Sunday, March 23, 2008

My Dinner with. . . Diana of Themyscira

StinkyLulu recently asked me to participate in a meme about which famous person, alive or dead, I would invite to dinner. StinkyLulu opted for Rita Moreno. It was a good choice. Of course, I was surprised he didn’t say “GayProf,” which would have made more sense. But, whatever. I think we all know who I would choose:

    1. Pick a single person, past or present, in the film industry who you'd like to have dinner with, and tell us why you chose this person.

    I believe that people demand a predictable GayProf. They don’t want a GayProf willy-nilly choosing unexpected people. So who else could I choose but Wonder Woman? Yes, I grant that she wasn't technically in the film industry. And, okay, she doesn’t really exist – allegedly.

    Still, Wonder Woman (a.k.a Diana Prince, a.k.a. Princess Diana of the Amazons, a.k.a. the woman who is too often incorrectly identified as "Superwoman") is beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, swifter than Hermes, and stronger than Hercules. Plus, she really knows how to accessorize. Who wouldn’t want to have dinner with her?

    2. Set the table for your dinner. What would you eat? Would it be in a home or at a restaurant? And what would you wear? Feel free to elaborate on the details.

    Well, Amazon feasts tend to get a little peculiar. Apparently all the dinner guests are first expected to dress like deer:

    Then they are hunted and “skinned”:

    And, finally, baked into a pie:

    Somehow, my kitchen just doesn’t seem big enough to accommodate an Amazon tart. Plus, I don't have a self-cleaning oven. I really hate to make things that I know will splatter.

    So, I think my dinner would be much more simple. Given that Wonder Woman is a vegetarian (cannibal/deer references aside), the menu would be high on the soy protein, veggies and fruits. I’ll make darn sure, though, that all my fruit is remarkably fresh. Produce with blemishes seems to piss her off:

    Maybe I can distract her with a good bottle of Rioja. Thank the gods that we know that Diana drinks wine. Just because you have to deflect bullets with your bracelets doesn’t mean that you should be concerned about drinking something that depresses neural activity and impairs motor skills.

    3. List five thoughtful questions you would ask this person during dinner.

      A. Diana, when you worked at NASA, who convinced you that hot-pants and a plunging blouse was the ideal outfit for work on spaceships?

      B. While we are on the subject of work, you have had a hard time holding down a regular job. So far, you have been a nurse, a Navy yeomen, a secretary, the owner of a dress boutique, a guide at the U.N., an astronaut trainee, a U.N. special agent, an ambassador, a monarch, and now an agent for metahuman affairs. Have you ever thought about seeing a career counselor?

      C. Has the spiking gas prices affected your use of the invisible jet? Also, don’t you think that it is environmentally dubious to just let it fly around the sky empty all day? I mean, it's bad enough that you don't carpool. Shouldn’t you at least be looking for an invisible hanger?

      D. You once explained your unusual star-spangled short shorts:

      After the Bush administration, do you ever feel dirty wearing your uniform? Maybe all the torture, war, death penalties, sexism, and disregard for social justice suggests that the U.S. is beyond hope of being reminded of its once lofty ideals.

      I say that if you want to really send a message, opt for a wardrobe change. Maybe you should think about an outfit that is red and yellow with some columns?

      E. Unlike Batman or Superman, you have constantly been shafted with bad writing and a total disregard to your origin material. First, they took away your superpowers and killed your boyfriend. Then they gave you back your powers and your boyfriend. Then they killed your boyfriend again and took away your secret identity. Now they have decided to split the difference so you lose your superpowers while you are under your secret identity. They call it a "reward from the gods" to experience mortality as Diana Prince. I call it a cheap plot device. Ugh.

      Why don’t you get the same respect as Superman and Batman? Where is your movie and product tie ins?

      You might be one of the “Big Three,” but clearly D.C. considers you the Chrysler of that metaphor. Superman and Batman are out driving Mustangs and Corvettes. You, on the other hand, have been saddled with a 1981 Plymouth Horizon. It’s not right, girl.

      Bob Kane is one step away from canonization, but who mourns for William Moulton Marston? It’s because of the weird Amazon deer ritual thing that he created, isn’t it?

    Okay, so maybe that wasn't so much of a question as a rant. Instead, let's ask another question.

