ordered to do sensitivity training. Which he also got out of by suing.

The point of that story, and I do have one, is that they school also ordered him to volunteer at the campus LGBT student center, thinking a little exposure Real Life Gays would teach him a valuable lesson of tolerance. (FYI, the LGBT center’s director flat-out refused, and eventually won) Now, remember kids, this guy was in trouble for repeatedly making homophobic death threats to a professor. The LGBT center is the only set-aside safe space for queer students on a large, very hostile campus. So…the administration thought it would be a good idea to order him in there. Because making empty gestures toward teaching a mean straight kid a lesson is more important than the comfort and safety of every queer student on campus. Because they can’t imagine a use for a queer space other than as a teaching tool for the straight majority. This is why we can’t have nice things, folks.

I’m sure this doesn’t just happen to queer folks. I’d be pretty surprised if these same administrations don’t deal with other -isms the same way–send the privileged offender to hang out with the people they oppress, and hope they learn their lesson. Do it without any visible concern for the people they’re supposed to be learning from. This is tokenism at it’s worst–treating the organizations de-privileged people have built for themselves as nothing more than an educational diorama, there to demonstrate our mysterious ways to the baffled majority.

*Hypothetically, the ‘remediation plan’ is mandatory, but the news article implies that she’s not going along with it (and is suing instead) and states that the school hasn’t taken any action to expel her anyway. So, she’s not exactly being persecuted out of the building, as she suggests.


May 18, 2008

The Moral Panic of BPA and the Feminized ‘Boy’

As a follow-up to yesterday’s rant post about the anti-feminine fear-mongering often present in media coverage of endocrine disruptors, Rebecca Hammond was kind enough to give me permission to republish the following essay. She says it far better than I could.


I can see it now. 2008 will go down as the year that polycarbonate, the durable tough clear plastics we were all nursed on, the little plastic #7, takes the fall as the culprit responsible for emasculating our males for the past half century.

more specifically, it seems that everywhere – from blogs to the eco-media to the earnest conversations that happen on play dates around swingsets – talk is fixated on the horrors of BPA (biphesnol-a). BPA is found in polycarbonates as well as in the lining of canned foods (as well as in other non-food goods).

i’ve had this unease about the growing clamour around BPA. now, there are many stories within this story to catalyse unease: the discrepency between publicly and privately funded studies into the health effects of low-dose exposure to BPA; the nonaction by global and national bodies to stem the 7 billion pounds of BPA that’s created on an annual basis; the growing body of research highlighting potentially harmful effects on human health at exposure levels far below what’s considered ‘acceptable’.

yes, these are all troubling. i, however, am as much troubled by the panicked response to this chemical as i am by the chemical itself.

now, there is steadily mounting, and increasingly irrefutable, evidence linking BPA to breast, and possibly prostate cancer in adults. but a chemical linked to cancer, particularly one that is only marginally linked at the present time, has never been ganged up on like this. then *what*, i’ve wondered, is driving this unprecedented reaction? what has shifted in the eyes of moms across the continent to suddenly see the innocuous sippy cup as an object that incites panic about the health of their children?

i’ve come to conclude that such a sudden, complete reaction without a definitive health outcome means that concern is going beyond health concerns alone. sippy cups have become an object of moral panic, tweaking deep seated fears that our ‘boys’ are becoming weaker, more sensitive, and ultimately more feminine.

what is important to understand is that BPA is a chemical that mimics the effects of estrogen in the body. this estrogen masquerade it plays is why, in particular, concerns have been raised about long-term BPA exposure (as well as exposure at a young age) and the development of breast cancer – many forms of which are triggered by, and dependent upon, estrogen exposure.

