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“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” — Ancient American Indian Proverb

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Same-Sex Marriage: A Test of our Democracy

Picture used via Google Images

Picture used via Google Images

As the Supreme Court takes on two major cases regarding the constitutionality of laws against same-sex marriage, a number of people have been lined up outside for days to witness what is a potentially historical moment for the United States.  Supporters are waving flags and holding up signs with statements such as “A justice delayed is a justice denied” while those who oppose are praying and preaching over the Bible, manipulating scriptures to support their intolerance for what they label as “untraditional” love.

 Gay-marriage polls have been mentioned in countless newspapers and on nearly every news channel show that an overwhelming majority are in support.  Looking into the demographics of these statistics, it is evident that there has been a strong cultural shift over the past few decades as tolerance increases in the younger ages.   Support is also increasing among leading political figures who, whom I presume have recognized the importance in boosting their popularity on what is one of the most supported social issues to date.

Yet opponents, those who are unwilling to adapt to a more accepting world than the one they grew up in, continue to argue for what they see as potentially undesirable consequences our society would purportedly face should we overturn anti-gay marriage laws.

Republican Dr. Carson recently used the shock tactic by suggesting a moral equivalent between same-sex marriage with pedophilia and bestiality, then defended his comments as a mere apples to oranges comparison.  Again, the basis of his argument rooted in religion – that marriage between a man and a woman remains the so-called “pillar of society”.

Then there’s Sue Everhart who has come out saying that gay marriage is “all about a free ride”, claiming that gay people will somehow become inclined to marry for health plan benefits; as if straight people aren’t capable of doing the same, have never done so before and aren’t doing so as we speak.

This isn’t the first step in gay rights and with that being said, the potentially negative social consequences that conservatives fear will come from the passage of gay-marriage, frankly, seem preposterous when you look at the progress made so far:

In 1924, the country’s earliest known gay rights organization was formed in Chicago, Society for Human Rights.  14 years later, Illinois becomes the first state to legalize and permit homosexual encounters between adults in private spaces.

By 1973, homosexuality was removed from the official list of mental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association.

In 1980, Democrats took a stand to support gay rights and by the 2000s, civil union and same-sex marriage became legal among a handful of states.

The argument that politicians make when they claim that gay marriage rights will result in negative social consequences lack any concrete evidence since 1924.  In essence, the current gay-marriage debate comes down to a test of democracy.  Are we truly a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people or a government that is ruled by irrational fear and bias politics?

The polls have spoken for the people in themselves; the politicians are shifting their positions in favor and there are millions of children raised by gay or lesbian couples today that are being denied a fair chance to have a family that our government will recognize.  It is time to accept this paradigm shift in our culture by giving equal rights to all families and let greater voice of America be heard, acknowledged and finally, accepted.

Picture used via Google Images

Picture used via Google Images

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Breastfeeding: What Influences a Women’s Choice

Image via Google Images

Image via Google Images

Despite both state and national breastfeeding policies that protect a mother’s right to breastfeed in public spaces, many women still feel inhibited to exercise their right.  Knowing that breastfeeding is the healthiest option for both mother and baby, initiatives are being taken on to increase its popularity among new mothers.

I recently held the belief that the main discouragement for women to breastfeed came from an overwhelming disapproval of its public performance; people finding it offensive, inappropriate and unclean.  While I still hold to the theory that sexualization of the female form has changed the way we look at a woman feeding her child, looking at the disparities of breastfeeding rates between women of different ethnicities and race, reveals how sociodemographic factors such as age, income, employment and marital status can also significantly influence a woman’s choice.

But you also have the influence of medical providers, family, friends, husbands and of course, the media.

I take a number of issues with media images alone.  Aside from the obvious lack of diversity being represented,  photos of overly romantic and fail to acknowledge the range of emotions new mothers experience when breastfeeding and therefore deny the unique experiences of each woman whether positive or negative with the slightest variation from such images.