      E. Here you tell Hawkgirl that you will wait for her while she changes her clothes:

      By "waiting," did you really mean "watching her undress?" Just what are your eyes so fixed upon? Her eyes are above her mouth, not her bellybutton. Come to think of it, you never did spend much time mourning Steve Trevor's many deaths. I am not sayin', I am just sayin'. . .

    4. When all is said and done, select six bloggers to pass this Meme along to.

    Anybody can play who wants to do so.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Enough Minorities, Minority Enough (Part II)

One of the things about being a minority faculty member that is not discussed a great deal is the amount of isolation that one experiences. Most scholars are usually at the whim of the job market when it comes to deciding where to live in the U.S. (or even earlier when they are at the whim of which university admits them to graduate school).

Because universities, particularly those in small towns, are often segregated from communities of color, becoming a professor frequently involves leaving the community where one grows up. Moreover, one’s audience in the academic world is most often composed of a white majority.

As I mentioned previously, humanities departments tend to use minority-research positions as the only means to build diversity. It is not at all unusual, therefore, that a Latino/a Studies scholar will also be the only Latino/a in the department (likewise for Afro-Am). In some small liberal arts colleges, that might even be the only one in the whole college division – or even the only person of color. An implicit (and sometimes explicit) expectation of these scholars is that they will work to make the few minority students on these campuses feel less isolated by becoming a universal mentor.

It is small wonder that so many minority scholars often report feeling exhausted and over-extended. I don’t think that it is an exaggeration to say that I did quadruple the number of campus talks that my colleagues did at my former Texas institution. It was almost always Latino or queer student groups that asked me to be part of their programming. Part of the reason that I got roped into this was because I have hard time saying “no” to anybody (Just ask my last few dates). Another major part, though, was that I felt a personal and political commitment to work with students who were trying to change the atmosphere on the campus. In a non-white majority state, it was shocking that minority students represented less than ten percent of that Texas institution’s student body.

Being the “only” (or at least the only willing to work with students (more on that in another post)) puts faculty in difficult spots. They are doing a solid amount of work by being engaged with students, but it is work that will not be valued for tenure and promotion at most research universities. It also makes fuzzy the line between an individual’s identity and their scholarly research.

Yet, faculty of color are frequently expected to become the central reference for every issue facing people of their same identity. Most people, who are secure in their own sense of identity and politics, try to take advantage of that powerful position to create change or support others pursuing change. If one isn’t careful, though, it can also really twist you psychologically.

I have seen some Latino/a colleagues become warped as they try meet other people’s expectations about Latinos. In their efforts to conform to the identity that is projected onto them, they contort themselves into a “Super Latino.” They lose sight of their research and simply become the "campus Latino," a ready-made spokesperson who exists only to give "the Latino point of view" to anybody who asks. One problem with this is that they often lose track of the fact that no individual could ever fulfill that role. There has never been a singular "Latino point of view." The Latino/a community is filled with contradictions and wide ranging experiences. These "Super Latinos," however, discount their own experiences that shows this to be true and become a self-proclaimed embodiment of the community.

In many ways, they are the academic version of the singing mariachis in the Taco Bell commercial (God, why? Why?? Please, no more.). They serve Anglos what they expect to see and are rewarded by being to asked to perform for them (Though they haven't yet mastered the talent of making the sound of a cracking whip with their wink). One can always find these individuals at conferences, roaming about in their size-six huaraches, with beans almost literally falling out of their pockets. They are rarely presenting their research, but are ready to critique everybody else's.

These same individuals attempt to enforce those standards of “Latinoness” onto their colleagues and (especially) their grad students. Because their career has devolved to merely being a projection of Latinoness, it is in their best interest to ensure that their version of Latinoness is validated. Some time ago, one Latino grad student shared a story with me about meeting a Latina professor at another university. When he demurred from claiming to be a modern “Aztec warrior” (Who knew people were still pushing that?), she questioned whether he was really committed to social justice or even Latino scholarship.

