Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Homophobia in women's athletics

One of the great tragedies in lesbian culture is homophobia in women's athletics. Athletics is the one place in society where young women are celebrated for being physically strong (and with each other, no less), and, therefore, there is the accompanying heterosexist pressure to feminize them and make them attractive to men. For example, look at this promotional photo for Texas A&M women's basketball. Looks like a strip club advertisement.
I have no doubt that any lesbian who has spent any time involved with organized sports can attest to the fact that homophobia in women's athletics is acutely present and especially destructive due to a mix of factors, including:
• Sports is often the only safe haven available to young lesbians (or perhaps tomboy girls who have not yet developed a sexual identity) where their unfeminine manners and physical strength and speed are celebrated. But this safe haven is yanked away from these young athletes when they are inevitably given a direct or indirect message that lesbians are not celebrated—and are, in fact, rejected.
• Sports is where young lesbians often find their only confidence-boosting experience. If the arena in which you built your self-esteem during adolescence becomes the very place from which you receive the strongest anti-gay message during post-puberty, the destruction of your self-esteem is almost inescapable.
• Sports is where young lesbians often develop their first crush—often on a coach or teammate. A first crush is a special thing in anyone's development. But for young lesbians on sports teams, the message usually is: "It's wrong." I actually had a coach in high school who, when referring to gays, said, "Take 'em in the back yard and shoot 'em." Inexplicably, I had a crush on this coach. And I'm happy to say that part of me believed she was revealing her own pitiful closeted self-loathing. But, you know, I was also only 16, so the clearest message I received was that being gay was something to be hated. I was expected to hate myself. Thankfully, I have a rebellious streak, and I was like, hell no. But many young lesbians are not as fortunate.

As an adolescent and teenager, my primary sports were basketball and field hockey. A highlight of my middle school years was attending summer basketball camp for girls, where I was coached by women who played for top college teams. In high school I played three varsity sports. I was no where near good enough to play at the Division I university I attended as an undergrad (however, I did play racquetball on the club team, and I have a distinct memory of getting my ass kicked badly when we played the gals from West Point.) In all these settings, there were a lot of lesbians. And in none of these settings did I ever receive one positive message about being a lesbian.
I recently saw an important film that documents the destructive force homophobia has played in women's athletics. "Training Rules" by Dee Mosbacher examines the infuriating policies of discrimination practiced without restraint for thirty years at Penn State under women's basketball coach Rene Portland. Her training rules? No drinking. No drugs. No lesbians. Coach Portland's ban on lesbians wreaked destruction on the lives of young women under her guidance. The film will make your blood boil, but it will also make you proud of the brave women who faced Portland's wrath and either walked away, endured, or—finally—stood up for justice.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

No longer hirsute under her suit?

One of my smart and gorgeous readers recently suggested a column idea on the topic of depilation: To shave or not to shave. For some of us, it's not a question. For others, it is. But what's interesting is that being unshaven does not seem to be the lesbo indicator it once was. Doesn't it seem like hairy legs and armpits were once an earthy territory traversed only by lesbians? In Armpit Hair, loud sapphist Alix Olson sings about the double standard of women needing to be hairless while men are accepted as furry (Alix raps: "I don't find that particularly pretty, so get your opinion out of my hairy pitty.") Alix's desire to have hairy pits seems a direct statement against the sexist standard of femininity imposed upon her by the patriarchy. But doesn't that stance almost seem like a throwback? All due respect to Alix Olson and the injustices of the patriarchy, of course. But these days, something else seems to be going on. Straight gals are going hairy, and lesbians are impeccably groomed. I have two pieces of empirical evidence, and by that I mean my anecdotal observations.

1. Young lesbians of today are much, much more groomed than those of a previous generation. Even the butches are plucking their eyebrows. Have you noticed this? It's true. In the last year or so I have made the acquaintance of two otherwise very butch young lesbians who have clearly put a lot of time and care into shaping their eyebrows. They wear a bit of eye makeup, even. Don't get me wrong. They look very nice. They are handsome young butches.
It's just not something you saw among the butches previously. Where did it come from? Is Shane imitating life, or is life imitating Shane? You see it even among our star butches. Rachel Maddow. Julie Goldman. It's clear these butches spend time in the salon. Unheard of a generation ago. Even the beloved Bearded Lady of Provincetown—famously unshaven—apparently is keeping her eyebrows shapely. By the way, I think you look great, Bearded Lady.

