It’s hard to articulate just how much influence Andrew has had on my life. Growing up, I wanted to be exactly like him, because there wasn’t a person in the world who met him, and wasn’t affected by his kind, gentle, and charismatic nature. Even when I was younger, I remember being so proud to call him my brother. He was the only person I felt could truly relate to me. We had like minds, similar souls, and saw the world in the same way. Every single conversation I had with Andrew was full of meaning and wisdom, whether we talked about books, politics, religion, or our mutual distaste for pop culture. He was the most intelligent and introspective person I ever knew. He was the person who taught me to let my emotions out through music, and showed me how to connect with music in a way I never thought possible. He was the one who taught me my first chords on guitar, and inspired me to pursue writing and art. I respected his opinion more than anything, and he will never know how much my younger brother, Jon, and I, tried to impress him. I knew that no matter what, Andrew was one of the few people in this world who would accept me for who I am and drive me to reach my full potential. He was also someone I could count on for absolutely anything. No matter what type of trouble I was in, he would be there—whether it was staying on the phone with me for two hours and walking me through how to change my flat tire, or giving me advice and comfort during my times of confusion—Andrew was always there. Patient, wise, and ready to hold my hand through times of trouble. Every single time I saw him or talked to him, he never left or hung up the phone without first telling me that he loved me. I will never ever meet another person who radiates more love, intelligence, and sensitivity than Andrew Van. His thoughtfulness permeated the minds and souls of anyone who came into contact with him, and the world was a gentler place when he was in it. I was so lucky to grow up with him, call him my brother, and I miss him more than anybody could ever know.
So Andrew, I want to thank you, because you are truly the reason why I am who I am. I wish you could know how much you shaped the person I am and the person I want to be. And I want you to know that everything I do, everything I accomplish from here on out will be for you and because of you. Your spirit will be with me everywhere I go, in everything I do—in this way, I don’t think you’ll ever be gone. Not really. I love you more than anything Andrew. I hope you knew that, and I hope I get to see you again one day.
Note: This post is a part of my final project for a Gender and Sexuality class that I took in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is written for academia, but has a touch of personal opinion as well.
In the process of completing life’s most mundane tasks—going to the dentist, getting a driver’s license, applying for college, etc.— society expects us to divulge a certain amount of information about ourselves. We are asked time and time again to fill out forms that beg the same questions: name, birthday, gender. Next to “gender,” you will see two options with two small checkboxes next to them: male and female. It’s a question that is supposed to have a simple reflexive answer, one that doesn’t require hesitation; at the time, we don’t think about the meaning latent in checking one box or the other. However, the way we are desensitized to this question does not erase the fact that its binary nature is representative of how our society is constructed. We are told to identify with one or the other and are, in turn, placed in little boxes that have a specific set of rules, behaviors, and norms that we are expected to follow. The majority of human beings who are able to answer this question without qualms may be surprised to learn that not everyone fits into these boxes— it is unrealistic and unfair to assume that everyone is able to complacently abide by this “package deal.” Thus, begins the emergence of queerness.
This blog will be about queerness in terms of gender and sexuality in a heteronormative world that places people’s behaviors and sexual preferences into boxes that limit our ability to see outside of the hegemonic straight/gay/male/female paradigms. First, it will explain the binary relationship between masculinity and femininity and how these behaviors about gender lead to assumptions about sexuality. Lastly, it will clarify what “queer” means and how these behaviors are treated in the U.S. versus in Scandinavia.
The relationship between masculinity and femininity is deeply rooted in theories of gender performativity. Judith Butler regards gender as “is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts precede; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time— an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts,” (Butler). Hence, gender is constantly being constructed and depends on time, cultural context, and the different assumptions that certain behaviors evoke. For example, a man wearing a skirt in the United States would be violating the gender norms for being male; however, men in Scotland regularly wear kilts (an article of clothing similar to a skirt) and unlike in Western culture, donning a skirt does not equate to a lack of masculinity. Hence, gender performativity is highly dependent on cultural context.
So what happens when people violate the codes, gestures, and behaviors assigned to their gender? The “deviant” individual is alienated by society to a certain extent and given a label to mark their “otherness.” An outspoken girl who does not enjoy playing with dolls or wearing dresses is called a tomboy. A boy who would rather learn to cook than play baseball is deemed a “sissy,” “pussy,” or a “wuss.” People feel uncomfortable when the boundaries of these gender norms are crossed, therefore they validate their own gender identity and sameness with society by marking the difference of the one who stands out. This point was proven in a recent social experiment conducted by my classmates and I, in which we attempt to break a gender norm and observe people’s reactions. The way we decided to carry out the experiment was by putting makeup on a male friend in the middle of a public square. This minor infraction of stereotypical gender norms was met with unabashed gawking and staring by the two women sitting next to us, their expressions communicating clear discomfort and excommunication of my classmate.
