Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Idle Thoughts

I've been watching the unfolding saga of Julian Assange of Wikileaks, the sexual assault allegations against him, and the ensuing discussions over the juxtaposition of the two.

Naomi Wolf, Keith Olbermann, and Michael Moore, in particular, have made controversial statements. I leave it to you to google and twitter--no link love from me.

A few thoughts have coalesced for me as I reflect on what I've read:

1. I need to learn to speak for myself only.

2. I need to reflect deeply, and with nuance, about sexual consent, including my own habits of acquiescence.

3. I need to critically examine, as a feminist, what it is I want from men, personally, sexually, politically, socially.

4. Sometimes I assert my right to bodily autonomy rather harshly and severely because I barely believe it is true myself.

Now back to my wine.  

Saturday, December 11, 2010

For Christmas (In Case I Don't Get To It)

I'm pressed for time between too many things. And if I get caught up before Christmas, I have a date with a bottle of red. So in case I don't get around to blogging much before the new year, here is a quote for Christmas, taken from Marcella Althaus-Reid and Lisa Isherwood in a book they edited called The Sexual Theologian: Essays on Sex, God and Politics.

Dedicated to my friend, Gideon Addington, who took his own life December 12, 2009. I miss you, brother. And the rest of you, call me, dammit. I'm around.
This world is queer indeed, and those who wish to play it straight are failing to see that new horizons are declared holy and we are propelled on in courage not certainty. Where are those who will sit with the fear and uncertainty and not flee in the face of a queer god -- the early followers fled in the face of a crucified god, very queer in the Jewish world! They fled to 'life as normal' but it didn't work--it can never work because life if fully engaged is far from normal. Norms are easy conveniences for those who like surveys and statistics, they are not for those who live. Life can never be normal for those who embrace the flesh as divine, those who are lovers of god through that flesh in all its diverse glory.
Theology that has incarnation at its heart is queer indeed. What else so fundamentally challenges the nature of human and divine identity? That the divine immersed itself in flesh, and that flesh is now divine, is queer theology at its peak. There can be no sanitation here, or something of the divine essence will be lost--it is not the genetically modified, metaphysical Son of God that declares the divine-human conjunction, but the screaming baby born amidst the cow shit and fleas, covered in his birthing blood and received into the uncertain arms of his child/mother, who declares salvation for all. Male theologians have preferred to distance themselves from these all too earthy moments and in doing so have missed the point--the divine is earthy, messy and partial and is to be found there in all its glory, not in splendid doctrine stripped of all humanness. 

Marcella Althaus-Reid and Lisa Isherwood, eds., The Sexual Theologian: Essays On Sex, God and Politics (New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 7.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This Never Gets Tired

From Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail:
...I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advised the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


 I spent some time tonight reflecting on intersections of identity, which actually is a fairly usual past time for me. Today those thoughts were prompted by a blogpost written by Dr. Yolanda Pierce, one of my professors while I was at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Her post, "When It Happens to Me" is a discussion of the "new" TSA security procedures, in particular pat-downs and body searches. Dr. Pierce juxtaposes the current outrage over increased bodily scrutiny with the indifference most of us show toward the increased surveillance and bodily violation experienced by persons of color: surveillance, questioning, and frisking for "walking while black."

I say "new" TSA security procedures, because they aren't really that new. TSA has been conducting pat-downs and body searches for all kinds of reasons prior to November 1. At the end of October, I was pulled aside for additional screening and patted down. The reason? Because I was wearing a long skirt. The skirt was cut up to my thighs in 6 places and swirled around loosely exposing plenty of leg, but apparently it fit the criteria for "voluminous clothing." As I sat shaking at the airport bar, it occurred to me that this category had probably been invented for women who cover themselves in traditional garb, so that the issue of "voluminous clothing" becomes a racial, ethnic, and religious issue, allowing us once again to conduct more intense surveillance of people of color.

