Queering Your Queue

Shira Devorah A short reflection by student staff member Shira Devorah ( She/Her or They/Them) 

I really love queer media. I’ve probably watched most of the movies in the “Gay and Lesbian” category on Netflix, as long as they didn’t look too dull or exploitative. There are some really fantastic and challenging shows and movies available at the click of a button. Why am I so drawn to television shows with women kissing, to movies with actual trans actresses playing trans women? I know I’m not the only queer woman who revels in the opportunity to see a new lesbian drama. Why is this?

Well, it all boils down to one thing: The need for representation. The queer community is constantly portrayed by the media through stereotypes and tropes that are incredibly harmful and inconsistent with the realities of our queer lives. This article from the queer- woman’s website Autostraddle recently went viral – because it listed all 162 (and counting) dead lesbian and bisexual women killed on television and how they died.

The post circulated widely using the hashtag “bury your gays,” which was created after a beloved lesbian character from The 100 was killed off as a cheap plot device – a trope all too common in any media that portrays queer women. While I never really watched The 100, I understand what it feels like when a fan favorite lesbian meets an early demise. Continue reading

Why is the impeachment of Brazil’s president a feminist issue?

A blog reflection by Women’s Center intern Mariana de Matos Medeiros Mariana De Matos Medeiros

On October 5th, 2014, I was finally able to cast my first vote for a Presidential election since moving to America. It was an incredible experience to head over into the Brazilian consulate event in Washington, DC, bright-eyed and ready to make a difference for my home country. As an immigrant who has not yet attained citizen status, I am not able to vote in America so voting to make a difference for my family and friends at home was empowering. As a feminist, I felt most thrilled about having the ability to vote for a leftist woman who had already done much to carry out social welfare programs. I voted for Dilma Rousseff based on how she had run her administration in her previous term: focusing on women and marginalized communities and continuing to carry out social welfare programs to address the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor.

During the past months Brazil’s political drama has reached its all-time high. With the most recent Olympic games being hosted in Rio, the entire world was watching as Brazil’s first woman-identified, leftist president was pushed out of office pending an investigation on alleged corrupt behavior.

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Dilma Rousseff // image credit: Wikipedia

Rousseff ran for president under the left-winged Worker’s Party of Brazil, yet she did not always bring solidarity among feminists, as some may assume. In fact, the Brazilian feminist movements were often split between those who supported her public policies and those who rejected her administration, demanding advances in issues of reproductive justice and education. However, Brazilian feminists tend to agree that Rousseff’s impeachment was a blatant act of sexism and discrimination.   Continue reading

A Call to Prayer: My Return to the Muslim Community

MJ Profile PicA reflection written by Women’s Center staff member, MJ Jalloh Jamboria

The following is a little of my experience as a queer Muslim person. I recognize that my experience is not reflective of Islam, nor of the community of people I met at the Interfaith Center.

For the first time since last Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holy holiday, I went to Jumu’ah (congregational Friday prayer). I met a person on campus who extended a warm hand and invited me to prayer which took place at the Interfaith Center. I was both excited and terrified for a plethora of reasons. I was excited to sit amongst my sisters, to rejoin the community I had left behind me as I entered college, and to listen to the guest Sheik that was invited to give the khutbah, the congregational sermon.

In the days leading up to the Friday prayer, all I could talk about was how excited I was that I finally had a friend to go to Jumu’ah with. I quickly realized, I had no idea how to be practicing Muslim anymore. I was once a Sunday school teacher and was really quite good at incorporating Islamic teachings into my life. However, since the start of college, I hadn’t really thought about being religious. I am not hijabi, a woman who wears hijab full-time. I’m not even a woman! I sometimes eat gelatin (oops!) and I don’t think I own a single piece of ‘modest’ clothing. I am a fat, queer, shorts and T-shirt wearing, ‘you kiss your mother with that mouth?’ swearing, mess of a person! Muslim people can be all of these things, but in prayer there are certain rules we must submit to. The expectation for women is to stand in a section separate from men, covered in appropriate prayer attire and hair and neck wrapped in a veil. The thought of completing some of these actions made me nervous.  Continue reading

(In)Visible Disabilities and Women Resources Round-up

A resource round-up provided by Women’s Center staff members Meagé and MJ

In case you missed Tuesday’s roundtable on (In)Visible Disabilities and Women (or if you were there and want to keep the conversation going), we thought it might be useful to summarize some of the discussion in addition to linking some useful reading materials and resources.

