The poetic, playful and prophetic musings of quintessential voices trying to keep up with life

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Queer/Story: Stereotypes & Life Lessons

(Names in this blog post may or may not have been changed. Also, for purposes of this blog, “queer” refers to the naming of a person who does not identify as heterosexual. It caters to the belief that sexual orientation is a spectrum, encompassing lesbian and bisexual people.)

I have a system of categorizing women, based on lots of stereotypes and a little life experience.

There are three categories, upon first view of a woman, that I place her into:
1. This woman is definitely straight:

2. This woman is definitely queer:

3. These women may or may not be queer:

(Photos have been used with permission and were taken from subject's own profile pictures.)

The system has proven very effective, but, to be fair, here are a few examples of my failures:

When I moved to Minneapolis last August, I met a whole new group of people. Up until this point, I would have likely said that stereotyping of any kind was WRONG and we SHOULDN'T DO IT. EVER. But I was single and living in one of the gayest cities in the U.S....what's a girl to do?

Then I met a woman, let's call her Emily. Emily worked for an LGBT organization. She spoke queer language (yes, we have our own language). She dressed in flannel and plaid. My gay-dar went off every time we talked.

Come to find out, Emily is straighter than an arrow. The girl likes men. If Emily was a lesbian, she would certainly be taking the title. But seriously folks. She is into dudes. In fact, Emily often has to come out to people as straight, because she fits so well into lesbian stereotypes. After many conversations about this topic, we named her a cultural lesbian.

Next is a story about two good friends of mine. One, Anna, identifies as heterosexual, and the other, Jamie, identifies as a lesbian. I went through a phase last year in which I teased Jamie about all of the categories she fits into that are stereotypical of lesbians. One day, my example was her tie-dye t-shirt. It was my assertion that that tie-dye made her look gay. She argued that her t-shirt in no way identified her orientation. Anna jumped in, asking if she put on the tie-dye t-shirt if she would look gay. So they switched shirts to prove a point.

Jamie was wearing Anna's form fitting green sweater (and looking mighty uncomfortable, I might add). Anna had on Jamie’s t-shirt. And let me be clear - Anna looked as straight as ever.

So it wasn't the tie-dye.

And at some point I began to reconsider the stereotyping I had become accustomed to. Maybe people didn't need to be categorized. Maybe I don't need to make assumptions about other people's orientations.

Enter Sarah, my dear bisexual friend who just started grad school. She told me about a girl in her class who made a comment about the rainbow sticker on Sarah's water bottle. (Indicator number one.) I asked a few questions. Does she have short hair? What kind of clothes does she wear? But the next piece of information I got was even better. THIS GIRL PLAYS RUGBY. Folks, rugby and softball are lesbian gold mines. Game, set, and match. (Ok, I realize that's a tennis expression, but just go with it.)

"Sarah!" I exclaimed. "This girl has got to be queer. She. Plays. Rugby. And loves LGBT stuff!" Sarah was a little more skeptical. But then the girl asked Sarah out to drinks. Done and done. And over the course of the night, this girl shared with Sarah her love of women. And I patted myself on the back for being so wise, without ever meeting this girl, I might add.

Final story. Literally 10 minutes after coming out as queer to my then-self-identified-straight-friend Lisa, she pulled a wallet out of her back pocket. "Lisa!" I exclaimed. "You know that's super stereotypical lesbian of you, right?" Her face reddened and she stammered out something about not knowing that.

We were dating three months later.

If I work to present myself as female, why can’t I work to present myself as lesbian? I don’t believe dresses and heals are embedded in my mind as things I need to wear simply because I have a vagina. There’s a heck of a lot of socialization that goes into the way I was taught to dress – and act – simply because I was born with female parts.

So why would it be problematic to also consider that some people present as queer? That it may not be because I have flannel on, but because I consciously chose to have flannel on, that identifies me. Unless you live in north country, because people, please. It's cold up there and people need to stay warm somehow.

To be fair, I don’t fit a lot of lesbian stereotypes. I like my long hair. I wear dresses, the occasional pair of heals, and I sometimes even shave my legs. But then again, I’m in a softball league, I own a lot of flannel, and my favorite outfit is a t-shirt and jeans. Just as I do with my femininity, I also make some decisions about how queer I do or do not look. (Ok, and a lot of it is based on me being particularly lazy when it comes to my presentation.)

I was in a conversation with a friend of mine last week. The friend, who identifies as heterosexual, was laughing about a time when she was rocking a “lesbian outfit” and someone made a comment about her looking like a lesbian.