This vilification becomes damaging for a number of reasons, one of them being that notions on gender performativity in today’s society also leads to assumptions on sexuality. Gender and sexuality are interrelated, but they are not synonymous with each other.
To explain what I mean, I will use a real life example. A female friend of mine has an appearance that very much resembles that of a boy; she wears her hair very short, dresses in men’s clothes, and has mannerisms and gestures that are considered masculine (sitting with legs spread out, etc.). The first question I always hear when people meet her or see a picture of her is, “She’s gay right?” Without fail, the question is always asked and based purely on observations of how she performs her gender. To their immediate surprise, I inform them that she has a boyfriend; the shock that a woman with a “butch” appearance is indeed in a heterosexual relationship catches them off guard every time. When this situation occurs, it reminds me how, as we perform our gender, we unwillingly take on meaning about our sexuality that is interpreted by others. A very effeminate man is assumed to be gay. A tomboy is questioned whether or not she is a lesbian. Along the same vein, a woman who follows feminine norms and the codes of her gender is always assumed to be straight; The same can be said for a very masculine man. By checking a “male” or “female” box, you take on an entire set of meanings about sexuality, behavior, and attitude—meanings that change depending on how well you perform that gender.
Queerness is regarded as confusing, even detrimental, to some because it is deviation from the norm. Queerness does not fit into homosexual and heterosexual binaries, similar to how androgyny rejects masculine and feminine binaries. Both are stigmatized and those who identify with either are “othered” from society due to a lack of understanding or discomfort with boundary crossing. “Queer” has had many definitions throughout history, the meaning of the word changing over time depending on the social conditions of that era. Traditionally, the word “queer” was used as a pejorative term to alienate homosexuals in the early twentieth century. Since then, as sexualities that depart from the heterosexual norm are increasingly more tolerated—even celebrated— queerness is less stigmatized as more and more people identify as “queer.” In everyday usage, the label means odd, strange, or deviating from society’s constructed norms (Klages). When discussing gender and sexuality, the term refers to someone who is able to have intimate connections with both genders and is not restrictively attracted to a single sex. In Key Terms in Literary Theory, Mary Klages states the word “queer” points to “a specific mode of thinking about sexuality that goes beyond the binary categories of homosexual and heterosexual.” She goes on to explain that the latter half of the twentieth century saw “queer” as referring to disruptive and deconstructing performances of gender and sexuality. The destabilization of gender performance can come in many forms, from a man wearing a dress to a trans woman who chooses to grow a beard.
Personally, when talking to those who identify as queer, I am very interested to learn that many of these individuals see queerness as a spectrum, similar to The Kinsey Scale. A friend who identifies as queer explained to me that significant portions of her own friends describe themselves as being on “the queer spectrum”— an inclusive space for those who don’t feel altogether comfortable identifying as purely gay or straight.
Attitudes towards queerness and homosexuality vary from country to country, culminating in a global divide on if these non-heteronormative behaviors should be accepted or not. The Pew Research Center found that there is more tolerance for the LGBT* and queer communities in secular countries such as the United States and European Union. In a study conducted in 2013, 39 countries were asked, “Should society accept homosexuality?” The results showed a 60 percent majority in the U.S. who answered yes (Cohut). Over the past two decades, Americans have showed increasingly more support for legislation that expands LGBTQ* rights. This has come to fruition with the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, which originally put a federal ban on gay marriage.
In addition to legislative support, influential pop culture phenomena such as Glee and Lady Gaga have reinforced a tolerant mindset among the younger generation, an attitude that was not present ten years ago. In 2012, the first rap song to advocate for same-sex marriage, “Same Love” by Macklemore, received significant critical acclaim and permeated mainstream radios and award shows across the country. Furthermore, queer visibility is more present in film and television; Namely, actress Laverne Cox is a trans woman actually playing a transgender character in the hit Netflix original, Orange is the New Black, and has made significant strides for the transgender community as a whole. Progressive cultural attitudes along with legislation that supports LGBTQ* rights makes the United States more tolerant of queer individuals, or those who operate outside of the heteronormative paradigm.
Studies also show that the Scandinavian countries are even more accepting of queer individuals than the United States. According to the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe), Sweden was named in 2010 as Europe’s most gay friendly country (Wockner).This tolerance is seen through legislation that protects the queer community, such as: anti-discrimination protections, recognition of same-sex partnerships and parenting, hate-crime and hate-speech laws, and equal age-of-consent laws.