2. The second part of my argument is related to an arena I know of only through a lifetime of observation: Straight women. They seem to be going hairy. Tossing aside the customs of Betty Draper, some of them—still a minority—are hairy free spirits. Mo'Nique with her hairy legs at the Golden Globes.  Amanda Palmer flipping off the world with her pits. But the practice is not embraced by a mainstream that still wants its women hairless. A recent NYT article, Unshaven Women: Free Spirits or Unkempt?, said it was "brazen" to go unshaven in public. The article suggests there is a fear "that no man will want you and your hairy legs." So, despite everything, hairy female bodies are still seen as not heterosexual, and are, therefore, unwanted. Maybe Alix Olson is not such a throwback, after all.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

All Right, All Right, All Right, All Right, All Right, Okay now ladies

The Kids Are All Right finally opened in Boston, and my beloved and I went to a matinee. (Cough–Old!) We laughed, we cried, we cringed. Overall, I loved it. But of course I, like the rest of the lesbian community, have some issues with it. We're here, we're queer, we're easily offended, get used to it.

Nonetheless, I think Lisa Cholodenko is a remarkable filmmaker, and she has made a remarkable film. And Annette Bening's powerful performance as an alpha dyke whose world shifts under her feet will get her an Oscar nomination, and probably a win. It will be deserved. The dinner party scene at the donor's apartment is brilliant, just brilliant. [Spoiler alert!] Bening goes from vulnerable—singing at the table—to devastated. And Bening—with some skilled directing from Cholodenko—acutely conveyed the unspoken internal anguish of her character. But back to Cholodenko for a minute. I like to think she and I might have crossed paths, or at least passed each other in the hall, while we overlapped at the same university for grad school. But, alas, the only person in the film I can say with certainty that I've ever met is Julianne Moore (more on that later). I thought Cholodenko's Laurel Canyon was superb, and I can't help but notice Kids/All Right is similar in many ways. For example, both films include:

1. A mechanical and unsatisfying sex scene near the beginning of the film designed to show an otherwise fabulous couple to be suffering from a common human condition known as a blah sex life.
2. A motorcycle symbolizing the ultimate in sexiness and freedom. (Including similar motorcycle-related dialogue along the lines of, "Get on. Hold on tighter.")
3. Type A person represented as a physician.
4. Well-worn 80s rock T-shirts: AC/DC in Laurel Canyon, Elvis Costello in Kids/All Right.
5. Inspiration drawn from Joni Mitchell and the California sunshine.

I could go on. But I don't think these similarities detract from the film. Indeed, I also believe Woody Allen is a great filmmaker, and eighty percent of his films have the same setting, same neurotic characters, and same references to Nietzsche.

Okay, so what are the problems with this film? The vitriol on AfterEllen is all about the hetero invasion of the lesbian relationship. Lots of our sisters are proclaiming they refuse to see the film because it perpetuates the myth that all lesbians secretly crave a man. I, too, was concerned when I originally heard of the plot. But I gave Cholodenko the benefit of the doubt, and I have been vindicated. The hetero invasion ultimately failed. The male stud was rebuffed. The lesbians triumphed.

But I do have a nagging concern, which was the portrayal of lesbian sex in Kids/All Right. Why oh why, Lisa Cholodenko, did you make it look so dismal? Yes, the gay male porn thing was funny, and, yes, this movie is a comedy—or dramedy. But everything else about the scene was just hard to watch. I understand that the goal here was to make the lesbians look just like any other "normal" middle-aged married couple, miserable sex life and all. But did you have to make it look so bad in front of company? You know, straight people who don't know better? My one comfort is that legions of heterosexuals already have been schooled in the wonders of lesbian sex by watching The L Word.

Another somewhat minor complaint is that, unlike Bening, Julianne Moore just did not set off my gaydar. Maybe it's because she was shagging a dude during a good part of the film. But, apart from that, there was something a bit off. Did anyone else think so?

Now for my Julianne Moore story: It was maybe 1994 or 1995 on a cool overcast day in New York City. I was wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket. My then-girlfriend and I were walking down 8th Avenue near the Joyce Theater when we passed a small, attractive woman with curly red hair. My ex said, "Julie?" They stopped, perhaps hugged, and said things like: It's been so long, how are you, etc. I was eventually introduced as the girlfriend. Julie was friendly, but the whole thing felt a little awkward. After we parted, my ex explained that Julie, an actress, had recently divorced or was divorcing a relative. Julie—Julianne Moore—was not yet very famous. She had been on some soaps and in a bad movie with Hugh Grant, and I had not heard of her. But, you know, she might have taken better notes on the lesbian in the motorcycle jacket. Might have helped her develop her dyke vibe for a future role.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Covert Affairs. Maybe a little gay.