“Oh my gosh, right?” I teased. “It’s so frustrating when people assume I’m straight.”

So you tell me. Stereotyping in the queer world: good or bad? Is there such thing as looking straight or looking queer? Am I correct in my categorization of my fellow bloggers?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Backstreet Boys vs. 'N Sync

My life was changed forever when I got my first Backstreet Boys CD
It was like the gods had rained down sweet, sweet blessings down onto us mere mortals in the form of a quintet of 20-year olds. Sure, they were a little old for me... but as an 8-year old, I didn't know the difference. All I knew was that I was listening to greatness.

I hated 'N Sync. Oooh did I hate them. They were the devil. They were the Satan to the God that was The Backstreet Boys. They were the enemy. I managed to have friends that preferred 'N Sync to The Backstreet Boys, but it was, admittedly, a rift in our relationship.

Through the years, I have, perhaps, matured more. I have listened to the occasional 'N Sync song, and I have come to the conclusion that I may have been a bit hasty to dismiss them. From the black and white world when I was 8, I have discovered that the world is made up of shades of gray (maybe more than 50 though), and neither side had to be "good" or "bad." Maybe they could both be good!

I'll admit it; after being a lifelong Backstreet Boys fan, I bought four 'N Sync CDs at the store the other day. Their title album, "No Strings Attached," "Celebrity," and one of their Christmas CDs. I admit it, and I'll even admit that they're good. Really good. I've been jamming, ok.

But, as the feminist that I undoubtedly am, I found myself listening to the lyrics and wondering, "Which boy band is more woman-friendly? I wonder which has a more inclusive message?" I mean, I can't have my future little girls listening to music which doesn't treat her like an equal. So, here begins my study: ARE THE BACKSTREET BOYS OR 'N SYNC MORE FEMINIST-Y?*

*Yes, I will be using the word "feministy" in this entire blog.

For the sake of my study, I picked one CD each. Both CDs are from around the same year and are both the second CDs of each band. I haven't looked at the songs or lyrics from either CD yet, so I honestly have no idea which one will win out here.


And here we have the contenders: On the left, The Backstreet Boy's "Millennium." On the right, 'N Sync's "No Strings Attached." Both good CDs. "Millennium" was released in 1999, and "NSA" in 2000. 12 tracks in each CD. I'll look at 4 tracks each to keep this blog below 16 pages/scrolls. LET'S DO THIS THING.

Since the BSBs are on the left and I read left to right, we'll start with them. 

"I Want it That Way." 
From first glance, I'd say F-. Don't be demanding things of me. I'm not your slave, I'm your partner. THEN you listen to the song. Brian comes in all sexy-like, "You are my fire // the one desire // believe when I say // I want it that way." YES SIR, BRIAN. You see, he likes me the way I am. I set him on FIRE WITH PASSION. And Nick comes in, "... Can't reach to your heart // when you say // I want it that way." I totally get it. You can't be demanding of each other in a relationship. You have to work together. At the same time, Nick should really listen to your feelings and concerns if you really have a problem and WANT it that way. Maybe you even need it. Maybe I don't like like the way you folded the clothes. Maybe you accidentally put rat poison in the soup. I don't want it that way. I think this song is about listening to each other and not demanding your own needs go before everyone elses'. That's my take. I give it a B+ for being Feministy.

"It's Gotta Be You." 
This seems troublesome. "Baby it's the way you make me // kinda get me go crazy // never wanna stop." YOU'D BETTER STOP IF I SAY NO. And in NO WAY did "I" make you go crazy. You are in charge of your feelings and your penis. I'm glad I inspire passion in you, cause that's hot. And just because I'm a feminist does not mean I don't like you and maybe wanna do some cool things with you. But don't act like you have no control over your hormones, cause I know you do. "I can't control it any more." WHAT DID I JUST SAY?! You know I love you, but you are not doing a good job of listening to me and you are responsible for the control you have over yourself. Ok cool. D+ for being Feministy.

"Don't Wanna Lose You Now." 
Ok now, my boys are pulling through on this one! "Never thought that I'd be left behind // that I was stronger than you, baby." Thank you. I don't think I'm necessarily stronger than you either, and I really appreciate that you think we're equals. "Whatever reason to life that I've had // my place was always beside you." I LOVE IT WHEN YOU TELL ME SEXY THINGS LIKE THIS. "Don't wanna lose to loneliness // girl I know we can win." I KNOW WE CAN TOO CAUSE WE'RE A TEAM. OMG I LOVE YOU. Solid A for being Feministy.