I thought then of the men I worked with at Bellevue, the summer I was a chaplain there. I was assigned to the prison floor--most of the guys were from Rikers Island. A few were from "The Tombs" or "The Boat", two city jails for short term offenders.  The Boat is literally a barge in the harbor and is otherwise knows as the Vernon C. Bain Center. The guys told me The Boat is cold and drafty; most of the inmates are housed in dormitories with little privacy or personal safety. They told me stories--a lot of stories--about where they came from and how they got there. Everyone had a story about how they didn't do whatever they supposedly did and a dream about how they were going to live differently when they got out. I sort of expected that. But what was new to me was this:

     -Almost all of the men were people of color.
     -The men had grown up with a level of police surveillance I didn't even know existed.
     -Many of them were serving or facing long prison sentences for things that white
           people I know did much less time or none at all.
     -Additional charges for loitering, spitting, public urination, resisting arrest, etc.
          were piled on top of the original violation.
      -None of them had access to adequate representation; that requires money.
      -Most of them were afraid, and had lived in fear their entire lives.
      -They knew I couldn't do a thing to help them.

One man explained to me that he had completed vocational training and earned a certificate that he could use in a job search when he got out. I was excited for him until he told me about the certificate. In big bold letters across the top of the certificate it read: Department of Corrections. He said to me, "Chaplain, I know I'll have to tell them about my record at some point, but the first thing a new boss is going to see is Department of Corrections. They're never going to hire me."

I was thinking about intersectionality today because my own experiences living in fear as a girl and as a woman are deeply connected to the stories those men told me of their own lives. My stories are deeply connected to those of women who cover themselves from head to toe--and not because I judge their choice of attire. No. Because each of us has the right to choose our attire, to show or not show our bodies, as we desire for our own selves. 

And I was thinking about intersectionality because it was Dr. Pierce writing. Two years ago when I was a student in her class I had the opportunity to start off one of our discussion sessions. I came prepared with a quote from Marcella Althaus-Reid's Indecent Theology about Santa Librada, a crucified Mary who is the patron saint of thieves and prostitutes. I had some remarks on queer theory and lesbian feminism to add to the mix, and Dr. Pierce not only made space for my remarks, but incorporated them into that day's class. She legitimized both me and my words and granted me dignity.

Later that day I discoverd that a few students had published a satirical newsletter that was racist and sexist. Dr. Pierce was featured in the newsletter, and not in flattering way. The newsletter had been distributed that morning before class. Dr. Pierce had already seen it by the time I arrived at class. Yet without thinking twice she granted me time and authority to speak in her class. It was a gift, and I will not forget the kindness.

Our struggles are connected, and we must pay attention to what is happening to women and men of color. Because if feminist or queer concerns are addressed at the expense of racial concerns--or if we think for a second that feminists and queer folk are not also often persons of color--we have sold ourselves out while betraying brothers and sisters. Ida B. Wells called out Jane Addams in 1901. Audrey Lorde called out Mary Daly in 1979. The Combahee River Collective called out white feminists in 1986. Dr. Pierce is calling us out now. Go read her post and think about it. 

Pierre Bourdieu wrote in his book Masculine Domination: 
I have always been astonished...that the established order, with its relations of domination, its rights and prerogatives, privileges and injustices, ultimately perpetuates itself so easily...and that the most intolerable conditions of existence can so often be perceived as acceptable and even natural.

We have a rare moment when collectively we suddenly see the established order that has been so easily perpetuated. Startled outside of our usual perspective we have the opportunity, each of us, to remain cognizant of injustice around us or to put back the blinders and pretend that we don't see it. Either way, we are inescapably connected to one another. We intersect.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


From "Ode to Broken Things"
by Pablo Neruda

Life goes on grinding up
glass, wearing out clothes
making fragments
breaking down
and what lasts through time
is like an island on a ship in the sea,
surrounded by dangerous fragility
by merciless waters and threats. 

For the first time since moving to New Jersey, I am looking forward to winter. I have been always a fan of late summer and late autumn. Blazing hot sun where I can read in the shade, the warmth of October sun, the muted colors of November before it gets nasty cold. Those seasons suit my spirit well, spinning, somewhat directionless, landing where I do.

But I find myself in a time when it is necessary to narrow down my options, to make things stark so I can see better, to cut out superfluous things, in order to get by. I'm working on a PhD, and I'm working on some kids, and I'm working on a church, and there's still dishes and laundry and Goddess help me a pile of paperwork taller than you. So winter suits me just fine, stripping the leaves until nothing but bare branches remain, life held in reserve for the spring.

And you might pray for me, those of you who do that sort of thing. And if prayer isn't your thing, you might just think a fond thought of me here and there when it gets cold. Because this is a mourning process, to embrace winter. It's just a little too stark and naked for my taste.