BPA and cancer: here the link is inconclusive but strong enough to warrant serious attention. what has happened though is that BPAs estrogenic properties have triggered a fear that goes far beyond this. buoyed by studies in rats, such as this, many in both mainstream media, as well as in progressive ecological publications, are selling magazines and papers by stoking fears that BPA may be closing the gap between the genders by altering the gender-normative behaviour of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’.

now, before i go further, i want to say that I certainly would not dispute that limiting exposure to is a positive effort. we certainly should not wait for final and conclusive evidence linking BPA to breast cancer and other health outcomes, we should act now. what i worry about though is what fears are we reenforcing by playing up on enduring cultural fears of feminized boys (and, to a lesser degree masculanized girls)?

selling science stories is hard. and it appears that scientists have, perhaps unwittingly, found an effective route to catalyse change around BPA. media outlets are keenly are of this: mothers worry less about their own health and more about the health of their children; in particular, they worry about the social health and status their child will have. thus, even raising suspicions that they could be unwittingly poisoning their ‘boys’ by exposing them to estrogens has proven, in the case of BPA, to be the ‘story that sells’.

what is somewhat ironic is that mothers of appear to be *more* distraught about their ‘sons’ BPA exposure than their ‘daughters’. this is despite the much stronger evidence showing that BPA is going to affect the health and cancer risk of females more than males. this inversion of concern appears to be (yet another) irrational fear of the feminized male.

articles are promoting that BPA may not just alter behaviour but the bodies of ‘boys’. two days ago, the widely-read journal Discover chose to focus an article less on the links of BPA to cancer than on the effect that BPA and similar chemicals have on the size of baby ‘boys’ penises, on the distance between their anus and genitals (a sexually dimorphic trait, i.e. it’s longer in males than in females), and on suppression of testosterone within these ‘boys’. in its conclusions, the article *does* strongly highlight the mounting research linking BPA to cancer. but, by this point the reader has been whipped into a panic having images of micro-penises and fey little boys burned into their minds, the cancer data is icing on the cake.

scientists and media are thus seemingly eschewing evidence in favour of tapping into deep fears of femininity, specifically as its expressed in males, as a way to means to an end: to ban BPA. with sensationalist images like those in the Discover article, it’s not surprising mothers are tossing their lattes and reaching for protest signs in support of a ban on BPA.

and the results from this recent change of tactic are dramatic. the canadian government has recently (and the first country in the world) declared BPA as potentially harmful to human health. not waiting for government regulation, stores that sell themselves on being ecologically aware have pulled products with BPA off their shelves in many other Western countries. it seems that the fear of possibly emasculating the males of our nations overrides the drive for corporate profit. who knew?

the question that remains is ubiquitous: does the end (that being a partial or complete ban on BPA) justify the means we’ve used to get there?

the fear, perhaps even abject horror, affixed to feminization is a prevailing and shameful cultural cornerstone. it stands at the root of phobic outlashes against many queer men and trans women. trans men (and many cis men as well) who may not match up to external markers of masculinity can also experience bashing because of a perceived insufficiency of masculinity . ‘gender-variant’ ‘boys’ are referred at a rate of 20:1 to the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health’s Gender Identity Clinic – highlighting a broader cultural belief that being a feminine boy is *such* a problem that we have to treat it, nip it in the bud. and, of course, we all know the fate of a ‘boy’ choosing to wear a dress to school.

taken more broadly, our prioritization of masculine traits over feminine ones has helped to create a society where power, aggression, and authority are the currencies of power. women are perenially kept out of power and, like men who don’t match up to masculine norms, are subjected to violence and socio-economic penalties. being feminine is a handicap in the Western world, there is no disputing this.

the public reaction to BPA is a story about panic. and, while awakening to the health consequences of BPA are without-a-doubt important, it is also important to challenge our cultural prioritization of the masculine over the feminine and to address the panic that is instilled in us when our boys express femininity. the backlash against BPA has given strength and legitimacy to that panic. it may even catalyse a new wave of trying to (re)masculanize ‘boys’ that may have supposedly been ‘exposed’. this whole ordeal may *even* trigger the medicalization of femininity.

perhaps this is why i feel great unease.

*N.B. I have used quotes around ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ to call attention to the cisnormative way that male and female children are raised in our society. given that approximately 1 in 1000 of these boys will go on to be girls, and women, one day (and vice versa) i wish to stress that these labels are applied without first allowing the child to form and name their gender identity, and thus, these labels of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ are both assumptive and transient.


