Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lesbian recruitment; or, why the state of South Carolina continues to be a laughingstock

Don't look!   Your eyes will be damaged by the bigotry!
Senator Mike Fair is proudly announcing his homophobia and his lack of a sense of humor. He's on the homophobic bandwagon with Representative Garry Smith and many other South Carolina legislators.

While Representative Smith has been sending letters to his constituents arguing that “College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina-Upstate required that college students read blatantly pro-homosexual and pornographic propaganda,” Senator Fair has focused his attention on USC-Upstate. In the fall the university offered Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio as a book for first-year students, and this spring they invited comedian Leigh Hendrix to campus to perform a comedic show called How to Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less. The show was part of academic conference called the Bodies of Knowledge Symposium. Rather than recognizing it has a humorous performance, Representative Smith said, “It’s recruiting.”

This elected official seems to actually believe that a comedy show is an effort to convert heterosexuals to lesbianism.

Senator Fair’s attack is troubling enough. But the situation gets worse: Tammy E. Whaley, assistant vice chancellor for university communications at USC Upstate, announced that the university would go along with Representative Smith’s demand. USC-Upstate canceled the event, saying that this was actually an action in favor of academic freedom: “The controversy surrounding this performance has become a distraction to the educational mission of USC Upstate and the overall purpose of the Bodies of Knowledge symposium.” I’m not sure how faculty can respond to this; it sends the message to faculty that they need to be careful about what they teach if their curriculum becomes “a distraction,” meaning it doesn’t fit with the beliefs of our state legislators.

President Benson eating pizza with students who'd
done a sit-in to protest homophobic awfulness.
My eyes aren't being damaged by the bigotry.  Go, George.
The College of Charleston is facing similar pressures from the legislature and our Board of Trustees, since the House cut our budget while the Board nodded their heads compliantly. I’d like to offer CofC some praise and some encouragement: our administrators haven’t bowed to the homophobic pronouncements of the legislature. They didn’t call Fun Home a distraction or remove it from all College bookstores and classrooms. They didn’t apologize for having it as the 2013-2014 College Reads! selection. In fact, at a meeting with the College’s Foundation Board on February 28, President George Benson announced that the College is “safe and welcoming” to everyone who’s part of the campus community—“whether they are gay or straight.” He continued, “we will not censor books because someone, somewhere is uncomfortable with the existence of LGBTQ students, faculty, or staff.”

This month, USC-Upstate’s Chancellor Tom Moore (finally) made a similar statement: "LGBTQ issues are part of any campus life. As a public university, it's our charge to equip and empower students to live engaged, authentic lives and be responsible citizens. Each student has to define each of those things for him or herself. We can't do that if we exclude some part of the population. We must be a safe place for those who come to us."

We all know that our communities—at our colleges and universities and beyond—are made up of people with a variety of gender identities, sexual orientations, and ways of being in the world. Yet as far as anyone knows, George Benson is the first College of Charleston president ever to announce this, and to publicly support the LGBTQ population at the school. Indeed, right before I got hired at CofC state representative John Graham criticized the College for considering a minor in LGBT Studies.  Former CofC president Leo Higdon shut the conversations down. He announced "We cannot support a proposal for a minor in gay and lesbian studies because it is not, for a number of reasons, in the overall best interest of the college."

I suspect that Tom Moore is the first at USC-Upstate, too.

To contradict legislators’ pressure was probably a challenging and potentially damaging stance for President Benson and Chancellor Moore to take, but of course it was the right stance. It was obviously the right stance for anyone committed to human rights. The fact that February 2014 was the first time that any president of the College has said this kind of statement, and April 2014 for USC-Upstate, is stunning.

We all know that South Carolina is full of frighteningly homophobic state legislators. The evidence is overwhelming, and they’re not trying to hide it: they’re proud of it. It’s the job of our academic institutions to make space for a diverse community and to offer a variety of performances, texts, and conversations. USC-Upstate has caved in terms of programming they’re offering, but perhaps they’re trying to climb out, to be a school that isn’t ridiculed by the national media for their fear of standing up for all their students, faculty, and staff.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My weekend

I've been really political lately, and it's both important and exhausting.  Like, really exhausting.  So I'm going to take a little space here to be personal--and by this I mean truly personal, not "the personal is political" personal.

Let's see if I can do that.

The theme of this post?  My weekend.

Good lord, that's beautiful! And yes,
that's my finger on the right.

I've begun recognizing that entire weekends alone with Maybelle don't work well for me.  Or for Maybelle.  I can do all kinds of interesting, stimulating stuff with Maybelle, but if I'm alone doing it, I feel...bored?  Tired?  Fearful that I'm not capable of being a single parent?  All of the above.  I need friends to be with me.