Today we had a beautiful worship service at school, officiated by those of us in the trans and lgb group at Drew Theological School. We made some elbow room with our queer stoles and collars (which look a lot like straight and cis stoles and collars, I'm just saying). It was good to be there. So that's the thing about winter, the trees are still wick. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Eila Mahima Jaiupal is one of my favorite love poets. As far as I know she only publishes

"Memory Coffee"
by Eila Mahima Jaipaul

will you share a cup of memory coffee
and let me for a while
sip my past days;
when there was none
but two swaying shadows
and a whole universe in my hand.
There was simplicity, and dreams
as I lay my sleepy head on you.

I often wonder, when the innocence of remembering will revolt.
I imagine its when you, and the steam disappear.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

PresbyMEME: Why I am voting yes on Amendment 10a

So I'm Presbyterian, a pastor in the PC(U.S.A.), and for a very many years now we have been wrangling over questions of ordination and queer folk. As it stands right now, any person who is ordained as an elder, deacon, or minister of the word and sacrament (pastor) must meet several requirements including "fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness." What this means is that ordained officers of the church are prohibited from having sex outside of marriage. Although "sex" is not defined, marriage is defined by our polity as "between one man and one woman." This clause is used to keep queer folk out of ordained positions as the church does not recognize same gender marriages or civil unions.

Actually, I could write for hours on this topic, but let me focus. A friend started this meme on Facebook and challenged a few of us to write on the following questions. You are welcome to cut and paste and do it too. Link back to me here or to Bruce Reyes-Chow's original post.

New language has been proposed to replace the "chastity & fidelity" clause. I've placed the language from Amendment 10a at the bottom for those who wish to read the specifics. But essentially the new language shifts the focus to the individual's call to ministry and willingness to follow Christ. Frankly, this may cause most of us as many problems as fidelity and chastity, but at least it would apply to queer and straight alike (on paper).

Amendment 10a was approved by our General Assembly in the summer of 2010. Over the next year, presbyteries will vote on whether to ratify it. 2/3 A majority of the presbyteries must ratify the amendment in order for it to pass. Ministers of the word and sacrament and elder commissioners to presbytery have the right to vote. 

All right then, the meme. 

1. Name, City, State  Rev. Katie Mulligan, Lawrenceville, NJ 

2. Twitter and Facebook profiles @grammercie (Twitter)  jakeisacat (Facebook)  

3. Presbytery and 10a voting date  West Jersey, tba 

4. Reason ONE that you are voting "yes" on 10a is..
I identify as queer.  

5. Reason TWO that you are voting "yes" on 10a is...
Sexual standards are very difficult to define, enforce, or investigate. To do so requires a certain voyeurism that is sexual and exploitative itself. We could have a long and painful discussion about what is sex, what is gender, is anyone actually really straight, and are we born or do we choose to be straight/queer. Or we could focus on the person identified for ordination and see if they fit the call. Hmm. (Sexual assault and abuse of power are covered in other sections of our book of discipline, and should not be mistaken for consensual, adult sexual activity.) 

6. Reason THREE that you are voting "yes" on 10a is...
The chastity and fidelity ordination standard has caused us to sin grievously as we interact on both sides of this argument. The level of contempt, distaste, disgust, and outright nastiness within our denomination on this subject churns my stomach. Not because I'm queer (although there's that too), but because it's mean. It's beneath us. We are better than this. If I walked up to any straight colleague and told her or him that what they do with their spouse in the bedroom is disgusting and unholy, and that in order to follow God they should leave their spouse and repent, that colleague would object strongly. And rightly so. 

7. What are your greatest hopes for the 10a debate that will take place on the floor of your Presbytery?
I hope for kindness to prevail. That people will think "what if this was my life being dissected?" before they speak.

8. How would you respond to those that say that if we pass 10a individuals and congregations will leave the PC(USA)?
Individuals and congregations will leave the PC(USA) regardless of whether this amendment passes. While this is a lightning rod issue, there are many other reasons why more "conservative" churches are leaving the denomination for the EPC and PCA. I believe that like marriage, we are sometimes called by God into relationship and sometimes we are called by God out of relationship. Leaving the PC(USA) may be the most faithful response for individuals and congregations on either side. Our own polity calls us to take risks for what is right and not to fear the death of the church.

9. What should the Presbyterian Church focus on after Amendment 10a passes? 
A general direction for the entire church? I know I'm not qualified to answer that. Regardless of whether Amendment 10a passes, there are many initiatives and ways of serving the world the PC(USA) is already involved in. Saying that homosexuality is our big issue and everything is on hold until we solve that is a straw man argument designed to create fear and frustration. For the little church where I pastor? We'll focus on keeping our doors open and figuring out what God is calling us to next.