Sweden is also working to dismantle the cultural expectations of gender performativity. I have witnessed these efforts first hand through campaigns by Top Toys (a toy company in league with Toys ‘R Us) to decrease stereotypical representations of boys and girls in their catalogs. These depictions include using gender-neutral colors instead of the typical “pink for girl toys,” “blue for boy toys” motif, along with portraying boys in more sensitive and passive poses, and girls in more assertive and active roles.
However, although Sweden is praised as a “gender equality paradise,” it still fails in some arenas. Below are two additional ads found in the same Toys ‘R Us that have evident gender bias and culturally reinforcing gender stereotypes. The first ad shows a group of children singing, wearing traditional colors assigned to gender—blue for the boy and pink for the girl. The second ad depicts both genders shooting Nerf guns, however, the toy gun for the girl has been adorned with pink and floral print to seem more “girly” and cute.
Furthermore, although ILGA-Europe crowned Sweden the most gay-friendly country, they haven’t done much work for the transgender community, a quote from the organization saying they “won’t start tracking transgender issues until next year,” (Wockner).
As visibility and acceptance for the queer community increases in the decades to come, the perpetually solid construction of the heteronormative world we live in will slowly be dismantled. For this deconstruction to happen however, education about gender performativity and the ability to see outside of limiting gender binaries is paramount. Otherwise, the codes on how each gender should behave will never be challenged, those who do not fit into the limiting boxes of male/female binaries will always be thought of as deviant, and gender performance will continue to lead to assumptions about sexuality. Those who are heteronormative will continue to be privileged as part of the majority, a process that involves marginalizing queer individuals.
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal. 40.4 (1988): n. page. Web. 7 Jul. 2014. <http://www.flimmer.nu/sites/default/files/butlerPerformance.pdf>.
Wow, I haven’t written in a while. I’m doing so terrible at documenting these memories. The reason why I wanted to sit down and write on this particular day is because I am sitting at my desk, alone, while soft, beautiful rain washes down on my open window. I’m drinking Cocio, the best chocolate milk I undoubtedly will ever taste in my life, and listening to Deerhunter– a band that is just really. Freaking. Great.
I want to document this moment because there are a few times a week when, for whatever reason, I feel completely and totally at peace. I am able to reflect on how beautiful and fleeting the current moment is, and how grateful I am that I’ve been able to experience it. I guess me romanticizing something as arbitrary as drinking chocolate milk while it’s raining is just a metaphor for how I feel about this entire European adventure.
It’s the halfway mark now. It’s very scary and exciting to think about. It makes me happy. It makes me sad. Just thinking about all of the things I’ve gotten to do and conquer while I’ve been here blows my mind. I’ve been to Geneva. I’ve been to Amsterdam (Two experiences that I swear I will write about eventually). I’ve had so much fun traveling, but the highlights have definitely been the little things. Sitting on the boardwalk listening to the sound of the ocean. Riding my bike in the rain to Christiania. Taking shots in friends’ dorms. Getting drunk at a karaoke bar. I’ve already been having the time of my life, and I still have just over two weeks left. I still have my study tour in Stockholm, Sweden left.
Everything is happening all at once and I only fear going back to my real life and losing the perspective that I’ve gained here. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, three weeks from now back in America, or seventeen years from now. All I know is that this moment is mine, and as of right now, sitting here as the rain starts to stop and the sun peeks over the clouds, life is good.
I’ve been in Copenhagen for four days now and I have so much to say, it seems like an impossible endeavor to try to fit it all into one post. This city that I’ve dreamt of visiting since I’ve heard it was the “Happiest Country in America” is both everything I could have expected and like nothing I have ever imagined. In short, I can sum up my experience here so far with one Danish word: hygge.
When I first got off the plane to this beautiful city, I had been up for a straight 21 hours and I still had about 12 hours to go until I would get to experience the sweet release of sleep. Beforehand, I was really worried how I would be able to get through it; I knew the first days would be exhausting as the sensation of meeting new people, living in a new place, and trying to make sense of a new culture reigned down upon me. Lucky for me, everything was so vivid, so incredibly exciting that sleep was the last thing on my mind that first day.
I spent it meeting my dormmates, who are wonderful, funny, and everything I could have asked for. I spent it exploring the area across from my dorm, which is situated along the great lakes; this makes for a completely unreal view that catches me off guard everytime I look out my bedroom window or wander across the hall to the bathroom.