Slogans are also idealistic, often implying that a mother’s choice reflects her morality and “goodness”.  What images and slogans don’t tell us, however, are the common challenges that women face such as sore nipples or a low milk supply.

Overall, there are a number of influences on a woman’s choice to breastfeed and the debate over which is most significant, though meaningful, is essentially not the most precedent issue today.

I believe that in addition to encouraging more realistic media images, recognizing and individually addressing the various factors among women of different sociodemographics will also allow us to more effectively and inclusively help women.  It is not society’s duty to decide what is right or wrong but to provide women with the education, tools and support that is needed to make the best decision for the mothers and their babies and most importantly, without shame or guilt.

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Let’s Talk About Sex

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Just a few years ago in Lubbock, Texas, Shelby Knox was  beginning her early years of activism, fighting for sex-positive education and women’s rights.  Knox’s documentary follows her as she struggles with the ultra-religious community around her preaching abstinence in the face of high teen-pregnancy rates and STD’s.  Most of her resistance, in fact, came from a Baptist preacher who continually reminds Knox of her tolerance….like it’s a bad thing.  He compares liberalism and Christianity like oil and water and even considers handing out condoms the same thing as handing out guns.  Overall, he feels that Christianity has been built on IN-tolerance and seems to be quite satisfied and proud of that.

Knox, like the bell-ringer she is, points out that while abstinence may be the only 100% guarantee for not getting pregnant or sex-related diseases, it’s far from the reality of the teenage lives around her.  So for those teens whose parents and community choose to remain in the dark about the reality of teens having sex, education will have to come more directly…through experimenting.

On the flip-side, the internet has provided a safe place for a number of communities to focus on shared struggles and provide support, one of them being teens with questions regarding sex.  With websites like Scarleteen, Teen Talk and Sex Etc., teens now have a more private and accessible source to look into when it comes to answering questions that seem too stupid, too embarrassing or  just plain awkward in front of anyone, even our best friends.  Just as Knox advocates, these websites promote an inclusive, sex-positive message that reflects reality rather than the half-baked conservative ideals of a church or community.  Rather than ignoring the truth, we can instead focus on encouraging teens to seek advice by providing resources, for those who live in communities who still believe in preaching abstinence-only sex education as well as for those who  live in a less conservative community but have no one they feel comfortable talking about these issues with.

With an increasing amount of sexual content in a majority of the media teenagers are absorbing on a regular basis, the only realistic option is to warn adolescents of the consequences and provide them with the education to make smart choices.  If parents aren’t who adolescents choose to turn to when it comes to questions about sex, providing positive sex education – both in our schools and on the internet – gives us an opportunity to compete with convincing mass-media messages and at present, seems to be the best alternative we have.

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An Experience of Moving Beyond the Sexes

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Robert Ead, a 52 year-old MTF transgender living a quiet life in the country-side of Georgia, was betrayed by more than just society.  Robert describes his experience with ovarian cancer as a “supreme irony”, his experience with giving birth as a “betrayal to his own body”.  For many transgenders, the experience is re-told with a similar story, born and raised as one gender/sex but felt they were the other, their body trapped inside the wrong gender/sex.  For Robert, the ability to reproduce felt foreign, his body committing treason against his own will.  He explains his marital relationship with the child’s father as the only time he felt like a homosexual.  Yet, Robert didn’t advocate the idea or feel the need to undergo bottom surgery to become a full man.

In light of Epstein’s article regarding the medicalization of the LGBT community, Robert is an exception to the case in point.  In the medical world, gender and sex are one-in-the-same, strictly defined by the biological anatomy identified at birth.  Those who don’t fall into the binary categories of female or male are quickly “fixed” into one or the other.  Stories like that of ‘Bruce turned Brenda’ exemplify how gender and sex have little to do with genitalia but has everything to do with whats in your mind.  But what’s more interesting than the distinction made by medical professionals who adhere to this ideology is the internalization of it among those who struggle with gender and sex identity as adults, conditioned to believe that they must fully transform in the physical to appropriately represent what is in the mental.

