Gender & Sexuality

How the Patriarchy Screwed the Starks

How last night’s shocking deaths reveal Game of Thrones’ biggest theme

flickr/IP Anónima_ T he King In The North is dead. In Game of Thrones ' latest ridiculously daring narrative move, it killed off Robb Stark, a character who could easily have laid claim to the role of “hero” on the show. Robb was handsome, talented, and possessed of an intrinsic decency rare to find in the show's world of Westeros. He was also the son of the first season's protagonist, Ned Stark, himself killed in the big twist, which positioned Robb as a traditional fantasy hero. And unlike his rival would-be kings, Robb was motivated in an entirely positive fashion. He rebels against the crown in order to free his father. He allows himself to be crowned King In The North in order to free his people, winning battle after battle for that cause. Even his tragic mistake is motivated by the best of intentions—instead of fulfilling his lordly obligations and marrying for strategic gain, Robb chose to marry for love. For the crime of being insufficiently cynical about the world, Robb, his...

Michele, Our Belle

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
AP Photo/Eric Gay W hat she knows about the culture of the country she claims to represent wouldn't fill an action toy's gym sock. That's why Michele Bachmann—who announced she was retiring from Congress a couple of days ago—probably has no idea that she was played by one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history two years before her own birth. I mean, of course, Mercedes McCambridge—the witch-hunting villainess of Nicholas Ray's 1954 Johnny Guitar. In later life, she also voiced Satan in The Exorcist, but let's not stoop to such low-hanging fruit. McCambridge was a formidable performer, and she understood the hysterical roots of Bachmann's political persona better than our own Michele ever will. Frustrated at most ordinary human contact, McCambridge's character comes into her own when she foments a lynch mob. Her shriek of "I'll give ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS!" when her posse balks at the hanging is one of the most indelible line readings in American movies. The closeup of her excited...

Promoting Human Rights versus Promoting Prostitution

PEPFAR’s anti-prostitution “loyalty oath” is hindering aid groups’ efforts to help sex workers.

flickr/Wahid Adnan
PRNewsFoto/George W. Bush Institute P eople have always bought and sold sex, sometimes risking shame or punishment. But these days, simply helping a sex worker can have costly legal and financial consequences. Under the U.S.’s flagship international aid program on HIV and AIDS, an organization that gives out free condoms at a brothel, for example, might be deemed in violation of the program’s anti-prostitution policy, and, as a result, risk losing public funding. Public-health groups see this not only as an impediment on reaching the people most in need but as a threat to their freedom of speech. After several years of legal battles, the fight against the policy has now reached the Supreme Court, which is set to rule in late June on whether Washington can financially penalize organizations that defy its official stance against the sex trade. The rule, known as the anti-prostitution “loyalty oath,” was enacted in 2003 as part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR),...

When Queers Bash Back

Why are hate crimes against gay people still rampant in a city at the vanguard of social change?

AP Photo/Jason DeCrow
AP Photo/Jason DeCrow Members of the LGBT community and their supporters gather to protest a string of anti-gay attacks, including the fatal shooting of 32-year old Mark Carson on Saturday. O n the oak-lined streets of the West Village in New York City—the home of Stonewall, the birthplace of the American gay-rights movement—or among the gym bunnies in Chelsea, gay people are allowed to feel safe. In case the same-sex couples with pastel cardigans walking their dogs aren’t enough, the chipped rainbow decals on the storefronts are there to remind you: You own this space. Going home to Tennessee or Michigan might be another thing, but here you can forget that somewhere out there, there are people who don’t know you and want to hurt you. The feeling of sanctuary that hovers over the city makes the spate of crimes against gay people in New York over the past week that much more unsettling. First, on Sunday there was the murder of 33-year-old Mark Carson on Sixth Avenue. Shortly after...

A Few Words about Angelina Jolie's Breasts

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Angelina Jolie—a woman with some of the world’s most famous breasts—has explained in a thoughtful New York Times op-ed this week why she's had them prophylactically removed and replaced. Jolie’s mother died young, after a decade living with ovarian cancer; when Jolie herself got genetically tested, she learned that she had a BRCA1 genetic mutation that gave her an 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer. To protect her children from losing their mother too young, she opted for surgery, which she describes in some detail. That unexpected mash-up—glamorous Hollywood superstar, global ambassador for celebrity humanitarianism, and the sober Gray Lady, the brainstem of the establishment—has sent the issue viral. And so we have discovered that Angelina Jolie’s breasts are a Rorschach test. Women have written about their own experiences with breast cancer or its specter , and have been variously grateful to or angry at her for announcing her course of action, or hating or loving the way...