10. How does your understanding of Scripture frame your position on 10a?
Like many of us in the PC(USA) I understand Scripture to be the unique and authoritative witness to God, written by (mostly) men in different times and places (see Confession of 1967 for exact wording). I do not ascribe to a "literal" understanding of Scripture for reasons too many to list. In five minutes a more conservative minister could give you a Scriptural argument for why homosexuality is evil. In the same time I could pull up Hosea 2 and make a creative argument that Gomer taught Hosea and God that punishing bodies and souls for perceived sexual transgressions is not the way to foster love and care. We could then go back and forth for weeks with our proof texts. I fully acknowledge the flexibility of Scripture and the possibility of multiple readings. Those who don't, there are many other denominations where a more rigid interpretation is encouraged. And for myself, if 10a does not pass, I will have to think carefully about my own options as well. Neither the Spirit, nor the Scriptures, nor our polity call us to a monolithic belief (and no, that is not a replacement Trinity).

Love to you all.

Shall G-6.0106b be amended by striking the current text and inserting new text in its place as follows: 
STRIKING: “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
AND INSERTING: Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Autism Spectrum Quotient. *blank stare*

Updated links: 

Oasis @ MAAP, a joint project with individuals with Asperger's and autism, parents, and professionals.

UCSB Koegel Autism Center. Our family found Pivotal Response Treatment to be helpful.
The last few days a new quiz made the rounds on facebook: the Autism Spectrum Quotient Test.  This little quiz can be found by searching on facebook or by going to this website:

On the facebook version, this quiz is prefaced with a quick description:
The Autism Spectrum Quotient, or AQ, is a questionnaire published in 2001 by Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, UK. Consisting of fifty questions, it aims to investigate whether adults of normal intelligence have symptoms of autism or one of the other autism spectrum conditions.
After taking the test, the quiz calculates your AQ, a number between 1 and 50, and on the facebook version you can post your result to your wall for all your friends to see.

According to the Wired article linked above, the average score in a control group of adults was 16.4; 80% of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher.  The article is quick to point out that this test is not a diagnostic tool and that "many who score above 32 and even meet the diagnostic criteria for mild autism or Asperger's report no difficulty functioning in their everyday lives."

I am the mother of a child with autism. I am familiar with screening tools used to identify individuals who might be somewhere on the autism spectrum. When my son was two I started scouring the internet, looking for this kind of "test." I found one and it was helpful. So what's the problem, you ask?

Here are some thoughts.

1. This quiz was presented on facebook in the same way as the quiz "Which Pokemon Are You?" as if there is something socially amusing about being "more or less autistic." Autism has serious life consequences for many of the people diagnosed with it--not the least of which is the social stigma the rest of the world attaches (in addition to overprotective parents who write blogs).

2. The original quiz comes from the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge. Their terms and conditions for using the tests are very clear: "Tests developed at the Autism Research Centre (ARC) may only be used strictly for professional, scientific or clinical purposes, and are not for commercial use. Use of these Tests for commercial purposes may violate copyright legislation." I do not think a facebook quiz qualifies.

3. The facebook description of the quiz is misleading. Many adults with autism also have "normal intelligence." People with autism may or may not have developmental delays or difficulties functioning, just like people without autism.

4. The simplistic way this quiz is presented, as a sort of personality questionaire, seems to equate introversion with autism. "Oh, hey! I don't like parties, I'm autistic hehe." The individual personalities of people with autism are as varied as people without autism. There are clusters of characteristics that tend to be present in people with autism, but being uncomfortable with crowded rooms or making eye contact is not the same thing as being introverted. Speech and language difficulties are not the same thing as preferring to spend time with people or books.

5. The autism spectrum includes a large number of diagnoses, including autism, asperger's syndrome, and PDD-NOS. This quiz does not help raise awareness of the complexity of the autistm spectrum or the people on it.

I think what troubles me most is the way the quiz is being used on facebook. Comments like "I got an AQ of 36, that sure explains a lot!" are a way of mocking individuals who do have autism. The FAQ section of the quiz claims that this isn't just "another trivial facebook quiz" and points to the original description of the test as a scientific tool. But the people taking the quiz on facebook aren't mostly people who are considering they might have autism. There is no scientific rigor or determination of who is taking this quiz--the developers of this application have no professional, scientific, or clinical purpose stated in their information.

