Also, congratulations to everyone who is about to graduate!
In love and solidarity (and finals week stress),
Also, congratulations to everyone who is about to graduate!
In love and solidarity (and finals week stress),
Over at Jezebel, one of my favorite pop culture feministy blogs, the headline story right now is called “Under Pressure: The Terrible Curse of ‘Most Likely to Succeed.’”
It’s taken a lot to work up the nerve to say this, but here goes. I, too, was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school. Whew, I feel better now that I got that off my chest. It’s hard, ok? Knowing that all of those people in high school who were friends with you in order to get your answers to the homework really were looking up to you and respecting you the whole time.
My whole life was defined by this one moment in high school. I will forever be under pressure to be successful, because otherwise my classmates who I practically will never see again for the rest of my life except for our ten year reunion where I will hopefully get spectacularly drunk in order to deal with the whole thing will be disappointed. We don’t want to disappoint the classmates!
I’ve already got a lot of work to do in the not disappointing the classmates department, due to the whole being queer thing that no one knew about. So they’re probably already disappointed by me for not already being married and spawning like some of them. I must make up ground! I must become whatever it is they deem to be “successful,” forsaking my own definition of success and forgoing my own dreams. Because my high school class voted me MLS (that’s what those of us in the Likely Successes club call it. Didn’t know about the club? Probably because you’re not likely enough to be successful. It’s a cool club though – we have a secret handshake and discount rates on stress therapy sessions).
But other than the club, which is super fictitiously awesome, the MLS title hangs over me. I can’t judge myself based on my own definitions of success and happiness because I am continually trying to meet the expectations of a group of people who really don’t know me anymore. Because that’s totally possible.
I bet the people who were voted Class Clown and Best Hair have this problem too.
In love, solidarity, and sarcasm,
Recently, the news of Osama bin Laden’s death has taken the United States by magnificent surprise and wondrous joy as swarms of Americans crowded the White House gates with their American flags and the President announced the success of the US Navy SEALS mission to storm into a village in Pakistan and to “smoke” bin Laden out of his compound. The mission was filled with intrigue and danger: military helicopters swooshing out of the sky, commandos caught in a deathly crossfire, shooting at America’s Most Wanted, killing one of his wives in the process, and finally declaring a victory after a decade of war and destruction in the region. An adrenaline-rush of American hypermasculinity on display, as the raid team penetrated the town where bin Laden was staying in, Abbottabad, Pakistan. But it is not just a show of macho military might. It is also the elevation of the masculinity of our soft-spoken and diplomatic President. As one BBC commentator has noted, this has elevated Obama’s status from “wimp” to “warrior”. This has also significantly improved the President’s ratings (15% increase among the Republicans in fact) and has given a sense of relief and justice to many families of victims of 9/11 attacks. In short, the death of Osama bin Laden has returned the President to the status of a “man”, the United States to the status of world leader and savior, and the American people to the status of self-righteous sense of entitlement and justice. Everybody’s happy.
Sunday night, I was enjoying a nice hot cup of tea with my family members around a pit-fire when I received a text from a friend simply stating, “We killed Osama bin Laden!” At first, I thought it was a drunken joke. But then I received a similar message from a friend in D.C. celebrating in front of the White House. I quickly checked the online news and informed my family of the development. Everyone was obviously surprised. However, after 15 minutes of trying to figure out what had actually happened, we went back to our usual discussions. I, however, tried to follow the news online as the days went on. One of the articles that caught my eye was one on BBC explaining how the code name for bin Laden was, in fact, Geronimo. The name is derived from a 19th century Apache warrior who fought against white North American and Spaniard soldiers, to resist white supremacist efforts of Westward expansion and to preserve Native Americans’ lands and way of life. According to the BBC article, “[Geronimo's] struggle to resist the white Americans has led to him being depicted in a sympathetic light by many cultural historians.”
It is, therefore, no surprise that many Native Americans are upset by the use of the name Geronimo as a code word for bin Laden. To associate a great warrior in their history with a ‘known’ terrorist merely perpetuates negative stereotypes about indigenous peoples and “undermines the military service of native people.” To me, their sentiments of outrage make sense, are warranted, and should be taken seriously. However, I cannot help but to analyze the situation from a different perspective. It make sense to me that the code name for bin Laden would be Geronimo. Indeed, the projects of white supremacy, racism, westward expansion and ‘Manifest Destiny’ have not stopped in the deserts of the Wild West.
