Lived Experiences and Curation of Stories: Marriage, Queerness and Children

I’m old enough that a lot of people I know are married and/or have children. Even my younger sister is married and has a kid. The nuclear family (i.e. married with children) is so normative that western culture just assumes that everyone aspires to it. If you are married without children, it is assumed there is a problem. If you have children and aren’t married, it is assumed there is a problem. And if you are neither married nor have children, it is assumed there is a huge problem.

I consume a hell of a lot of media and the majority of media which isn’t made directly for children, is made for people who are married with children. And the majority of this media is made by married people with children. Consider the bajillion articles about marriage advice and the bajillion and a half articles about relationships which assume they will eventually lead to marriage. Consider the bajillion articles about children; concerns about the ‘right’ way to raise children, concerns about developmental disorders in children, concerns about the society we live in because of how it will impact children. Consider the many stories in movies and television which are about marriage and/or having children.

Marriage and children. Marriage and children.

Marriage and children are treated as huge rites of passage in western society. These events are seen as so important, they influence the rest of a person’s life. These events are considered to great, they are often considered sources for great insight. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had someone talk to me about how their marriage or their children have taught them universal life lessons about humanity.

And I cannot tell you how many times my own opinion and perspective on marriage and children has been ignored or invalidated because I ham not married and I have no kids. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me, “If you had kids, you’d understand,” I’d have a mountain of nickels.

I have consumed so many stories by people in married relationships about married relationships, and yet my opinion is treated as less valid because I have not experienced it. I have consumed so many stories written by people with children about having children, and yet my opinions about children are treated as less valid because I have not experienced it.

Now let me tell you why your opinion about being queer is less valid if you have not experienced it.

Consider, for a moment, the handful of people you know who are queer. Consider how few relatives you have who are out and proud. Consider how othered queerness is in western culture that even queer folks talk about it as something that couldn’t be helped, rather than something anyone would ever want. Consider how many folks out there would actually like to make queerness illegal. Consider how little media you’ve consumed which was made by queer people for queer people. Consider how few articles you’ve read about queer lives.

Even if you’ve consumed as much queer media as you possibly could and even if you’ve heavily involved in a queer community, I can tell you without a doubt that I’ve been more inundated with information about marriage and children than you have about queer lives. Marriage and children are everywhere; queerness is in the margins. And yet my opinion on marriage and children is widely considered ‘less informed’ than folks who have experienced them. And yet your opinion on queerness is widely considered equally informed as queer folks’ despite the fact that you haven’t experienced it.

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I use these examples: queerness, marriage and children, to highlight something which is frustrating and applicable to a larger problem. You see it everywhere. Cis men (who will never experience being pregnant and the possibility of getting an abortion) have their opinion treated as more valid than the opinion of women & trans men who have had abortions. White people’s opinions on issues that communities of colour face are treated as more valid than the opinions of folks actually living in those communities. Rich people tell the poor how to spend their money. So on and so forth…

It is a double standard. The more normative a person’s life is, the more it is assumed anyone outside the norm couldn’t possibly understand it. The more marginalised a person’s life is, the more it is assumed that anyone in the norm can completely understand it. In fact it is often assumed that the only “true” understanding of a marginalised life is if someone in the norm validates it. All this despite the fact that the person with a marginalised life is far more likely to have been exposed to and educated about the normative life, than the other way around.

This is part of why issues of representation in television and movies are so important. This is part of why Piers Morgan’s dismissal of Janet Mock was so enraging. This is part of why issues of diversity in industries, leadership, etc. are so important. This is part of why Spivak‘s work “Can the Subaltern Speak?” is so important.

Marginalised folks are not allowed to be curators of their own stories. Not only that, but they are constantly told that they are unqualified to comment on normative stories.

This doesn’t mean no one is allowed to have an opinion on anything except their own lived experience. This doesn’t mean lived experience trumps everything else. This means marginalised people’s lived experiences should have at least as much equal weight when discussing marginalised lives, as normative people’s lived experiences do when discussing normative lives. At least as much. And right now, that is most assuredly not the case.