What do you think it feels like to people who are on the autism spectrum to watch facebook friends dance around this quiz with idle curiosity, making wisecracks and comparing their introverted/extroverted natures to the challenges people with autism face? I don't know, but I don't think this quiz is cute or funny or helpful. And that's all mama bear has got to say on this.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Won't You Come In?

I'm blogging in one other place now over at with three other friends. Two of the guys started the blog a while back, and I think the name must have stuck in my head, because I was quite surprised to realize how close the name of my blog was to theirs:

"Letters From Inside Out" and "InsideOuted"

Graciously the guys thought it was funny, so I'm keeping my blog name. But credit where it is due: Jamie and Quincy created a space over there on that blog that helped give me courage.

Anyhoo, I wrote a post over there called "Won't You Come In?"  Pop over and read it, would you?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Blame the Mosquito

I'm taking a class on Augustine this semester, and one of the requirements of the reading is to chase down a footnote or two from our required readings and expand our reading. I tracked down a book called Porneia: On Desire and the Body in Antiquity by Aline Rousselle and brought it home, only to realize I had checked out the original written in French (which reminded me that I need to study in earnest for language exams starting yesterday). Back at the library today, I traded for the English translation and was enchanted in seconds by the opening paragraph, which I now share with you:
When Palladius' Lausiac History was being translated from Greek into Latin an error crept into one of the episodes of Macarius' life. The Greek text relates that Macarius was weaving a basket and praying when a mosquito bit his leg. He crushed the mosquito angrily with his hand and then to punish himself for this violent outburst in the midst of his meditation he dived naked into a swamp infested with insects and emerged six months later quite unrecognizable. The Latin text read by western monks makes no mention of a mosquito, but says instead that it was a thought of porneia, or fornicatio, a surge of sexual desire, which drove Macarius into the swamp.
Maybe everybody has already heard that story and I am late to the party. But I giggled for an hour at the idea that we have been agonizing over sexual desire for centuries when perhaps Macarius was really upset about his murderous rage at the bite of a skeeter.

Love, sex, desire, marriage, children--we've conflated them to the point that they are interchangeable in our thoughts. We can scarcely think of one without the other, and the process of untangling what is true about sexuality takes great risk and effort.  The video below "When Did You Choose to be Straight?" has been making the rounds on my twitter stream. It's a serious question--how, why, when, where did any of us choose our sexuality? And on what basis, with whose influence? I do think biology has a lot to do with our sexuality--but how many of us do the hard work of deconstructing the social influences that numb us to our own desires? As those of us who identify as Christians seek after God's desire for our bodies, how do we separate truth from convention--even while understanding that sometimes convention is truth?

Inevitably, when there is discussion over choosing sexuality, there is pushback about whether or not it's a choice to "be gay". I'm not sure how to answer that. The other day I heard someone refer to sexual desire for another person as "The Chemistry" as in "We have The Chemistry." And it certainly does seem like The Chemistry has basis in biology--some people just do it for you--I get that. But aren't you interested in figuring out how and why and when the social part of The Chemistry was formed? I know I am.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Arise My Fair One

I often post my sermons on my pastor's blog. Here's the beginning of today's sermon and link to get you to the rest. It was a sermon on the Song of Songs, one of my favorite parts of scripture.

Sermon, Sunday October 24, 2010
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: Song of Songs 2:8-14 and Matthew 11:28-30

So, a love poem and a few words from Jesus. Our theme this morning is love and desire, passion, and finding peace in the arms of a beloved other.  I wish I could tell you that today’s texts come from the lectionary, that I am not responsible for their selection, for to speak of love and desire is always risky. In our Prayer of Confession this morning we prayed these words: “Almighty and merciful God, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws.” It may be that we too often follow the devices and desires of our own hearts, but I wonder sometimes if we Presbyterians might be more guilty of following our rational heads too much. So I must admit that I chose these texts this morning, for in the midst of a hard and busy schedule, I am longing for the playfulness of falling in love.

Click here to read the rest

Love to you all!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Praise Where It's Due

Ahem. A quick shoutout to my parents who read my blog and called a day later saying, "Huh. Well, okay. So, how's things?"

So anyone who asks me how they should react to their child coming out as trans or queer or both, that's the advice I'm gonna give you.