It may be apparent that I watch too much television. Given this, how is it possible that I missed the build up to Covert Affairs, which is the best new show on TV? Why is it so good, you ask? First, it's about spies. Second, it's just good—with potential—potential— to be almost (almost) as good as Alias. (Note: Do yourself a favor and watch this Alias link.) And lastly, Covert Affairs stars Piper Perabo, who we all love from her lesbian roles in Imagine Me & You and Lost and Delirious. As far as I can tell, Piper Perabo is straight. But the girl plays lesbians in movies, and we love her for that. Also, she told Curve magazine that her crush on Diane Keaton helped inspire her to play gay: "[Working with Keaton is] sort of dreamy, I have to say. She’s a magnificent woman. Magnificent. Intelligent, politically astute, artistic. She’s got a rockin’ bod for 60. I’m kind of infatuated with her. I follow her around like a puppy." Okaaay. Maybe Piper is a little gay.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Batwoman is a big fat lesbian

I recently received a beautiful hardcover deluxe edition of Batwoman Elegy published by DC Comics. It tells the backstory of Kate Kane, our ultra fit heroine who knows how to use firearms, martial arts, and some highly classified gizmos of modern warfare (liquid armor!) And, to no one's surprise, it turns out that Batwoman is a dyke. The story is that she got kicked out of West Point despite being tops in her class because she refused to break the cadet honor code, which would have required her to lie about her sexuality. She also suffered a childhood trauma. So our big girl has loads of dyke drama and needs a gentle hand. You know, butch on the streets...
Batwoman Elegy is impressive because it's visually stunning and because it's, well, GAY. But I admit I'm not knowledgeable about comics. I was a jock in my formative years, with a dash of punk thrown in, and I've only recently gotten in touch with my nerdy side. Before this Batwoman book, the only comics I'd read were Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For and her brilliant graphic novel, Fun Home. As a kid I loved the Super Friends and the Hall of Justice and all that, but my favorite superhero was Aquaman, who, I am now told, is lame. So I'm not the best person to critique Batwoman Elegy. But I can tell you that I loved it, and I can tell you that Rachel Maddow, the queen nerd herself (I mean that as a sexy compliment), wrote the breathless introduction. She cannot contain her enthusiasm. Honor and integrity, Maddow says, "is the moral spine on which Kate Kane's battered frame is hung." She describes Batwoman as "brave and surly and hurt and strong." And she says, "What you won't be able to shake when you're done here is that damn compelling lead character."

What's also kind of cool about Katherine Rebecca Kane is that she is apparently not only a lesbian but a Jewish lesbian. A menorah is deliberately displayed several times in her condo and there was a passing mention of the high holidays. I asked a friend about this, and she says that many of the original creators of the Superheros were Jewish and that after World War II there was an effort to present Jews as heroes, rather than victims. She said this new re-write which casts Batwoman as Jewish is possibly paying homage to the original creators. Another reason to love the new Batwoman.

Monday, July 12, 2010

'Faintly lesbian undertones'

It's summer, and so I'm keeping things light. It doesn't mean my heart is not aching over the environmental disaster (still!!!) occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. It does not mean I'm not following the new ruling on gay marriage. But this site is intended to be a respite, a back rub, a high five of lesbian culture.

Given that, let's talk about the new TV show Rizzoli & Isles!

To be clear, the three women we are discussing today are not lesbians. (In fact, one of them—Angie Harmon—is a Sarah Palin-loving, married-to-a-football-player Republican from Texas.) Nonetheless, there is an undeniable buzz in the lesbian community over this new detective procedural airing tonight at 10 on TNT, and so let's discuss.

Predictably, the gals at AfterEllen are breathless over the reappearance of Angie Harmon because she is a stone cold fox. But it's more than that. I also notice one of the preview ads shows Harmon in bed with co-star Sasha Alexander. Even The Washington Post has cited the "the faintly lesbian undertones that the show keeps trying to establish." I think lesbian undertones are a recent predictor of TV success, e.g.: The Good Wife, Damages, Battlestar Gallactica, etc. Just look at the sexual tension between Patty Hewes and Ellen Parsons and Starbuck and Roslin. Must have been love.

Our third woman is the writer. Yes, let's celebrate the writer. Her name is Tess Gerritsen. I'm unfamiliar with Gerritsen's work, but she's a bestselling author of crime genre books, including the Rizzoli & Isles series. She's 57, a Stanford grad, has a medical degree (slacker), and lives in Maine with her husband. She's the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and she told The Boston Globe that as a child she watched horror movies with her mother, who viewed them to learn English. She also said, "I'm inspired by real life. I'm an avid reader of the National Enquirer. I'm always inspired by things that make you reel back in shock." As you might have gathered, the Sapphist Gazetteer also finds inspiration in the National Enquirer.

But back to the lesbian undertones. Sasha Alexander's Maura Isles is a medical examiner who wears heels and lipstick. She has a dark past and a brilliant mind. She's also been described as Spock-like or as resembling a Cylon. (Number 8 was my personal favorite.) Angie Harmon—she of husky voice—plays Jane Rizzoli, who is described by the LA Times as wearing a ponytail and sensible shoes. We know what that means. Another reviewer describes her as "a tomboy in pantsuits who can’t figure out men or lipstick and can’t much be bothered." That same reviewer said the primary tension of the show is "the mystery of this crypto drag-king-meets-shopaholic friendship." Ah, yes, the classic love story of the femme and the drag king.