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As with all of our roundtables, we reached out to our panel members and asked them to keep a few guiding questions in mind as they shared their stories and examples. Some of these included:

  • Where do the intersections of (in)visible disabilities and gender show up for you personally? In the classroom, peer networks, etc.?

  • How does disability relate to issues like reproductive justice, sexual violence, or gender socialization?

  • How is the way we talk about disability influenced by gender and sexuality?

  • How does ableism impact women with visible vs. invisible disabilities differently?

  • Why is this a social justice and/or feminist issue?

Continue reading

“Barely Black”

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center student staff member Meagé Clements. This post is an expansion of her statement in the UMBC Women’s Center and Women of Color Coalition’s “I’m Not” anti-stereotype campaign for the Telling Our Stories project, which we posted about here.

Meagé Profile PicIt’s been over a year since I first read recent UMBC alumna and former Women’s Center student staff member Bria Hamlet’s blog post Blackish: Telling My Story and her words continue to resonate with me. She described how she often felt that her blackness was invalidated by others because she didn’t fit the “stereotypical Black mold.” Her blog post made me recall my own experiences with microaggressions and respectability politics, even before I had words to describe what I was facing.

Upon thinking about my “favorite” microaggressions to include on my anti-stereotype poster for the Telling Our Stories Project, a million ideas popped in my head; several about my name, a few about my natural hair, but most were about me being — or not being — “Black enough,” and how other people often take it upon themselves to decide when I am capable of being associated with my blackness.

Growing up, I attended predominantly white schools, but I had always surrounded myself with a small yet diverse group of friends. I remember several times when my Black and non-Black friends alike would joke about how my “Black card should be revoked” or how I was “barely Black” for any number of reasons.

Most often, it came down to the fact that by being an introvert, I couldn’t possibly be Black. Because I wasn’t the stereotypical “loud Black woman,” I wasn’t Black enough. Because I grew up in a two-parent household, I couldn’t be Black. Because I “spoke like a white girl,” I wasn’t deemed Black enough.

Since when did each of these things become associated with Blackness and why were they the determinants? What exactly did it mean to be “Black enough?” Continue reading

Let’s Get in Formation: Beyoncé and Black Hair

MJ Profile PicA reflection written by Women’s Center staff member, MJ Jalloh Jamboria

Beyoncé’s newest hit, “Formation” has been the topic of conversation everywhere. If you missed the video, here it is!

Since her Super Bowl performance on February 7th, Beyoncé has received mountains of praise and criticism for her performance and newest video. (Also, take a second to watch the Super Bowl performance here if you haven’t already. Ready? OK!)

While surfing Twitter during the Super Bowl performance (obviously not as Bey was singing), I came across a tweet that angered me to my very core. In efforts to find the original tweet, I came up empty handed, so instead I’ll summarize. The author of the tweet expressed anger at the hairstyle Beyoncé chose to rock for her Super Bowl performance, specifically the color and texture of her weave.

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Credit: Getty Images

Their ire was grounded in the fact that Beyoncé’s weave wasn’t aligned with the pro-blackness and importance of self-identity portrayed within her video.

Trying to isolate my frustration with the tweet, I found myself asking (and later dissecting) the following questions:

  • Why are people focusing on her hair style?
  • Why is wavy, blonde hair considered anti-black and indicative of self-hate?? 

Continue reading

Gay Hair

A post written by Women’s Center Intern, Daniel.

So you’re out at your favorite vegan coffee shop sipping your $6 soy latte while reading City Paper and you peek over the top of it just in time to see a blue-haired cutie send a glance your way and wink as they strut out the door. When you walk into your sociology class on Monday, you scan the room and spot a classmate with pink bangs and an undercut and weave your way through the desks to sit as close to them as possible so that when the professor begins the chapter on sexuality you can roll your eyes and groan with them. Why? Cause that blue-haired cutie and the classmate with the undercut and the kid on the bus with the mohawk crusted in glitter are all totally queer just like you.