Because that was pretty cool.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Scattered Pea(ie)ces

The peace of my Saturday morning has been shattered by the inexplicable early rising of my children. With the aid of Cocopuffs and Paper Mario, and I am fiercely defending the scattered pieces of my peace.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sacred Scribblings

This week Stacey Blahnik, a trans woman of color, was murdered. And so few people have noticed. In September, Tyler Clementi and several other young white gay boys and men committed suicide. And national movements were born. Two good friends, Darnell Moore and Larry Lyons, wrote about the way race intersects to silence and erase the bodies of trans and lgb people of color. With their permission I am posting their "scribblings" here.  Pull up a chair.

"Brief Remarks From a Talk Today...
Reflection on the Tyler Clementi Tragedy"
Darnell Moore

Remarks that I gave at the American Studies and Women's and Gender Studies Program (Rutgers-Newark) "Politics, Culture, and Media in the Tyler Clementi Tragedy: An Open Conversation"

Stuart Hall, noted cultural theorist, comes to mind at this moment. 

As I seriously consider how certain bodies are coded and commoditized, the ways in which particular identities are reified, reconstructed and reconstituted, how various knowledges are designed, delineated, designated and duplicated….I can’t help but to reconsider the workings of what Hall aptly named “regimes of representation” and the “practices of representation” (which are utilized to further the labor of such regimes).  But, why a reconsideration of these notions now, in this moment, after having been awakened, once again, by the nightmarish reality of suicidality among LGBT, queer youth?

Here are some questions that have prompted my reconsideration:

1.  Whose names, of the many youth who have committed suicide within the past month, are most familiar to us?
2.  Whose face, or what faces, has been posted on the covers of popular magazines? What images are we left to reimagine?
3.  Which, of all the horrific stories, serves as the master narrative in this moment? And, which story is being told by ABC, CBS, NY Times, The Daily News, and People Magazine?
4.  And, why?

I am distressed and horrified–not solely by the death of Rutgers’s student, our student–Tyler Clementi, but by the literal snatching away, dis-remembering of the names, the stories, the faces, the smiles, the tears, the legacies of those for whom suicide became the only option prior to and during the moment of Clementi’s tragic death. What made this particular suicide usher in a resurgent spirit of concern, compassion and curiosity regarding LGBT youth suicidality when it has been an occurrence that many youth has had to face daily? [I was one of those youth.] I argue that we are at our “social-justice-best” [pun-absolutely-intended] when mere “notions” (i.e. LGBT youth suicidality) are made “real” in our lives, when we are faced with the practicalities of what are often bullet points on liberal, discursive agendas.

We exist in a culture of consumption: a culture that is driven by our consumption of particularized desires and bodies….a culture that, itself, seeks to consume, do away with, particularized desires and bodies that we don’t attend to or have use for.  Our hands pushed Tyler Clementi…even while our eyes resist Raymond Chase. Represent! 

"Preventable Nooses:
Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase and My Black Feminist Beef" 
Larry Lyons 

When the news about Tyler hit the press, I was en route to Curacao. I spent much of my time on the island with LGBT press from the states that were guests of the board of tourism. Even as we enjoyed all of the luxury and decadence that the Dutch Caribbean had to offer, our televisions and twitter accounts held us responsible to the tragedy that was unfolding back home. Being a Rutgers professor, I was called upon repeatedly to field questions about how the university community was managing the suicide and (in equal measures) how I felt about the purportedly "bad PR" for ole RU.

I spoke about the Safe Spaces conference that the Newark Pride Alliance conducts annually during Newark-Essex Pride Week, noting how the 2010 convening's focus on public health moved us to prioritize the issue of teen suicide by commissioning a presentation from the Trevor Project, which runs a national 24-hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth. I mentioned that the conference has been hosted at and supported by Rutgers - Newark for the past three years. I touched upon the collaborative work I've done with Rutgers Newark's queer groups RUPride and the LGBTIQ Caucus at the Rutgers School of Law, which have succeeded in creating dynamic, engaging programs that address a broad range of social and legal issues facing queer youth and young adults within the academy as well as in Greater Newark. I also mentioned how many challenges we faced in getting folks (from medical practitioners to community organizers and youth advocates) to show up and discuss strategies for combating teen suicide and identifying viable heath care options for trans folks. Too often, it's back-breaking labor to get folks to come to the table, blog, donate, organize, petition, stand up or speak out when there's not a martyr to lament and rally behind.