Free to Work, Free to Marry

AP Photo/Jim Mone
AP Photo/Jim Mone Thousands filled the Minnesota State Capitol as they waited for word that the Senate had passed the gay marriage bill yesterday. L ast month, Rhode Island came over into the marriage equality column. Last week, it was Delaware . Yesterday, it was Minnesota. There’s progress expected in New Jersey, Illinois, and at the Supreme Court. Pick your favorite cliché or metaphor about winning—being on a hot streak, passing the tipping point, bending the arc of history—and feel free to apply. And yet few Americans are aware that in 29 states, you can still be fired for putting a same-sex partner’s picture on your desk, or rejected for a job because the hiring manager doesn’t like homos. That’s right—it’s perfectly legal in most of the country to fire, refuse to hire, demote, or otherwise discriminate against someone for being gay. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal to fire people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, has...

The Transgender Candidate

AP Photo/Shakil Adil
AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen D espite twin bombings at the Awami National Party offices in Karachi this Saturday—an inauspicious start to polling day—Bindiya Rana, one of Pakistan’s first transgender candidates, remained optimistic. Rana’s spent the last several weeks canvassing the alleys of district P.S. 114, handing out self-printed promotional material between concrete buildings under tangles of telephone wires. After several tense months—130 civilians have died in pre-election violence—she was deterred by neither the danger or her slim chances of winning. “The important thing is to face this world very boldly,” she said. In Pakistan, gender issues have historically been prone to violence— Malala Yousafzai made international news when she was shot on a school bus by the Taliban last year—but overall women’s rights have been slowly improving. The country appointed its first female foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and data from the Election Commission show a 129 percent increase...

The Military Can't Handle the Truth

Flickr/West Point Public Affairs
Flickr/West Point Public Affairs T he real scandal this week around military sexual violence isn’t the release of the latest in a string of Department of Defense (DOD) reports showing stunning levels of sexual assault—hell, even the DOD estimates 26,000 actual incidents compared with the 3,374 reported incidents. It’s not the fact that this year marks the third in a row to show an increase in sexual violence (under law, DOD has published them yearly since 2004), or that the latest report “found that among the one-third of women who reported sexual-assault allegations to a military authority, 62 percent suffered retaliation for speaking up. ” It’s not even the arrest , two days before the report came out, of the officer in charge of sexual-assault prevention programs for the Air Force on sexual battery charges. The real scandal is the degree to which the military has been allowed to continue punting on addressing sexual violence, despite knowing about the widespread sexual abuse of...

Why We Still Need GLAAD

Flickr/Steven Damron, Greg Hernandez
Flickr/Steven Damron Sharon Stone at the 2008 GLAAD Media Awards I f journalists threw parties the way they write stories, you'd arrive right on time and the hosts would be scooping used solo cups into the garbage. "Party's over," they'd announce, coaxing you back out the door. Any regular consumer of media will know what I mean: Like a zealous mortician, journalists love to pronounce things dead, especially before they've run their course. Last fall, New York magazine declared Brooklyn "over"; 2010 heralded the "end of men," according to The Atlantic ; and Facebook's been killed off and resurrected by journalists more times than one can count. Last week, it was GLAAD (formerly the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) 1 1. In March, GLAAD announced it was dropping the full name to more accurately reflect its work on behalf of bisexual and transgender rights. The organization now simply goes by "GLAAD." that got the journo...

Gay on the Gridiron

Jason Collins’ coming out was a step in the right direction, but only an openly gay NFL player will make the kind of impact needed to truly challenge prejudice in American sports.

AP Images/David Drapkin
Jason Collins would never have been mistaken for an NBA player of much consequence. He has played for six different teams, four in the last five years. He has averaged as many personal fouls per game as points—often more—in seven of his 12 seasons. This past season could have been his last in the league, as his 1.1 points and 1.6 rebounds per game aren’t likely to be in demand on the free-agent market. In his first person essay in Sports Illustrated , Collins even ridiculed his own unremarkable career, writing, “I take charges and I foul—that’s been my forte. … I enter the court knowing I have six hard fouls to give.” Deadspin’s Drew Magary highlighted a tweet that was subsequently retweeted thousands of times: “Jason Collins has a career average of 3 pts and 3 rebounds per game. Gay or straight he should never be mentioned on Sportscenter.” Indeed, there seemed to be a broad effort in some corners to make Collins’s announcement seem underwhelming because he has been an underwhelming...