Nobody knows why the code name Geronimo was chosen in the first place. However, we should not be surprised by its appearance. Indeed after the attacks of 9/11, a lot of the rhetoric of the fight against terrorism and against bin Laden, such as “wanted dead or alive”, remind us of the old Hollywood Westerns: white dudes with rifles going into uncharted territory (usually deserts) to “smoke out” those “savages”. Of course in the movies, the white dudes with rifles are the good guys. Just like how US’s presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq is seen as the ultimate battle between the nation of “progressiveness, democracy, human rights, civilization, good” and the culture of “backwardness, dictatorship, barbarism, savagery, evil.” It is Us v. Axis of Evil. It is our objective and impeccable justice system v. shariaa law. It is our women running for president v. women wearing burkas and staying at home. It is Manifest Destiny Version 21. We have heard this same rhetoric many times during Colonialism and the “white man’s burden”. In our history, we have very rarely allowed the possibility that people of color and people from the Global South have agency, can determine their own paths, can fight for their own rights, and can provide for their own livelihood and happiness. Nevermind that decades of colonialism, pillage, militaristic occupation, and neo-liberal economic policies have left the Global South the unhappy short end of the deal. Nevermind the lack of education, development and opportunities in those countries. Our yardstick for determining “progressiveness” has been how well a nation treats its women/gays/minorities. It is a new Imperialism of tolerant, “multicultural” diversity, because our state has never treated its women/gays/minorities poorly. And should a nation fail to meet the requirements, the United States military (and allied nations) will descend upon it in all of its hypermasculine might and throw the torch of enlightenment into the Heart of Darkness. Colonel Kurtz-style. The irony as always lies in the fact that in our rhetoric of ‘liberation’ we are using the state and the military, two sexist and homophobic institutions, to push forward an agenda of equality and freedom. Naturally then, we are at ease to ignore the violence that emanates from these institutions as we support them to be our protectors against the monstrous Others.
In the War on Terror, we constantly tell ourselves “those people hate us”, but we are never to blame for that hatred. We are logical, humanitarian, and right. They are irrational, monstrous and evil. This is the basis for the new Eastward Expansion. Yes, we are fighting terrorism. Yes, we are getting rid of dictators. And we are doing all of that by murdering innocent people, destroying entire towns and villages, illegally detaining people in Guantánamo Bay, torturing them in black sites around the world (aka having other countries do the dirty-work for us), and spreading our militaristic influence in the region. Let’s not even consider the trillions of dollars spent in these wars and the outrageous military spending of the United States (which, by the way, is more than the combined military spending of the next 45 highest-spending states, accounting for almost half of the world’s entire military spending).
This is not a question of Osama bin Laden’s crimes, which deserve punishment. But we are quick to forget our own history of racism, imperialism, and militarism in the Middle East and South Asian countries. Since the attacks of 9/11 we have been given many reasons for invading Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Actually, I take that back. We didn’t really give a reason for rolling our tanks into Pakistan, nor did we ask for permission when sending troops into the territories of a sovereign state. Practically everything is justified in the War on Terror. Branding Islamist fighters as “illegal combatants” under international law covers our legal bases. Asking NATO to join our invasion and occupation of Afghanistan covers our diplomatic bases. Branding our quest to profit off of oil and other business ventures in Iraq as a mission to bring down a terrible dictator with nukes (which he didn’t have) covers our public image as the harbingers of democracy and human rights. Even if there are things that are not justified, who is going to stop Us? Our crimes against humanity will go on with virtual impunity while we point the finger at authoritarian brown/black people whom we once financed, sponsored, supported and protected. When do we see American leaders brought before the ICC, or UN-sanctioned special tribunals? Not with the United States’ veto at the Security Council.
There was a time when the United States had the sympathy of the world. On September 12, 2001, when I was still in Iran, my fellow Iranians went to the streets and lit candles for the victims of 9/11 in solidarity with the American people. And now the same people face heinous sanctions, horrifying inflation rates, and the horrendous prospects of war from Western powers. Clearly, attacking Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan is not just about revenge/justice for 9/11.
So again I ask, why wouldn’t bin Laden’s code name be Geronimo? Different century, same imperialism. Indeed, Geronimo was probably considered a terrorist back in those days. I wonder: about a century from now, would bin Laden be a martyred hero who was just trying to preserve a way of life and resist American Eastward Expansion and imperialism? Well, we don’t need to wait a century: he already is.
Gender and sexuality are staring you square in the face, one finger in the air, and it’s not a thumbs-up. Don’t get me wrong, i mean no disrespect; i just mean to bring to your attention the big queer elephant standing in the middle of the room. Why must our conversations always be drowned out by sounds of grinding teeth? i lost your love in translation and you misplaced my trust. This was a two way street until we drove head first into each other: this is me and i know you can’t understand it right now, but take a deep breath and believe me when i say: this is where i am happy. That’s all it’s about. That’s all it’s ever been about. Happiness.
Long drives made me happy. Sleepy too. Daddy would look into the rearview mirror to see my face, half asleep, lulled into a semiconscious state of bliss by the perpetually morphing landscape that accompanied an evening drive. Smiling he would ask, “Tum kush toh ho na?” gauging his parenting skills, his paternal worth, on a simple question, “You are happy, aren’t you?” i remember long pauses, absolute psychological dissonance, weighing his fatherhood against my chemical imbalances seemed cruel. Having grown up in the age of obedience, i knew what he wanted to hear and the merit my answer held. “Yeah.”
i never understood how you could expect me to be happy, when every canyon on your brow tells me you are not. Would you have answered in the same breath as i, if i had asked you this question? A lie out of good intension? Seemingly innocent, this question pinches nerves. Especially today.