So I'm experimenting with more weekend planning.  Saturday was excellent!  Conseula and her kids came over, took me grocery shopping, and then we all went to Hampton Park to feed the ducks.  Conseula managed to hide her fear of the ducks quite convincingly.

Then a little later in the day Uncle Trey took us to the ocean.  I quickly learned that I can't mention a beach trip to Maybelle until the very second we're leaving, because when I told her at 2:00 that Uncle Trey was getting us in 30 minutes, she walked out the door.

"Ocean!  Ocean!"  She couldn't hide her outrage when I told her Uncle Trey wasn't here yet.

When we got back from our ocean time, she and I were both worn out--like, sitting on the couch guzzling out of water bottles, staring at the tv worn out.  But we both rallied after we ate a bit.  And by "rallied," I mean that she didn't fall asleep while I was giving her a bath.  She managed to let me get her pajamas on her first.

Finally, after Maybelle was asleep, Leigh came over, brought Vietnamese food for dinner, and we sat on the couch and talked and talked and talked.  After Leigh left, I acted a bit like Maybelle:  managed to get my pajamas on before falling asleep.  Well, okay, that's not totally true because I was wearing my pajamas already when Leigh came over.  You know me, such a classy host!

It was a full day, and helped me feel that I might be able to transition successfully into this new phase of my life.

Monday, March 24, 2014

This is what democracy looks like!

Show me what democracy looks like! THIS is what democracy looks like!
CofC students, faculty, and staff put on a fantastic protest march today, dramatically critiquing the Board of Trustees' selection of Glenn McConnell as CofC's new president.  The group marched through campus--around the borders of the campus and right through the middle, ending at the Cistern (above), where graduation happens.

Several students did all the organizing and publicity--they came up with idea, and they made it happen.  All I did was show up and take a fantastic sign that Bri made.

Caption:  "CofC's Board of Trustees owes the College $100,000
for their fake presidential search."  I totally agree.
The Charleston Post & Courier published the picture above immediately after the march.

Damn, do I love a protest!  Apparently our group filled an entire block while we were marching and screaming.  One of the news outlets referred to "several dozen students," but I'm going to estimate more like 33 dozen students (that would be 396, for those of you who are as bad at math as I am). There's something incredibly invigorating and satisfying about screaming with a crowd that's voicing things I believe.  My favorite chant--probably my favorite of all time--is


Show me what democracy looks like!

THIS is what democracy looks like!


Hell, yeah, it is!

I remember taking part in the March for Women's Lives in DC back in 2004, the biggest march in US history.  As we forged ahead through the streets, protestors stood on the sidelines holding signs showing fetuses and saying, "I regret my abortion."  And as we shouted "THIS is what democracy looks like," I really felt it:  democracy isn't about everyone agreeing.  It's about meaningful conversation, meaningful dissent.  It's about each of us getting to make our argument, to marshal evidence, to build community and let people know where we stand.  We are allowed to speak, to hold signs in the air, to scream.


I was proud to be a member of the College of Charleston community today.  I hope the Board of Trustees heard us.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

We're going to hell in a handbasket.

He supports the Confederacy.  And he's CofC's new president.
I can't decide if I find this hard to believe or if it's what I expected.  Glenn McConnell is the new President of the College of Charleston.

The place where I teach.  The school that I love.

McConnell is an advocate of the Confederacy.  He owns (owned?) a shop selling all kinds of Confederate goods.  Grace, a student who used to work for WGS, had done some high school work at McConnell's shop.  She said he was a nice guy, but WOW did he love the Confederacy.

Conseula Francis recently asked the CofC faculty/staff listserv:

Are you aware the Confederacy started a war to maintain their right to own human beings?
Are you aware flying the Confederate flag did not come back into fashion until segregationists took up the symbol in their fight against Civil Rights in the 1950s and 1960s?
Are you aware that championing a cause and defending a symbol long, and deliberately, associated with hatred, intolerance, oppression, and racism could imply that a person holds those beliefs as well?

Here he is, the President of the College of Charleston.

This is the man who told me, when I asked, that when the SC legislature accused CofC of promoting "a gay and lesbian lifestyle" and offering "obscene pornographic mandatory" reading, the president should have said, "Thank you" and gone back to CofC.

We're supposed to say thank you, he said.  For telling us that we need to support homophobia and trample academic freedom.  We're supposed to say thank you.  For being a political body that supports hatred, intolerance, oppression, and racism.