In my own case, I have certainly encountered a few Latino/a scholars who expected me to be apologetic or embarrassed for not having been raised in a bilingual household. Since my mother was Irish American, there was no Spanish language for her to pass on to us. My father’s parents succumbed to institutional pressures in New Mexico that demanded that they not pass on Spanish to their children. The U.S. then, as now, wrongly imagined being bilingual as a hindrance. Indeed, Latino/a children of my father’s generation were punished in New Mexico’s public schools for speaking Spanish (N.B. to America: being monolingual does not keep the U.S. unified as a nation. It’s just leaving us isolated and backward). My father, as a result, had only marginal Spanish skills to pass along to his own children.

When faced with this critique about childhood, I am not sure what people expecting me to do. Am I supposed to build a time machine, travel back to the time before World War II, and convince my grandparents to make another decision in my father’s upbringing? If I had that power, why not simply stop the United States’ 1846 invasion of New Mexico in the first place?

Obviously, knowledge of Spanish is critically important for my research on Latino/as in the U.S. I have had to learn it, though, in the same ways that non-Latinos have to learn it. It is also a struggle at times as I seem to have no natural aptitude for languages (We won’t even discuss my disastrous flirtation with Russian). I think of not being raised bilingual in much the same way as I think about having been circumcised. It wasn't really my choice or preference, but you've got work with what you got. No use in crying over things that are impossible to undo.

I am not apologetic about things that were beyond my control. Nor am I willing to concede that it somehow lessens my own sense of Latino/a identity. Indeed, the loss of Spanish fluency has been part of many Latino/as’ experiences in this nation. To paraphrase an old joke from Cheech Marin (who grew up speaking mostly English himself), Chicanos are Mexicans who get “B’s” in Spanish class.

My grandparents, like many Latino families, were promised that if they adopted English-only their children would not face discrimination in the U.S. It turns out that was a lie. My father faced numerous incidents of racism and, alas, he had only one language with which to curse about it. My grandfather frequently expressed his regret about and mourned his children's lack of Spanish skills. All of that was a "Latino" experience (but not the only Latino experience).

Latino/a and other scholars are frequently forced to conform to the expectations of their white colleagues about their identity. It is therefore disheartening when we see Latino/as imposing their own definitions of their identity onto one another. This only serves to contain and reduce Latino/a experiences and ignores the greater diversity of own community. It lessens our ability to understand the complexity of Latino/a responses and strategies for finding a place in the U.S.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Random Randomness

Here are some random thoughts that I have had this week:

    After a long and tedious day at work, nothing cheers a young queer man quite so much as watching a men’s diving competition on television.

    Being queer places one in a peculiar position of both desiring certain bodies and being envious of those same bodies. Hetero men desire women’s bodies, but it doesn’t seem that the majority want their own bodies to develop the same breasts.

    It’s a bummer that Oreo cookies are so toxic and fattening.

    The profound and overly emotional investment that some people have in either Obama or Clinton makes me uncomfortable (and leery). I thought that we all understood that politicians were a necessary evil. They aren’t people that you want in your house.

    Luckily, nobody seems to have similar enthusiasm for the scummy, two-faced McCain.

    Some devoted CoG reader should really create a GayProf comic book that involves me wearing the outfit in my profile picture.

    I can’t believe that my family used to construe Crisco as the healthy alternative to lard.

    Beyond being incredibly annoying, Day Light Saving seems like a dubious proposition. I want some critical evidence (not speculation or theories) that it does anything for energy conservation.

    Mary Ann’s recent arrest for possession of marijuana explains how she tolerated Gilligan’s annoying ass for all those years. If I was stuck on that island, I would be addicted to heroine by now.

    Mentioning to your colleagues that you worked as a secretary before going to grad school can result in being “volunteered” to do lots of paperwork.

    I miss the show Can’t Get a Date. It made my own dating strategies seem so reasonable.

    A few days ago I didn’t buy gas because I figured that prices could only go down from $3.15/gallon. Today, gas is $3.26/gallon in MFT.

    The cost of living in MFT, overall, is really outrageous given the size of the town.

    Teaching grad students requires one to constantly give reassurance and hand holding – which is inconvenient, because I want reassurance and hand holding.

    Xtube is not really that erotic, but it is filled with fascinating clips of people doing unexpected things.

    Martha Jones is an infinitely more interesting character than Rose Tyler. So why spend a year plus mourning the loss of the latter?

    Some academics deeply desire purely bureaucratic (and often thankless) jobs because they come with a title and give an illusion of power. One would expect people with Ph.D.’s to be smarter than that.

