The Whole World a Prison: Forced Feminization Narratives and the Politics of Sexual Identity


[Editor's note: Though undoubtedly analytical, the post below contains references to mature themes, sexuality, and sexual assault. Please proceed accordingly.] The idea that gender and sexual identities are malleable has become increasingly familiar to many Americans in recent years. The feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s challenged ideas of what femininity meant—the submissive, dependent housewife and nurturing caretaker was not all womanhood could mean—while the rise of LGBT activism since the late 1960s put forth new models of acting, being, and loving in the world, which did not necessarily comport with older notions of heteronormative male and female identity. Most recently, the … [Read more...]

Born For Love: Juan Gabriel’s Ballads of Solitude, and the Pain of Immigration


It’s difficult to overstate the ubiquity of Juan Gabriel’s voice in the everyday lives of Mexicans, both here in the US and in Mexico, where the megastar’s dozens of hits, some of them decades old, still blare from roadside fondas, urban nightclubs, and the blown out stereo speakers in my uncle’s home in Zamora, Michoacan. From disco, to rancheras, to ballads, and everything in between, Juan Gabriel’s signature melancholic exuberance was at once relatable and alien: relatable in the heartbreak and poverty to which it often spoke; and alien in the unabashedly flamboyant style that came to define him. Perhaps especially because of his flamboyance and the often unspoken subtext of his desires, … [Read more...]

The Paperclip and the Chain

Can you show me where on the paperclip he touched you?

Few cartoon characters are more hated than Clippy, the pesky “assistant” who prowled the mean streets of Microsoft Word in the 1990s.  (“You look like you’re writing a letter.” NO I’M NOT FUCK YOU DUDE.)  Clippy is like the Comic Sans of cartoons.  He’s like the primitive ancestor of Siri cross-bred with the Noid. (By the way, I apologize for gender-stereotyping, but I always assumed Clippy was a guy.  Why this is the case—and why iconic portrayals of later digital assistants like Siri or the operating system in the film Her were presented as female—is a subject for rich speculation.) Anyway, even if Clippy no longer haunts our lives, the paperclip remains part of the iconography of … [Read more...]

Sexual Equality: Los Angeles, the Military Industrial Complex, and the Gay Liberation Movement

ONE Magazine front cover, volume 1, number 9, September 1953

When we talk about advances in civil and gay rights, we often talk in terms of famous firsts: Los Angeles' first Black Mayor Tom Bradley or the state's first openly gay elected official, San Francisco's Harvey Milk. Yet, the struggles of average folk lay the groundwork for these larger victories and it is their stories that rarely get told. In 1975, one obscure Southern California gay man fought the good fight and in doing so achieved a triumph that would bring new rights and job opportunities for homosexual men and women across the U.S. Forty years ago, Rancho Palos Verdes resident and computer defense systems analyst Otis Francis Tabler challenged both the federal government's security … [Read more...]

Queer Florida: Reflecting on Reaction and History in the LGBTQ South

upstairs lounge

Sunday morning was just like most mornings. I woke up beside my fiancé and then stumbled downstairs to start the coffee. As I always do, I opened the Facebook app on my phone since social media provides just enough engagement to keep me awake until the coffee is finished. I saw changed profile pictures and “pray for Orlando” hashtags. In my groggy state I was very confused until I scrolled farther and found the news stories that reported the homophobic terrorist attack at Pulse Nightclub that ultimately took the lives of 49 people (as of this writing). Throughout the day Sunday I kept up with the developing story, trying to process the emotions surrounding events that should be … [Read more...]

Sex and the Purple Guy


For a generation of youth--queer and non-queer alike--Prince cleared the path to a different way of embodying gender and sexuality. I recited the intro to “Let’s Go Crazy” at my wedding reception in 2006, to a room of largely puzzled fifty- and sixty-somethings.  When the news of Prince’s passing dropped this afternoon, a wave of horror ripped through my Media Studies class, and almost by instinct I stood before the students and spoke the Purple One’s classic words once again: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life. Electric word ‘life,’ it means forever and that’s a mighty long time but I’m here to tell you there’s something else… the afterworld… It … [Read more...]

New Adventures in Lo-Fi: Bootleg Histories in Lucas Hilderbrand’s “Inherent Vice”


Scholars in recent years have studied a variety of different media to challenge the ever-present notion of technological determinism, identifying ways that listeners, readers, and viewers shape both the technologies of communication and the creative expression conveyed by them.  Much attention has focused on the possibilities of digital media, such as personal computers and the Internet, to open up new arenas for individual participation through blogs, file-sharing, and online video.  Some studies, such as Lisa Gitelman’s work on the early phonograph, have searched for the origins of a participatory media culture beyond the very recent past; however, much remains to be said about the ways … [Read more...]

Will and Grace and Cam and Laverne: The Power of LGBT Characters in Pop Culture

Will and Grace and Cam and Laverne

Joe Biden once famously said that Will and Grace “did more to educate the American public [about gay rights] than almost anything anybody's ever done so far.” While some may have dismissed the statement as a typical, off-the-cuff Bidenism, others understood the implicit premise: that the (relatively) positive portrayal of gay characters on programs such as Will and Grace (1998-2006) and Modern Family (2009-present) helped get Americans used to the idea of LGBT people as good, ordinary friends, parents, and neighbors. But can popular culture have such a direct effect on popular opinion? Given the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decisions in Lawrence (2003) and Obergefell (2015), it’s a … [Read more...]

Sporting Golden State: Women and Athletics in 20th Century California

Cheryl Miller during the 1984 Olympic Games | Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

In 1971, an adolescent girl in Connecticut sued for the right to compete on an all-boys athletic team. The judge dismissed her argument with a typically gendered assessment of athletics, "sports builds character ... we don't need that kind of character in girls." 1 Whatever the judge's assertion, he clearly proved himself to be on the wrong side of history, as one year later one of the most important federal laws regarding gender passed Congress, Title IX. The landmark legislation radically altered American sport; yet, before and after 1972, California and its female athletes have been and continue to be a forerunner regarding issues of gender, race, and sexuality. Tennis and … [Read more...]

Coping with the Legacy of Child Sexual Abuse in John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary

Brendan Gleeson and Chris O'Dowd in John Michael McDonagh's Calvary.

“I think she's bipolar, or lactose intolerant, one of the two.” -- Jack Brennan, Calvary What could be more suited to 2014 than a film about collective punishment? It was a year when skin color seemed to prejudice police offers to exercise lethal force against Eric Garner and Michael Brown; when members of the Muslim Brotherhood were cavalierly sentenced to death en masse by Egypt's new, US-backed dictatorship; and when ISIS committed unthinkable acts of savagery in Iraq and Syria, decapitating innocent bystanders and burying women and children alive because they belonged to the wrong ethnic or religious group. Random people seemed to suffer for the sins of the system, or the nation, or … [Read more...]