I'm not sure what to do here.  This is the man I will work for starting July 1.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Exploring my own disability. And my own ego.

I'm giving an invited lecture for Women's History Month this afternoon at Coastal Carolina University, a school a few hours away from Charleston. I'm really happy to have been invited, and I'm looking forward to my talk on zines and contemporary feminism--zines are so cool, and I'll get to show a lot of them and invite the audience to help me dig into them and consider their significance.

Hello, bus.  I'm going to try to welcome you to my world.
So I'm doing a fun and sort of prestigious thing:  keynote lecture.  And that's paired with something I've never done before, that I'm feeling torn about:  I'm riding a Greyhound bus to get there.

Three years ago, I would have driven to this talk.  I would have listened to music in the car, or listened to a book on tape.  I would have made my own schedule.  For the last two years, though, I've been having seizures, and that's meant I'm not allowed to drive.

The seizures are a result of the brain tumor and the surgery to remove the tumor.  They can actually be a sign that things are going well:  when anything changes in the brain--like the tumor shrinks--more seizures can be triggered.  But seizures suck.  I don't have any memory of the big ones--the seizure wipes out my memories from several minutes before--so my memories there are typically waking up in an ambulance and thinking, "Oh, fuck."  I haven't had a big seizure since April 9, 2013, so I'm coming up on my first anniversary.

But I have smaller seizures--speech arrests--fairly often.  I'm not going to describe them right now because I don't feel like it.  They're frightening and distressing to me.  They feel--metaphorically rather than physically--like a punch to the gut.  Physically they feel nauseating.  And those seizures mean that I'm not allowed to drive.  There's a very good chance that I'll never be able to drive again.

I'll never be able to drive again.

It almost makes me tear up to write that, sitting here in the lobby of the Greyhound station.  I haven't written much here about my seizures.  I haven't written about them as a disability, even though they clearly are disabling.  I am a person who studies disabilities in great depth.  It's the focus of my scholarship, and I do a fair amount of activism around it, too.  So why don't I want to acknowledge my own disability?

Fear, I think.  And ego.  Fear because the seizures are connected to the brain tumor, and the brain tumor is connected to my mortality.  Fear because I don't want them to get worse and force me to reimagine my professional and personal life.  Ego because I want to be a person who drives.  "I'm not the kind of person who rides a bus," my ego announces.  "It's unacceptable!"  I feel ashamed to be a person who has to take cabs, or ride a Greyhound.  Flying is, of course, perfectly acceptable, as is taking a cab to the airport.  Those things can almost be prestigious, so I have no weird feelings there.  But not being able to drive to the grocery store, or the bank, or a speaking engagement a few hours away, feels shameful.  It's class based, of course, and based on my desire for "independence," for the ability to control my own movements.

I get that this is troubling, irrational, contradictory to some of my deeply held beliefs about accessibility,  identity, and human value.  I get it.  I'm not defending this!

But I'm feeling it.  And now I'm writing about it.  First time, right?  Here I am, feminist disability studies scholar, discussing my own disability.  Discussing my fucked up conflicts, conflicts I'm going to need to address.

I guess now that I've launched into this, you might hear more about it.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ralphs vs. Big O's

My dad is a huge advocate of Big O donuts in Cookeville.  Bless its heart:  Big O's tries hard, and my dad tries hard to convince me that their donuts are better than Ralph's.  We all know that Ralph's butter twists are one of the top five foods in the world, so Big O's doesn't stand a chance of being better.

Maybelle at Ralph's, with an appropriate blissful expression.

But you know what Big O donuts are?  Enormous.
Which of these things is not like the others?

Trey observed that the apple fritter--pictured on the bottom--looks a bit like a roast chicken.  And it's about as big as a roast chicken.  The butter twist is on the top right, and it looks like the tiny little nerd friend--a delicious tiny little nerd friend.


This picture has not been altered.

While cinnamon rolls (or as Maybelle calls them, cinnamons rolls) from Wildflour are as big as a human head, this cinnamon roll is as big as Maybelle's torso.  And so heavy that I wouldn't let her carry the plate.

So Big O's has its contribution to make to the world of donuts.  But Ralph's butter twist is like a dream come true...
I love you, butter twist!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

SC and the children of undocumented immigrants (plus Alison and the Charleston City Paper)

Okay, folks, I now have a column with Charleston's City Paper.  A weekly column!  We're experimenting with making Feminism, Y'all a more regular feature in the paper.  I'm curious. We'll see.

Here's the latest:  it's about how much South Carolina sucks when it comes to undocumented immigrants (honestly, my column could be titled:  Ways in Which South Carolina Sucks).