I spoke about my work with the Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund, and how the discovery of his dismembered remains failed to register a Clementi-sized blip on the social justice radar back in 2005. I spoke about the confluence of outright failures that made such a silence possible: irresponsible and callously sensational reporting topping the list. I spoke TO the press ABOUT the press and its role in enabling and normalizing these types of violence. How their latent elitism, racism and homophobia made it impossible for the body of a murdered black gay 19-year old from Bushwick to matter or accrue the kind of social capitol and visibility lavished upon other murder victims whose identity categories made it much easier to convince editors that their stories would matter to the American reader.

Victims in the media orbit of Rashawn's case include Mathew Shephard (the 21-year old gay white University of Wyoming student whose 1998 murder brought national and international attention to the issue of hate crime legislation at the state and federal levels), Nicole duFresne (the Minnesota-born playwright and actress murdered in Manhattan in 2005) and Imette St. Guillen, the 24 year-old grad student that was tortured, raped and murdered in the Soho in 2006).

The commonality shared by these three "high-profile" cases (beyond the gruesome nature of their murders) is clear. The victims are white enough, educated enough and upwardly mobile enough to garner sympathetic identification amongst white middle-class readers. These are the stories that sell papers. Oh, and one more thing they have in common? They've all gone to trial and all have ended in convictions. (In case anyone was wondering, Rashawn Brazell's murder remains unsolved.)

During a few conversations with the press, it became clear that the narrative expected of me was that of the queer professor who could defend the university's commitment to queer issues and lament about how unfortunate this PR blunder was for Rutgers -or- confirm that the institution's homophobia somehow contributed to the event. What I actually offered was an intersectional analysis of race, class and sexuality that highlighted the ways in which the media habitual mis-management of tragedies like Tyler's ultimately leads to the obscuring and perpetual silencing of tragedies like Rashawn Brazell's and Raymond Chase's. My talking point was intentionally simple: things happen faster, louder and longer when there's a white, upwardly mobile martyr to rally behind.

My fear in all of this was that I'd sound like the bitter activist that harbored resentment for all of the suicide and murder victims whose cases enjoyed the visibility his poor little case(s) did not. And there's the rub. At what point are we allowed to speak our truths without seeming bitter, divisive or insensitive? It is the perpetual wrestling that my compatriots in social justice work and I do with this question that makes me appreciate the Black Feminist tradition so deeply. Black Feminism constitutes the wellspring, the invaluable reservoir of critical resistance that helps me say: eff yall. I refuse to remain silent at another meeting,  provide a sanitized sound byte or play second fiddle in another movement while I watch people who look like me, love like me, sashay like me and struggle like me lay dead in the streets, murdered by unprosecuted bigots and  hanging from preventable nooses, only to have their names curtly erased from history. Eff that. I won't do it.

I wont because I was in the midst when Brick City's best activists and organizers (many of whom are tagged in this note) came together to organize around the few Gay/Straight Alliances in Newark schools coming under attack and being unceremoniously disbanded by principals and superintendents whose short-sightedness won't let them see how these programs provide the support and community that obliterate suicide as an option. We bear witness not only to one anther's stories of literally and figurative fighting for our own lives and identities from Camden to Kentucky, from Brooklyn to New Brunswick, and now in Newark, but to the DAILY fight for injustice that simply won't wait for the right white martyr before it takes to the streets and demands action. We face hostility (and polite resistance) in various forms, from my beloved Muslim bruthas that damned us and our Pride march down Halsey Street to the attendees at academic talks that don't get why we are so terribly angry. But with each talk, with each meeting, with each teleconference and each email, we're creating a Newark, a Rutgers and a world that is forced to inquire about (and reckon with) our reasons for being so damned black, queer, angry and impatient.

And this is why we have our answers ready.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stacey Blahnik, Another Sister Gone

As of 10/20, I have found no new information about Stacey Blahnik Lee's murder. 
But Monica at Transgriot posted this lovely tribute with photos. 

A few of us went on Saturday to the vigil, but when we arrived nobody was there. I'll be calling to figure out what happened. But we grabbed some wine and pizza and honored Stacey with fellowship and food.

Update on Friday, 10/15: A good article  Philadelphia Gay News

Updated links below

Yesterday I received word on Twitter that Stacey Blahnik was found dead in her home in Philadelphia. After the last month of young gay men committing suicide hitting the news, you would think that the news would have hit harder in our queer communities. But it didn't. Stacey was a trans woman of color. This article in the Philadelphia Daily News (Trigger warning for misgendering) broke my heart--not just her death, but also the way the author portrayed her.  I am linking to other blogs who have written eloquently about Stacey's life and the problems with the news coverage. Please take some time to read them.

