Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nigger. Faggot. Tranny.

Words have power, or so I've been warned. Those letters combined to make sounds then suddenly and somehow become alive: a rainbow of personal histories with meaning and action and intention. The pen is greater than the sword. Should I have actually said N*gger? Or Fag*ot? Or Tra*ny? After all, you feel differently about nigger and faggot and tranny if you've been bashed, or raped, or attacked while being called it or some colorful variation thereof.

These words are dangerously strong but as I'll rely on that strength to make an important point, I'll need every letter, every meaning, and every intention.  Every word has walked a journey and I, hereininmyway, pay tribute to that path. Ralph Waldo Emerson calls words "Fossil Poetry".

So where's the poetry in nigger? In Latin the word was niger or black, and used in Portuguese and Spanish as negro or black. Brown-colored African's were taken from their country and sold into slavery by peach-colored Colonial Americans, who called the brown-colored people black and in turn themselves white, used negar to neger to neggar and finally nigger. It was as neutral and commonplace as slavery. Nigger became negative in the early 1800s and then belittling and then condescending and then dehumanizing. Eventually, in more recent years, the word has been adopted and reclaimed by the once (or still?) oppressed, and today it's complexities of use and intentions are very wide indeed.

So where's the poetry in faggot? The truth of said poetry is hidden in obscurity. It's been used to mean "old or unpleasant woman" which seems direct enough to a homosexual male. Or perhaps a "bundle of sticks for burning" which is less likely because homosexuals are fireproof. Everyone knows that. But today, and at least for now, faggot is below nigger on the Shouldn't Say It scale, but still way above tranny. It too has been adopted and reclaimed by the once (or still?) oppressed, and today it's complexities of use and intention are very wide indeed.

So where's the poetry in tranny? A younger word by comparison, tranny comes from either Transgender or Transvestite. To clarify, "transgender is the state of one's 'gender identity' (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one's 'assigned sex' (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex)" (Wikipedia, Transgender) and a transvestite is someone who cross-dresses. Transgender is a word that has become popularized in the last 40 years whereas transvestite has been around much longer and was even referred to in the bible. 

But today? Christian Ciriano, of Project Runway fame used the word tranny very comfortably and often on TV. Even Fox's Glee used it casually - the character Mike Chang said that his parents didn't want him to play Dr. Frankenfurter in the school's production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show because they didn't want him "dressing up like a tranny."

But many Rank and File activists, particularly, transgender activists are leading the cause for the tranny word (or "T" Word) to be more recognized as dehumanizing, demeaning, and cruel.

So I spent a few weeks asking around. Do you use the word tranny? What does it mean to you? And even though my audience were, for the most part, well-informed members of the LGBT community, the responses were totally mixed. Some people knew of the more recent activist movement and have stopped saying it. Others had no idea there was a movement and truly believe the word is affectionate and continue to use it as such. 

Matt Kane of GLAAD writes "Unfortunately the larger problem here is that the word 'tra**y' has become an easy punch line in popular culture, and many still don’t realize that using the term is hurtful, dehumanizing, and associated with violence, hatred, and derision against transgender people - a community that is nearly invisible in media today."

Only time will tell if the tranny will become the next faggot or nigger. Personally, believe it or not, I try not to offend people. (And when I do it's usually to also challenge them to think about the offense.) I have stopped using the word tranny so lightly. I use it as rarely as I do nigger and faggot, which means when I do speak those sounds that collectively become a word, I do it with careful intention and without hate or maliciousness. I don't believe in not saying words ever.

You know that old saying? Stick and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Even these. These words. Just sounds put together to communicate with one another. They give strength to our actions, but there's a saying for actions too. Actions speak louder than words. There are sayings about sayings, but even those are only words. This blog. Words. So is the pen mightier than the sword? Which words are right? And by whose words will I live and act? 

I've no real answers, of course. It's me, Everyman, remember?

And with the following I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my quest for this truth. I question, however, everything else.


Finally then, at least for now:

"Words are alive. Cut them and they bleed."
Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Guest Blog: Healthcare, A Love Story

When it rains it pours. Four months ago I lost my job but what would come next would be even worse! Aside from month anxiety medicine, I’m a healthy, 26-year-old guy so the loss wasn’t that great. Though I’m starting to feel the effects of aging (my younger brothers and cousins in their teens look at me funny when I reference Courtney Love or the television show Roseanne) I’m certainly not in need to immediate medical care. 

With this loss, I moved home so that I could be closer to family and rebuild my life. I moved from New York City back to Philadelphia and had all the time in the world to catch up with family and old friends. People I knew to be the high school troublemaker, was now the proud father of two baby girls, and his Facebook page was testament to the changes he had made in life. My friend Caitlin had just purchased a new house, which was an exciting accomplishment in my eyes since I swore up, down, and around she’d never move out of her house. 

Moving Caitlin into her home was fantastic. She had already started decorating and the place looked classy. She had a natural flare for decorating, and with a little gay flare, I was going to make this heaven on earth. The first night in her home, we called our girlfriends over to watch the Philadelphia Phillies try to make it to the World Series. After a grueling match, the Phil’s came back to win the game. We jumped up in excitement! We were on our way to a victorious season! 