FanFic: Oberyn and Ellaria’s Introduction Redux

So my experience in writing fiction is, shall we say, limited. But I have a bit of time on my hands. Also, after my conversation with Rowan in my post analysing this scene in Game of Thrones, I thought I’d give this a go.

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The scene opens with Oberyn slowly walking behind the three sex workers and then turning and walking in front of them, looking them up and down. Olyver is standing at the end of the room watching. Ellaria is lounging on the bed with a glass of wine. Oberyn stops at the first one and looks at Ellaria.

OBERYN: (To the sex worker) Oh, look at you. How lovely.

ELLARIA: (To Oberyn) Beautiful. But pale. (To the sex worker) Why are you so pale?

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Oberyn and Ellaria: The Bisexual Problem in Game of Thrones

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It’s been a week since the season 4 premiere of Game of Thrones. I’d not written this post any earlier because I wanted to sit and mull over some of the topics I’m going to be talking about for a bit before writing about them. I won’t be spoiling any big plot points, here. This will be a discussion of the sequence of scenes which introduce Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand to the audience. Specifically, I’m going to be talking about the very problematic portrayals of bisexuality that we see in this scene. Also, I haven’t seen episode two so this is only about Ellaria and Oberyn’s characterisation in the first episode of season four.

Also, this post was inspired by a conversation with Shiri Eisner after I read her Tumblr post “Dangerous, wild, exotic, sexy: Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand’s bisexuality.” You should really check it out. There’s a lot in Eisner’s post that I won’t necessarily be covering in here. It’s worth a read.

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Hannibal Recap: Mukozuke

Originally posted on Athena Genevieve:

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Why Bryan Fuller, why?!

Athena:

So I usually like to attempt to go through the episode chronologically, but I want to begin by talking about my uncomfortable levels of attractive to the two swimming killers this episode. Can we discuss this? Like ew, but also ooo. I’m confused!

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This gif is all I need.

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An In-Depth Look at Mickey Milkovich – The Misogyny

BIG SPOILER WARNING: I will be spoiling all the things for Ian and Mickey’s story in Season 4, Episode 11 (titled Emily).

Last time I wrote about Mickey Milkovich, I wrote about the bits of his character which I enjoyed watching throughout Shameless’ four seasons. This time, however, I will be talking about a single episode over multiple blog posts and thus I will be going a bit more in depth into the social norms and pressures which shape his character. Instead of breaking the episode down chronologically, I’m going to break this all down thematically.

The Misogyny

Mickey is a misogynist. Keep in mind that most of the characters in Shameless exhibit or perpetuate casual misogyny in one way or another. This is explained in part by the larger society in which this show takes place; the U.S. in 2014 is a sexist, patriarchal society. The world in which the Shameless characters exist (the fictional slums of Chicago) is particularly sexist. Thus it’s no surprise that a lot of the characters perpetuate sexism in their lives. This isn’t a complaint, mind. Complaining about the misogyny and sexism in Shameless would be like complaining about McNulty’s sexism and misogyny in The Wire. It is meant to be a glimpse at ugly truths of our collective unconscious.

However, Mickey’s misogyny is not simply explained by existing in a sexist society. The difference, here, is Terry. Terry actively and aggressively hates women. He treats sex workers like property. He molested his own daughter repeatedly. Terry even hates women he supposedly cares about. For Mickey to be raised in that environment and not be an explicit misogynist would be unrealistic and unbelievable. Plus, seeing Mickey trying to move past his own misogyny when he “liberated” Svetlana and the other sex workers makes for an interesting character arc.

But Mickey’s misogyny differs from Terry’s in an important way. Whereas Terry’s misogyny stems from a conscious and visceral hatred for women, Mickey’s misogyny stems from an attempt at self-preservation. He uses language and takes action which put women down in order to try to pull himself up. Mickey attempts to bump up his image of masculinity by throwing feminine insults at women, and particularly other men. But all of that is to hide his own fear and insecurity which are incompatible with his (and his society’s) construction of masculinity.

Mickey is afraid of falling in love with Ian (though less so in the past few episodes) and he is afraid of what will happen if the neighbourhood finds out he’s gay. And because he believes fear is un-masculine, he is afraid people will discover he is afraid. So he attempts to turn that outward and knock anyone he views as a threat down a peg or two before they discover that he’s actually not as confident as he seems.