And to the trans women and men in my life, you are deeply loved, beautiful, smart, funny, and I enjoy every bit of time we spend together. Love and peace and comfort and safety and joy be yours today. I am grateful to know you.

There is a candlelight vigil in Philadelphia on Saturday, October 16. Shoot me an email if you'd like company there.

Helen at Questioning Transphobia
R. Keith Burns at House of Blahnik
Lil at The Prophet Lilith
Monica Roberts at Transgriot and a second article here
Grace at Are Women Human?
Rachel McCarthy James at Deeply Problematic
Vanessa at Feministing
Letters to the author of the original news article
     Drew at Notes From Off Center (Drew also posted the letter he received in return)   
     Sarah at Never Perfect. Always Real.
GLAAD's response
Philadelphia Daily News' Updated article w/improved language

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I Am a Rose of Sharon

I have always been fond of Gomer from the book of Hosea.  This month is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and Gomer stands as one of Scripture's countless examples of intimate/sexual violence. She is my favorite because she refuses to submit to Hosea's authority over her body and thought. Despite his best efforts at punishment, Gomer holds herself back, refusing to be defined by his words and actions. By the end of chapter 2, Hosea has re-thought his position and offers reparations (the return of her garden). His vision of hope that she will return to love him in the way young lovers do is met with silence from Gomer--we are left as readers to wonder if she ever did choose to love Hosea again.

The book of Hosea is filled with powerful, but troubled, metaphors for Israel and her God. One of those metaphors is the Gomer and the prophet Hosea, joined as husband and wife in a troubled marriage.  Go read Hosea 1-3. Every time I do, I come away disturbed by the images of violence. Many of us might justifiably say we want no part of a God who behaves like Hosea--and it's easy to find stories of God behaving violently in our scriptures. And yet, if the metaphor holds, we find at the end of Hosea 2 that Hosea and God have learned that love cannot be forced, and a body cannot be owned. I have much respect for any god or man or woman who learns that lesson, repents, and dares to risk loving again without violence.

(Really important note: know the cycles of abuse--there is a difference between the hard work an abuser must do to rework him or her self, and the honeymoon period that precedes further violence.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Differentiating Naked

My friend, the Rev. George R. Pasley, writes poetry. With his permission I share this with you:

"Differentiating Naked"

In these days, these trying times,
These times which seem so filled
With rude and lewd behavior,
It will be helpful to know
A few basic definitions,
And the difference between:

Nude is a philosophical idea,
which a person may choose to realize.
Naked is a necessary phase of dressing and undressing.

Nekkid has passion and purpose.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Some Partial Thoughts

A few people yesterday had some questions for me: "How did this happen?" "How long have you been hiding this?" "Whaaaaat?" Just like anybody else's sexuality, how mine developed is deeply personal and complex and way too much for one blogpost. But here's a few thoughts about how I began to think consciously about sexuality--not just accepting what has become the "norm" of man and woman paired in Holy Matrimony and Eternal Romantic Love (nothing wrong with either, just questioning whether we are all called to such things).

Years ago I read a book called The Survivor's Guide to Sex: How To Have An Empowered Sex Life After Child Sexual Abuse by Staci Haines.  It was the only book I ever read on the subject of healing from childhood abuse that suggested that not only is it okay to say NO to sex, it is also okay to say YES to sex.  For me, where I was at, this was a helpful message, and I devoured the book cover to cover. Making a reference to an essay by Marilyn Frye, Haines writes,

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Inside Outed

There is a moment when you are pulling your shirt over your head at the end of a day. The shirt is half off and your arms are twisted in the sleeves. You can't see a thing, eyes momentarily veiled by cloth, torso bared. You're inside outed, as my kids would say. To be in the church and be out as queer, it's the same moment: inside outed.

I've been wary for a long time of being out publicly. Y'all know why--everything's at risk for queer folk in the church. The fight over sexual and gender expression is inscribed on queer bodies and queer souls, and I don't like to be used like that. A thousand reasons to hide, to get through, to pass, to duck and cover, to straighten up and toe the line. It's called survival. It's called none of your business.  Like many others I've avoided being out, especially in the church, where who and how I love might be used for someone else's righteous satisfaction--as if who and how I love is any different than you.