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Photo Credit: Audrey Gatewood

I stepped into gay hair territory in the summer of 2012 when I cut off all my hair and never looked back. Last summer I started dying my hair bright colors and I, again, haven’t looked back. I’ve been lavender, blue, pink, purple, and now platinum blonde. My freshman year, I attended my first impromptu hair party. Armed with clippers and bleach, my suitemate, a new friend of mine, and my biggest crush at the time went to town on each other’s hair. In a terrifying turn of events, I got to use clippers for the very first time on the one person whose hair I did NOT want to mess up. I actually did okay and went on to be a part of many, many more hair parties like this one.

A lot of us (and by “us,” I mean young, queer/gay, and trans people) don’t have the time or money to go to a hair salon to get our hair done and, frankly, not a lot of salons are willing to give us the cuts we want. A common experience among queer women (and a lot of other types of queer people) is taking a picture of a “man’s” cut or masculine style to a stylist and ending up with feminized version of it. “Passing” as a man well enough to sit comfortably in a barber’s chair is anxiety-inducing at best, not to mention trying to safely “pass” as a woman in a salon and a world of rampant transmisogyny. Getting your hair cut by a group of friends in someone’s poorly lit bathroom may not result in the most professionally done coiffure, but it beats being misgendered or told that what you want is too masculine or too feminine for whatever gender your stylist has assigned to you.

Getting a gay haircut can be an incredible experience that feels validating and makes you feel more connected with your community, but getting my gay hair gay cut this weekend made me think about what gay hair is and how politics of gender, identity, and queerness come into play with visibility and validation.

So, what is gay hair?

Promscape

“Gay Hair Squad” at Artscape

“Gay hair” is non-normative hair. It’s often brightly colored, always changing, and rarely professionally done. It blurs the lines of gendered cuts (why on earth do hair cuts have genders??) and challenges assumptions about the person wearing it. Some styles are more popular in some subcultures than others. For some, gay hair is an act of rebellion; for others, it’s a away to take control of their bodies or to step outside of them. For me, gay hair is how I make people see my queerness. When I dyed my hair lavender this summer, it was because I was worried that people were reading me as a straight, cisgender dude. I wanted them to look at me and see that I was not those things, even if they didn’t have the words for what I was, because being cisgender and straight are so far removed from my lived experience that being read that way felt like not only a big lie but a step back into the closet.

I love my gay hair and all my gay friends with all their gay hair. But I’ve come to realized that being able to have gay hair is a privilege most of us with gay hair have never thought about. The majority of people with gay hair are white, afab (assigned female at birth), and on the masculine side of the gender presentation spectrum– not because people of color or amab (assigned male at birth) or femme-presenting people don’t wear their hair in expressive and non-normative ways, but because our picture of “queer” looks like a thin, white, masc/androgynous person with colorful hair and cute shoes. Black women (cis and trans alike) don’t get to have cool and funky hair without being labeled “ghetto” and unprofessional. Queer trans women get serious criticism then they want short or masculine cuts like their cisgender counterparts because they aren’t performing femininity in the way that trans women are expected to in order to be validated and accepted.

Speaking of validation and acceptance, why is it that we assume queer people have to look a certain way, or that people who look or sound one way must be queer? Why is femme invisibility such a pervasive problem in queer circles that many queer women feel the need to cut their hair in order to be seen? In creating our own subcultures and modes of rebellion against gender norms and heternormativity, I wonder if we have not only isolated ourselves from the people for whom “gay” is not the primary mode of existence, but also created new barriers for already marginalized groups within our community. People who can’t have or don’t want gay hair should still be able to be recognized and validated in their identities, and we should be supporting our non-white and femme siblings in their pursuit of gay hair. Heck, everyone should try out gay hair. There’s something exciting about “breaking the rules” and toeing the ridiculous but still ever-present line of gender norms.

Besides, who doesn’t like a blue-haired cutie?