I had dinner with my hall that night as Annie, our Room Advisor, regaled us on stories of past DIS students. These were hilarious and cringe-worthy at the same time. Last semester, former student was very intoxicated one night, tried to take a selfie with her friends on a ladder, fell off the ladder, impaled her arm, but then went out for pizza directly after because she was hungry. Classic. Annie then showed us a picture that accompanies that story and it’s safe to say that it is most certainly the grossest thing I’ve ever seen. I’d never seen actual human muscle in my life, until that moment. The girl whose arm was ripped to shreds was drunkenly smiling in the picture, holding up a thumbs up sign. Alcohol works wonders. Annie also taught us how to say a couple Danish expletives, and gave us the most sound advice I’d recieved all day: “Use your brain.”
After dinner, there was no way I was calling it a night. I had my first Danish beer at a pub across the way with three awesome girls– Sydnee, Haley, and Sam– who I can tell are going to be my partners in crime the whole way through. The night ended in a haze of sitting out on a beautiful night, staring up at amazing architecture, getting to know very good people, and me wondering how the heck I got so lucky to be able to experience this.
Admittedly, I didn’t read up on Danish culture prior to coming here. I didn’t do research. I didn’t even know Danes operated under the Kroner instead of the Euro. I think a part of me did this on purpose. There is a beautiful sense of wonder that comes from not knowing what to expect and the sensation of knowing literally anything can happen; it’s an amazing feeling that doesn’t come along too often, and one that I welcome with relief and gratitude.
I got a lecture from one of the former members of Parliament, Jacob Buksti, yesterday in my design class (a wonderfully sarcastic jeans and a t-shirt type fellow) and he told us about hygge– a mentality explicitly reserved for Danes, something they take pride in and foreigners will never fully understand. Hygge is, in the most basic sense, about taking things easy. It can be a nice talk with friends. It can be the warm feeling you get when you have a really good Danish beer in your hands. It can be the moments of sheer satisfaction after taking the first bite of a delicious meal. It can be sitting on the grass watching the sunset. It can even be a pleasant bike ride on your morning commute to work.
Hygge is something that is often lost in the hustle and bustle of American cities. Everyone is so caught up in their own lives, it is very easy to forget to enjoy the simple things. Right here, right now, I guess you can say my entire spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being is saturated by the beauty of hygge.
An angel from the depths of my darkest fears,
Keep gliding along the jagged length of my well-being,
Chipping away at me until there is nothing left.
Keep sucking the soul out from the openings wherein lies all that is good,
And feed off of my despair, making you stronger, more powerful,
More fit to bring about my untimely end.
A beautiful immortal being that destroys under the guise of love and hope,
A quick fix to distract me from the sorrow you bring into my life.
A cheap thrill that leaves me begging you to use me and abuse me,
Time and time again.
Maybe it’s the changing of the seasons,
The blooming of flowers, the smell of new rain,
But I can’t shake the feeling that this period of stasis is nearly over,
And that the air I breathe will soon be thick with change.
To you, I’ll raise this white flag of truce.
I hereby concede that Victory is, and always has been, yours.
This war has been dragged out long enough,
My weary bones and tiresome mind need time to rest.
These games that we keep playing has left me absolutely spent,
You effortlessly outsmart me in every one of them.
Running around in circles, we’re working towards nothing,
Without anything to gain, we’re only prolonging the inevitable.
So shake my hand, let the ensuing journey of passive avoidance begin;
You’ll go your way, and I’ll go mine.
We’ll chalk it up to a learning experience,
Realizing that all is not fair in love and war.
Grab your keys and your favorite jacket.
You and I? We’re going on an adventure.
We’ll board the first plane that leaves this party town,
And take a vacation in the clouds.
We can live on waters that rock you to sleep,
And watch the sky turn magenta at night, gold in the morning.
Hear stories at old diners all across the world,
While using each other as our blankets.
Miles and miles from all that we know,
We can marinate in the ancestral beauty that exists underneath the stars,
Talking about life, about God, and using Polaris as our compass,
Let’s create our own fountain of youth and grow old together.
With my face in my hands and under the dim glow of bar lights,
A bitter-sweet elixir burning greedily down my throat,
I realize that no amount of “I’m sorry’s” could ever make up for every stupid thing I did,
To make you feel like you were anything less than spectacular.
I see the ghost of your tear-streamed face on the inside of my eyelids,
And my fingers itch to dial your number, a code that is all of the sudden, so much easier to remember.
The blunt realization that I shouldn’t have walked out on you that night settles in my stomach,
As my ears ring with the sound of a slamming door.
If I showed up at your doorstep on this midnight hour,
I have no doubt that you’d buy into my lies once more,
But I’ll stay glued to this bar stool, tortured by the memory of your lips on my neck,
Because I know that you are better than I will ever be.