Up her stairs I went, a winding staircase in deed, to her bathroom to relieve myself. I opened the door once I was finished and made my way back down – and within an instant – I fell down the stairs – with my ankle snapping in two. I had broken my ankle, broken my tibia and fibula, and torn ALL TEN ligaments in my leg. The pain was unbearable. At the hospital they began to mend what they could. I had no worries, because I was still covered by my insurance. 

After several heaping loads of Percocet’s, three surgeries, and many visitors in the hospital I was on the road to recovery when I found out – my health insurance had dropped me. I immediately scrambled – unsure of what I would do since I was immediately in the MIDDLE of my recovery. If I didn’t receive proper care, I could end up with a life-long limp. Not cute at the gay bar at 2 a.m. after a few drinks if I may say so.

Thankfully, despite mounting bills, I had a long hard discussion with my doctor. He had been seeing me through this disaster and thankfully, he agreed to treat me at an unbelievably discounted rate. So far, I’ve accrued $2,500 in bills, despite a $50,000 price tag so far on my experience in and out of the hospital. My badge of honor is seven screws in my leg, a large rod, and the fantastic experience to sponge bathe for two months. 

I never realized the importance of health insurance. I guess I just didn’t care – because I was always healthy. And overnight, I was needy, and dependent, and at the mercy of doctors, and thankfully really dedicated family and friends. My accident delayed my job search, though I’m confident in my abilities to land something soon. But I’ll be sure to inquire about health insurance at my job interview so that in the event I’m another unfortunate fall (which I’m known for) – I’ll have a leg up on the experience next time.

J. M. Leahy is a 26-year-old activist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He’s lived in New York City and Los Angeles and is currently going through an embarrassing mid-life, mid-life crisis.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My decision to stop boycotting Target

The Target boycott started in early August and I haven't shopped there since. It's been 4 months of purgatory. I love Target.

Today I decided to end my personal participation with the boycott. Here's why:

Backstory on the Target Boycott - If you've been briefed, feel free to skip to after the video: 

Target has excellent LGBT policies. They are sponsors of many LGBT pride events and AIDS Walks nationwide. They openly and proudly hire and provide benefits to LGBT employees and their partners. So why then...??

from zazzle.com

In the wake of the Supreme Court's stupidest decision ever, known as Citizens' United, corporations can spend limitless funds on political campaigns.

Target was among the first big business to jump onto that bandwagon by giving a donation of $150,000 to MN Forward, a Republican group that supported Tom Emmer. Emmer was a Republican running for governor of Minnesota who would have supported tax cuts for big businesses and Target thought it a good idea to support the candidate. What Target didn't pay attention to was that Emmer was also a financial supporter of a Christian Rock group "You Can Run But You Cannot Hide" whose frontman supports the execution of homosexuals. 

Cue the big gay boycott.

If We the Riff Raff don't like the way that Fat Cats are organizing us then we have a few tools at our disposal to fight back. Boycotting, effectively executed, is an excellent tactic to get the Fat Cats to listen up. Our power as a mass organized consumer is a powerhouse for change... but organizing well enough to manifest that power is the hard part.

My local activist group, Equal Roots and other Rank and File organizers in Los Angeles, composed together literature, called the press, and organized a group of demonstrators to stand in front of Target in West Hollywood with big BIG signs. The point of the boycott, is more about corporate dominance then the actual donation itself... or at least what I was screaming from the streets. Just because big businesses can support political candidates with limitless funds, doesn't mean they should. And that we, the consumer, are putting them on record.


So was it effective? And are we still boycotting? Are boycotts effective? Are we wasting our time?

This boycott arguably had several purposes, outcomes, and/or demands:

  • To make Target lose equivalent to (or more) money then they donated to MN Forward.
  • To make Target "even the scales" by donating elsewhere (to The Victory Fund, for example)
  • To stop donations to MN Forward
  • To warn other companies not to donate to political campaigns (This is the best reason, in my opinion)
  • To make Tom Emmer lose the election.

I've read that Target lost billions of dollars and I've also read that it didn't effect their bottom line at all. I don't know which is right and chances are, unless the Target COO is reading my blog, neither do you. Stalemate.

Target did not donate elsewhere and actually stopped negotiating with the HRC to end the boycott. Target wins.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Target has stopped giving money to MN Forward and that "other companies on the cusp of donating also declined once they saw what happened to Target." Rank and File win.

Emmer lost the election. Whether the Target boycott had anything to do with the outcome can not be firmly concluded either way, however the boycott gave attention to a race that would have otherwise gone unnoticed by national media. Rank and File win.

Why I am ending my personal participation in the boycott?

Now that the boycott is out of the media, the window for maximized effect has closed. It's now a personal choice where you want to spend your dollar and I don't think Target will make that same mistake again, so I don't have a problem with my dollar going to the company once more.

So who won?

In my opinion the most important part of this boycott was to send a message to other companies that we have power as a consumer and that we do not want big businesses taking control of the way we will continue to grow and organize as a people and as a society. That puts too much power in the hands of the rich.

I believe that companies (especially ones that are forced to disclose their donations because of state laws) will be much more careful in the future.

There is still much more that needs to be done to ensure that we don't allow corporations to win the war of King of the Hill, but the Battle of Target is over now. We should drink our grog, rest up, and sharpen our pitchforks for the next battle.

Remember to choose your battles carefully. But if we don't like the way we are being organized, don't forget that we have the option to do something about it.