May 17, 2008

The Right Wing Says Soy Makes You Gay

Thanks to Bria for sending this my way. The article is old, but it’s some pretty amazing fear-mongering from a popular right-wing news blog thing. I’d never heard of ‘em before, but Wikipedia says it’s big. The guy says he’s warning parents about the risks of endocrine disrupters, but he gets it all wrong. For starters, apparently soy foods are the only source of estrogen mimics out there. Not biphenol-a, not DDT, not whatever DES might still be floating around out there. Just soy. Take a look:

Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That’s why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today’s rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products. (Most babies are bottle-fed during some part of their infancy, and one-fourth of them are getting soy milk!) Homosexuals often argue that their homosexuality is inborn because “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t homosexual.” No, homosexuality is always deviant. But now many of them can truthfully say that they can’t remember a time when excess estrogen wasn’t influencing them.

So, what is all that hippy food doing to our children? He mentions the toll endocrine disruptor can do to one’s fertility, and the sharp uptick in cancer amongst people who have been exposed to synthetic estrogens (not naturally-occurring phytoestrogens, like those in soy) early in life. But all of that pales in comparison to the fear of effeminizing little boys. And, apparently, here’s not difference between beingintersex, being a ‘feminine male’ and being gay. No matter that the assertion that gay men have a testosterone deficiency/estrogen surplus was disproved the moment someone developed a handy way to test hormone levels. Giving gay men extra testosterone just makes them want to have more gay sex, since testosterone tends to up your sex drive.

Honestly, I couldn’t stomach reading all 5 parts. I have a short attention span, and I’d need to artificially extend it to wade through all that psudoscience. Plus I can’t even figure out who this guy’s misinterpreting, because all his citation either lead back to the home page of the site, or to a 404 error. Which I guess says it all.


May 8, 2008

Cocktail Party Bibliography: The Homophobia Study

Filed under: feminism,funny,gender,Uncategorized — Tags: , — Ethan @ 7:53 pm

For years now,  the UGA homopobia study has been one of my favorite pieces of social science, but I’ve never bothered looking it up before. A friend of mine’s dad worked on it, so I first got the rundown from her. Now, I’d like to sum it up for you, and give y’all the citation for the original article in case you want to look it up. I think I’ll do this from time to time, post a review/summary of a study I love or hate.

Long story short, this study looked at homopohbia in men, and asked the question we’ve all been thinking: are homophobic guys secretly into men?

The short answer is yes.

The researchers took a number of men (all white; I assume they didn’t want to bother controlling for cultural differences) who described themselves as fully heterosexual in preference and experience. They had the subjects fill out a questionnaire which asked them how they’d feel if they found out various people around them were gay, if a guy were to hit on them, etc. Using the results of that questionnaire, they chose  2  study group:  35  men who  were  homophobic, and a control group of  29  who did not have negative  emotional responses to  homosexuality.

Then, the hooked their volunteers up to a plethysmograph (a loop that fits around the penis and measures changes in its circumfrence, as a proxy for sexual arousal) and showed them porn. Both groups had similar responses to straight porn and lesbian porn, but there was a distinct gap in the way they responded to gay male porn.

The non-homophobic men were pretty bereft of hard-ons, with 66% having ‘insignificant’ arousal. Out of the remaining third, 10% were moderately aroused, and 24% had definite boners.

The homophobic men were much more into it. A mere 20% of them had insignificant changes in their penis metrics, while 26% were moderately aroused and a whopping 54% were definitely turned on. That’s some serious statistical significance.

What’s better, when the participants were asked later which videos had aroused them, all participants gave answers that matched the peter-meter measurements, with one major exception: the homophobic men consistently underestimated their response to the gay porn. Either they were lying, or they were in enough denial to not notice they  were turned on despite having their pants around their ankles and a bonerometer on their dicks. You be the judge.

Now, before the gloating goes too far, there’s a couple of points I want to cover. It’s possible, though less likely, that the homophobic guys got hard-ons because the gay porn made them nervous, or because a bunch of them were exhibitionists. Also, the study tells us noting about homophobic women. And lastly, I’d be interested in seeing a breakdown by religion–I want to know if people who are told by their clergy that gay folks are going to hell really internalize that message all the way to their crotches.

Anyway, I couldn’t find the article anywhere on the open web, so I’ll just give you the citation:

Henry Adams, Lester Wright Jr. & Bethany Lohr. “Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal?”, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105 (1996), P. 440-445

Next time you find yourself arguing with a homophobe, you’ll have a handy trump card.
You can thanks me later.


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