On Immigration, Gay Community Should Take One for the Team

Flickr/Phil Davis
In July of 2010, Russ Feingold did the principled thing. After weeks of markup and debate, the liberal Wisconsin senator voted against Dodd-Frank. "My test for the financial-regulatory reform bill is whether it will prevent another crisis," Feingold said at the time. "[The bill] fails that test." Ironically, Feingold's fortitude only served to further weaken the legislation . In order to break a filibuster, Dodd-Frank's sponsors had to appease conservative Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, who opposed a "bank tax" that would have made financial institutions pay for the new regulatory regime. The provision was stripped from the legislation, costing taxpayers $19 billion. Gay-rights advocates should keep this scenario in mind as the Gang of Eight tries to push immigration reform through the Senate. Given that more than a quarter million undocumented immigrants are LGBT , the movement has a broad interest in seeing comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship succeed. But gay-rights...

FDA's Plan B on Plan B Is Still Not Good Enough

Wikimedia commons
Last month, federal judge Edward Korman held that the Obama administration's override of the FDA's recommendation for over-the-counter emergency contraception was illegal. The "compromise" of making Plan B available without a prescription only to women over 17, Korman persuasively argued, was "arbitrary and capricious" and hence exceeded the power of the secretary of health and human services. Yesterday, the Obama administration responded by modifying the policy . The new policy is better, but still not nearly good enough and still not in compliance with the requirements of Korman's decision. Under the new policy, Plan B would be made—at least on paper—available over-the-counter to all women aged 15 or over. Making emergency contraception available to the vast majority of women who might become pregnant is certainly an improvement compared to five years ago. But the age limit—even if lower—remains completely irrational. There is no scientific evidence that emergency contraception is...

Are Gay Guys Checking You Out in the Locker Room?

AP Photo/Eric Gay
AP Photo/Eric Gay NBA player Jason Collins, left, in 2009. Collins recently came out as gay in a Sports Illustrated op-ed, the first active player in a major-league sport to do so. A s the first active member of one of the major sports leagues to come out as gay, NBA player Jason Collins’s announcement yesterday has generated praise from gay-rights supporters. Predictably, it has also prompted dire warnings about gays in the locker room from homophobes like the Family Research Council’s Brian Fischer: I will guarantee you ... if the ownership of whatever team is thinking about bringing him back, or thinking about trading for him, and they go to the players on that team and they say 'How do you feel about an out active homosexual being in the same locker room, sharing the same shower facilities with you?' they'll say no way. I don't want that. I do not want some guy, a teammate, eyeballing me in the shower. This seems to be a concern primarily among men—women, for whatever reason, aren...

Equality's Nor'easter

AP Photo/Steven Senne
AP Photo/Steven Senne Rhode Island state senator Donna Nesselbush, a Democrat from Pawtucket, reacts seconds after the state senate passed a same-sex marriage bill. A t this point, it’s almost a yawn: The last and most Catholic New England state, tiny Rhode Island, population just over one million, passed marriage equality last week. Just nine years after Massachusetts set off moral panic nationwide and triggered the final wave of state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, all of New England has now followed the Bay State’s lead. Rhode Island has recognized same-sex marriages performed in other states since 2010; nowhere were you more than an hour’s drive from a state where you could marry—the Ocean State is bordered by Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, all equal-marriage states. What does it mean that the most socially tolerant region in the country—New England, which, had it not fostered the American revolution, could easily fit in as a Canadian province—has...

The Scouts Ask: Gay or Nay?

Flickr/theirhistory
Last week, the Boy Scout leadership did something very smart: It announced its policy change on gays in Scouts during an overwhelming news week, when almost no one would pay attention. Now let’s give it the ridicule it deserves. The Scouts say they will propose to the voting members of the Boy Scouts of America’s national council—nearly 1,500 of them who will meet in Texas the week of May 20—that the organization allow openly gay Scouts. But that openness will last only until a Boy Scout is 21. Openly gay adults will still be banned as Scout leaders. Various different ideologies could underlie this “compromise.” One is the blood libel that has long been levied against gay folks: that because we can’t “reproduce naturally,” we recruit by luring children into our ranks via molestation or temptation, and that allowing us near children is like inviting drug dealers to hang out on school playgrounds. Another is the idea that we are faultily gendered: that gay men are insufficiently manly,...

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