This brings us to the breaking point for Mickey’s character in this episode. All day Mickey had been stretched between his own desires, Svetlana’s demands, Ian’s demands and his fear of his father. The tension was building and the audience see’s Mickey’s frustration rise. Then, finally, at the party for Mickey’s son’s Christening, the following exchange happens:

Ian: I don’t have any interest in being a mistress anymore.

Mickey: Jesus Christ, when did you get so dramatic?

Ian: When I realised what a pussy you are.

Mickey: Say it again. I’m going to kick you’re fucking ass.

Ian: Come on. Come on, big guy. You think you’re a tough man? Huh? You’re not. You’re a coward.

Mickey: Fuck you. You don’t understand this at all.

Ian: I understand. I understand better than anyone that you’re afraid of your father. You’re afraid of your wife. You’re afraid to be who you are.

Mickey: You know what? Good. Leave. The hell do I care, bitch?

But of course, Mickey does care:

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Then Mickey decides to make a huge announcement to everyone at the party, including Svetlana and Terry, that he’s gay. That conversation with Ian was the catalyst, the last straw, so to speak. On the surface, that conversation looks like Ian gave Mickey an ultimatum and Mickey acquiesces because he doesn’t want to lose Ian. That’s certainly part of it, but there is definitely more to it than Mickey’s desire to keep Ian around.

The conversation begins with a topic common to a lot of Mickey and Ian’s conversations. Ian’s not happy having to hide; Mickey’s unwilling to be open. But instead of pleading or being passive aggressive (as Ian usually does), he becomes confrontational. Ian takes Mickey’s own misogyny and throws it back at him by telling Mickey he’s a “pussy.” Mickey responds as expected. He’s going to prove his masculinity to anyone who dare challenge it (in this case Ian) by threatening to beat them down. But Ian doesn’t back down or take a beating. Instead, he calls out Mickey’s hypocrisy.

Ian’s still using gendered language to call out Mickey, telling him that he’s not a “tough man” but a coward. This juxtaposes masculinity with being a coward, making the two are incompatible. This is actually keeping in line with Mickey’s preconception of what masculinity is. The difference is that Ian is directly telling Mickey that he sees through Mickey’s uber masculine persona and knows that Mickey doesn’t actually live up to it.

It’s Ian’s last line that really pushes the message home. Here, Ian lays out exactly what Mickey is afraid of, ending with the observation that Mickey is afraid to be himself. In other words, Ian’s telling Mickey that by creating a performance of masculinity, Mickey actually isn’t ‘a real man’ because the performance is false and fuelled by fear.

Mickey’s last line is an attempt to continue the performance, even though he knows it doesn’t work with Ian. Mickey pretends not to care; he calls Ian a gendered slur (bitch) again. It doesn’t work; Ian’s seen through it. Ian ignores what Mickey says and just walks away. This is when Mickey decides to announce that he’s gay at the party. Mickey’s left with the choice of either continuing the performance that Ian has called out as false and un-masculine, or embracing Ian’s version of masculinity which requires honesty. Ian’s message that it isn’t really masculine to hide who he is sinks in and Mickey comes out.

This new masculinity which Mickey embraces is problematic and more than a little sexist too, really. After the party, Mickey makes a joke that he may have come out but he’s not going to wear a dress, which is transmisogynist. It also conflates the concept of gay men with trans women. Of course, men who wear dresses maintain their identity as men and trans women who wear dresses were never men at all. Gender presentation is not the same as gender identity. But Mickey and Ian don’t see it that way. They have managed to fold homosexuality into their conception of acceptable masculinity, but not feminine presentation.

Also, this new masculinity still relies on privileging masculinity. Mickey and Ian have new criteria for expressing their masculinity, but they’re still very much concerned with adhering to those criteria.

But then, Mickey and Ian aren’t exactly the sorts of characters who would sit around thinking about the social implication in their actions. They’re just trying to survive in their little neighbourhood in Chicago. I hardly expect either of them to have a particularly philosophical approach to gender and misogyny.

Tune in tomorrow for the next section where I discuss Mickey’s conversation with the gay cop.
Change of plans. I’m ill so this second piece just didn’t happen.

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