Fausto-Sterling‘s piece, “The Five Sexes: Why Female and Male Are Not Enough” , despite her focus on genitalia rather than the “gender that is performed”, attempts to restructure the limited categories of sex to eliminate this challenge.  As we know, the exploration and identification within the two extremes does not always lead directly towards an explicit sex.  But it should not be the obligation of the individual to choose an identity to conform to society but for society to surrender their attachment to a strict gender system and to prevent those who do not fit the categories of male or female to feel shame, guilt or confusion.  We must do more than revise our language, as Sterling advises, but revise our understanding in a way that cultivates acceptance not only of others but of ourselves as well.

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Democratizing LGBTQ Communities Through New Media

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In a previous blog of mine titled, Doubting the Democratization Potential of the Internet, I expressed that the cyberworld is merely a remapping of the social structure and hierarchy from the corporeal world to a virtual one.  I believe that increasing presence of queer and trans-blogging has impacted the LGBTQ communities in a positive way, like that of feminist movements, by being able to organize across vast spatial dimensions and in an environment that does not inhibit full freedom of expression.  Nevertheless, lack of equal access to the internet, fails to allow the full participation of those who are affected by such issues.

Elisabeth Jay Friedman‘s article The Reality of Virtual Reality: The Internet and Gender Equality Advocacy in Latin America, also challenges the idea of new media leading to successful democratization and effectiveness but does not altogether dismiss it’s usefulness and advantages if utilized effectively.   Friedman brings up the idea of “digital divides” between race, class and gender due to it’s inaccessibility or lack of priority in impoverished communities.  This leads me to question: if we are still struggling to cross both generational and social barriers to make sure there is equal access to internet technology, how can we expect the dissemination of information exclusively or even, primarily through this medium when it does not reach many of who it applies to?

I argue that LGBTQ online presence creates additional challenges such as how to sustain a coherent and focused intention as priorities vary to to a great extent on a global level.  The internet can also lead to misinterpretation, lack of consistent commitment or as Fieldman points out, “information overload”.

On the other hand, Mitra Gajjala mentions in her article, Queer Blogging in Indian Digital Diasporas: A Dialogic Encounter, the successful potential of weblogging by allowing for “certain kinds of self-expression while also shaping their performance of sexuality in these spaces”.  While this may create a visible and un-ihibited online presence, ideologically structured by those who are involved, there is a much greater challenge to translate this influence into an effective political voice.

Power is thus negotiated and ultimately accepted on various levels between the private sphere of the internet and the public or “offline” sphere.  Friedman views the internet as a “unique means to express and transmit often ostracized ideas and identities”, but examines whether or not this necessarily guarantees the same effectiveness and acceptance offline.  Therefore, has new media enabled societies to transgress prejudices, misunderstandings and stereotypes of this community?  While online communities seek to address the language of the LGBTQ community and provide a framework of understanding the diversified identities of both gender and sex within, it is variable as to the degree of social awareness it is creating.

Nevertheless, this framework provides crucial and beneficial information towards understanding the needs of the LGBTQ community, especially for those who provide health care services.  However, recent transgender findings by Gretchen P. Kenagy, indicate that transgender health care is still very much an issue in terms of basic access and/or acceptance.  While queer and trans-blogging likely contribute greatly towards creating a bridge of understanding, it is the additional ability of internet technology and instant communication to link these efforts to the external or “offline” communities and mobilize change.

In reflection, I would argue that there is no single medium of communication or use of technology that works flawlessly on its own.  It is the organized integration of various approaches that drive the individual communities towards a global movement, from online bloggers to offline grassroot organizations.  We cannot overlook the importance of those who are not connected to modern technology nor put preference on those who do.  All efforts towards achieving basic human rights should be considered with equal priority, as the success and accomplishments of one are the success and accomplishments for all.

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“Nature delights in diversity.  Why don’t human beings?”

-Lola, Southern Comfort

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