"The One." 
I'm a little split on this one, mostly cause I really love it. "I guess you were lost when I met you // still there were tears in your eyes... There are you, wild and free // reaching out like you needed me... I'll be the one // Who will make all your sorrows undone." I'm gonna be honest, this seems a little cocky to me. Like, "I will help you, poor dear, because I will protect you from all the scary things that you can't deal with." But at the same time, this girl they're singing too clearly needs some help. She's crying, and she needs a shoulder to cry on and someone to tell her it's going to be alright. I've been there. "You need me like I need you // we can share our dreams coming true." OK SOLD. I think this is a feministy song, right? It's maaaybe on the edge, but feminists cry too. Feminists need help and love and stuff OK. B for being Feministy.

Ultimate grade: B


"Bye Bye Bye." 
I mean, how was I not going to do this song? "You're probably gonna start a fight // I know this can't be right... I loved you endlessly // when you weren't there for me // so now it's time to leave and make it alone." Is it just me, or this totally a song about a woman getting out of a shitty, abusive relationship? PERHAPS. And perhaps the gender doesn't matter and feminists can support ANYONE getting out of a shitty, abusive relationship. GO GIRL. OR GUY. DO YO THANG. I SUPPORT YOU. Don't stay with someone who doesn't appreciate you. GOOD MESSAGE. Solid A for being Feministy.

"It's Gonna Be Me." 
I'm not so hot about this one. "That it made you believe in // no man, no cry // maybe that's why // every little thing I do // never seems enough for you... Baby when you finally // get to love somebody // guess what // it's gonna be me." Ok, I get it. I know you're frustrated cause this girl doesn't seem to dig you and she's been hurt and that is frustrating for you. I'm sorry that your life is so terrible because of her pain and all those pesky feelings. I know that you like her and you'd really like to have her like you in return, but that is NOT ALWAYS THE CASE. And what the hell makes you so sure that if she EVER loves again it will be you? You seem kind of judgmental to me. "You've got no choice, babe // but to move on... You're just too blind to see // but in the end you know it's gonna be me." OKAY NOW.  Watch this video and THEN get back to me. 

I get that it's annoying that women have feelings sometimes. You will have to get over it. D+ for being Feministy (you get a plus because it CAN be annoying. But so can you).

"It Makes Me Ill." 
I'm not even sure what to say about this... "I was hanging with the fellas // saw you with your new boyfriend, it made me jealous... I can tell by looking that he's not the one // he's not the type you said you liked... Come on girl, let him go // I want you back." OH I DIDN'T KNOW THAT ONCE WE BROKE UP YOU GOT TO CHOSE MY NEW LOVERS. COOL. I GET TO CHOOSE YOURS TOO, RIGHT? Honestly, I don't care if this is "Feministy" or not, it's just plain annoying. SHE LEFT YOU, AND PROBABLY FOR A REASON. LET IT BE, DUDE. For the love of God, stop creeping on her. I'm not saying girls don't do this too, cause we do. Just look at Pinterest and all the "He's gonna be SORRY" and "Haha his new GF is FAT" pins there are. Also super annoying. But the feminist point here is, you don't get to choose who she dates or hangs out with. She's an independent woman! And men deserve the same respect, so leave your ex the HELL ALONE. OK COOL RANT OVER. C- for being Feministy.

"No Strings Attached." 
Here's what I'm looking for! "I see the things he does to you // all the pain he puts you through // and I see what's really going on // staying out at night while you're by the phone." OMG I'VE EXPERIENCED THAT. Preach it JC. It's not cool that he's being a douchetool. I'm not cool with that, and it sounds like neither are you. Girl, you don't have to stay with someone who's controlling and tool-y. "But if you want it, here's my heart // no strings attached." Thank you! I appreciate that you're treating me like an equal and not putting unnecessary strings on your love. B+ for being Feministy.

Ultimate grade: C+

I'm calling this one for the Backstreet Boys!

Why yes, I found this on Google.

There we have it, folks. The Backstreet Boys are more feministy than 'N Sync. Which I think means they're better in every way. I KNEW THE WORLD WAS ACTUALLY BLACK AND WHITE... Or... Black and Blue! ;D

But in all seriousness, do you agree with the scores I gave the songs? Do you think I was too biased? Did I do some misinterpreting of lyrics? Do you somehow love 'N Sync more than the Backstreet Boys? Tell me your thoughts! I want controversy here!

Love - Madie


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