    I am so relieved that the most recent political “sex scandal” involves the heteros for a change. No “wide stances in the toilet.” No “therapeutic massages” or crystal meth. At last, the heteros will be exposed to the same media scrutiny and speculation that we have endured.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Shovel It

This past week has been the mid-semester break at Big Midwestern University. Because classes started so early, our half-way point came well before the end of February. At least they have the good sense not to call it a “Spring Break.” We had two snow storms within that period.

Snow has certainly lost its charm since the last time that I lived in the Midwest (in grad school). Perhaps a significant part of that disenchantment comes from the fact that I now have to shovel all this crap out of the way if I want to get out of my garage. I am starting to run out of places to stick all that snow. It is piled up along my fence and I can’t imagine the mess it will make when it starts to melt.

The other day, while I was out huffing and puffing with my trusty shovel, I wondered what it would be like if we depended upon our nation’s politicians to do such a basic task. How would they grapple with being responsible for shoveling their own driveway clear in Midwestern Funky Town?

    George W. Bush: Snow hates America’s freedom. That’s why I ordered the military to shovel snow, not in Midwestern Funky Town, but Arizona instead.

    Condoleezza Rice: Despite having a memo delivered to me entitled “Five Inches of Snow Imminent,” there was no way real way that we could have predicted this snow fall. It’s all the previous administration’s fault.

    Barack Obama: I have zero experience shoveling snow. In fact, I was raised in Hawai'i. Still, I am sure that if we all have hope, the snow will magically melt all on its own. Aren't I charming?

    Dick Cheney: I will do nothing about the actual snow, but I have already asked Google maps to remove it from satellite images so the enemy won’t know that it exists.

    Bob Gates, Secretary of Defense: A surge in personnel will surely contain our snow problem – We just need to be patient and not expect the snow to be removed until next August.

    Lou Dobbs: It was probably Mexican immigrants who sneaked into this country illegally so that they could deposit that snow in front of middle-class Americans' doors.

    Bill Clinton: I did not have sexual relations with that snow. Well, it depends on your definition of "snow."

    Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: I don’t recall there being any snow.

    Current Attorney General Michael Mukasey: It only qualifies as snow if it happens in front of my house. Otherwise, I can’t comment on whether it is shovelable or not.

    Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve: The best way to combat that snow is to lower interests rates yet again. I mean, it's not like flooding the market with money is going to create inflation or anything.

    John McCain: I applaud the Bush administration for all their hard work in shoveling snow in the past. The U.S. is more snow-free today than at any time in its history. You can expect the exact same type of snow removal service from me. By the way, have I ever mentioned that I was once a prisoner of war?

    Hillary Clinton: Ignore the fact that I have done nothing to combat our nation's snow problem in the eight years that I have been in the Senate. If elected president, I would be ready on day-one to shovel that snow. In fact, I will be remembered as the snow-removing president.

    Mitt Romney: When I ran for governor of Massachusetts, I said that I was in favor of shoveling snow. Now, though, my political views have evolved and I am fully opposed to the forcible removal of snow.

    Exxon: Hey, if we keep up with all that gas guzzling and ignore global warming, nobody will have to worry about snow ever again. It's win-win.

    The Nation’s News Media: Snow? Sorry, we can’t be bothered. Brittany Spears just showed up at a 7-11. We really need to devote 24-hour coverage to whether or not she purchased a Slurpee©.

    Bill Richardson: I am the only one who has the resume and experience to shovel that snow. Why didn’t anybody ever notice me? What the hell is wrong with this country?

    Mike Huckabee: I believe it's a lot easier to shovel the snow than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that's what we need to do -- to shovel the snow so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view. Praise Jesus.

    Laura Bush: Look at the bozo that I chose to marry. Do you really think that I am smart enough to operate a shovel? Or even spell “shovel?”

    Ralph Nader: It’s corporate interests that are keeping that snow from being shoveled. I will make sure that I am photographed in front of the unshoveled snow, condemn it loudly, and then leave you to deal with the mess.

    Joe Solmonese, Director of HRC: If we get 1/8 of the snow cleared and nobody beats us to death with the shovel, I consider that a historic victory for the GLB community. Transgender people can shovel their own damn snow.