My happiness, despite its absence then, meant something, intangible, but something. And now, in its purest form, my happiness is a “delusion”, a cross-cultural misconception, “unnatural”, and unreal. Unraveling my every itch, i am finally me, and in this place of self-recognition, i feel like living. But in my life, in my reality, you seem to find no pride in my self-discovery, my greatest accomplishment. My parade beacons only to be drained of its hue because your rods and cones have eyes of their own. Where are your questions now, when i am, for once, ready to answer without fear?
And when i did ask you, “Ma, are you happy?” i heard the same ageless pause, felt the same dissonance, and understood your obligatory response, “Of course.” But that smile- that smile said, “Baby, for you i can try.”
a, s, i, wi, we, she, he, they, them, me. sasha for long, and aparajeeta for longer. “Hey you” for short, and a smile for shorter. Growing up, i was never called by my given name, always by sasha. It seemed to fit better than “someone who can’t be defeat,” someone whom i never felt i was. i was too sensitive to declare victory over a life not yet started and too young to accept a gift in namesake, unearned. “sasha” was a name that nicked the heels of a name too long to laugh with and too divine for the monotony that dictated everyday life. “sasha” was not too frilly and not too heavy, the s’s fit my curves and the a’s echoed my art. “sa”-mba my fun, “sh”, i was quiet, but not for long, “a”- bbreviated compassion. sasha’s fluidity ebbed and flowed in sync with my being, supple like gender and free like children. What a coincidence that i would be who i was called.
In school we learned about pronouns: he, she, it, they, them, we. but never in context of choice or identity. Somehow it was a factual truth that John was a “he” and Ashley was a “she”… And “sasha” was just “sasha”. i was always, and still am to many people in our life, a “she”. Dictated by prehistoric grammar laws and narrow-minded orthodoxy, we were shielded from self-declarative free form expressions. i often caught myself oscillating between “she-self” and “he-self”, seeking refuge somewhere between blue and pink. In the confines of my mind, i explored the gender grey shamelessly, interjecting everyday talk with mixed self-references: “i’m a nice guy” and “i’m a Jersey girl” all in the same conversation. As i found solace in these ambiguous mental spaces, and toyed with my gender expression, “sir”s and “he”s became souvenirs, giggles, and smiles and squeals of joy. For me, it seemed like a step closer to the middle path.
My imaginary friend was genderqueer, far before I even knew what that meant. Mai-no: pronounced may-no, literally translated “girl no”. Mai-no transcended pronouns, referred to as “he” on some days, “she” on other days, and “they” every day in between. Gender fucking was their superpower, my favorite thing about them. There was nothing they couldn’t do: keeper of my sentiment and sorter of my Legos, they had no glass gender ceiling that kept them from cars or crayons or anything else.
As i graduated from childhood, Mai-no stuck with me, existing less as an external entity and more as a person i talk to in my head, another part of me. i always tell people, whatever works: he, she, ze, this, that, and the other thing. But i often catch myself referring to myself as “we”, a symbol of the unity, encompassing all of my identities. i don’t expect people to refer to me as “we,” or to understand who “we” is. This said, i recognize that pronouns are used for ourselves too. i could refer to myself as “i”, or “we,” and just as we deconstruct our public pronouns, we must be in touch with our private pronouns.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the news by now. There is, in this country, at least one woman who paints her son’s toenails pink (and happens to be the creative director for J Crew and therefore has access to national marketing campaigns). Shocking, right? I know I was completely shocked.
While I tend to belong to the camp that believes that if something is seriously no big deal and doesn’t deserve national media freak out, then giving it even more attention to point out how stupid it is will only make it worse (in other news, why are we still talking about Sarah Palin?), I think this whole situation is hilarious so I’m going to offer some of my own thoughts. Also, some of Jon Stewart’s thoughts.
The “debate” on this has been ridiculous. Many national media figures that have jumped on it have asked, in their “I’m-a-very-serious-and-concerned-reporter” voices, what kind of harm this might be doing to the woman’s son. Because as we are all aware, toenail polish is very dangerous and has been known to infect small children with gender identity crises.
Somehow they make the vast rhetorical leap from talking about a picture in an ad campaign to claiming that J Crew celebrates transgender children, or (gasp) gender bending.
As if transgender children and gender bending shouldn’t be celebrated. The implicit argument here is that parents should enforce rigid gender roles on their children no matter what the child wants, and that if they have gender non-conforming children they shouldn’t love them for who they are.
“It’s an attack on masculinity,” says some guy with “Dr.” in front of his name who gets paid to commentate on Fox News.
Not the masculinity! Anything but the masculinity! If these sorts of challenges to our rightful system of gender hierarchy continue undisputed, soon all boys will have to wear dresses, women will be able to own property, go to college, have careers, and vote, and gender non-conforming folks will actually be considered to be real people and not less than human! This must end!
In all seriousness, though, the thing that bothers me about this is doesn’t have anything to do with gender. It’s that the mother and son in the ad are “bondvertising,” as Jon Stewart put it. The photo isn’t just an adorable picture of a mother and a son, it’s a clothing ad designed to sell a product, which to me feels super creepy.