Monday, December 28, 2009

December piece on Gay Marriage as Gateway Institution

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

Gay Marriage as Gateway Institution

With all the ground won and lost in the battle for same-sex marriage, many among the LGBTQ community are getting riled up. And why shouldn’t they? Before the passage of Proposition 8 last November, it seemed many in our community were content with the fact that the US government granted heterosexual couples privileges not made available to anyone else. Of course there have been organizations and individuals fighting this problem for decades, but a resurgence of sorts has occurred in the last couple years—in part due to the increased popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The effectiveness of such tools has caused more young people to come out of the woodwork and utilize their networking and organizational skills like never before.

I support such efforts because I know that if the government recognized my relationship, the chances of my family recognizing it would greatly increase. If, in the eyes of the law, my partner and I had the exact same status as a heterosexual married couple, I suspect people would be less likely to stare at us on the train when we hold hands. I know too that many religious institutions would be forced to rethink their policies and question their ability to stay relevant in a changing world. So culturally, state-recognized gay marriage has the potential to make a major difference.

After same-sex marriage has been accepted, necessary cultural changes may be able to gain more public legitimacy because once you change the definition of “marriage,” you redefine “family” and eventually other terms that our government has long relied on to guide its social policies.

For example, the state should be more interested in matters of economic dependence than sexual relationships. The two seemed to coincide perfectly when it was expected that a man work to earn money and his wife stay home raising their children. This model is not accurate, and we should not be confined to old patterns—especially when they create very dangerous positions for women and children as well as LGBTQ individuals and groups. We should look at the diversity of human experience for structures that will work for all citizens.

When gay marriage arrives, it will provide privileges and benefits to gay couples as it has for straight couples, but what about single people? asexuals? the polyamorous, transgendered, and transsexuals? What about single parents and those representing familial structures many of us have yet to even recognize?

If a woman lives with her grandmother or with a life-long friend (or with both), and together they raise children and run a household, shouldn’t the government grant them the same hospital visitation and inheritance rights it grants married couples? Shouldn’t the state enable health benefits and tax relief to this family in the same way it does for families consisting of two parents and their DNA-sharing dependents? Most importantly, should the rights and privileges available to married couples even be the standard we attempt to work toward in the pursuit of civil rights?

Marriage is not a perfect institution and does not provide equal options to all citizens. It should be one option made available to those who believe in its social or religious power, but for many, marriage is not a viable option. If we believe that America should be a fair society, we must admit that marriage should not be the government’s way of playing favorites with its citizens—even if many of us would benefit from that structure.

As we continue on in the battle for civil rights for LGBTQ people, let us remember that same-sex marriage can make a huge cultural impact, but it will not ensure equality for all. There are far too many unsafe spaces for LGBTQ people (especially trans and genderqueer folks) for us to expect that the option of marriage will have brought about some kind of liberation. In addition, providing equal access to healthcare would do more for the physical needs of the LGBTQ population than gay marriage ever can.

I like to think of gay marriage as a gateway institution that will provide real help for some people, but its main function is to take the American population to another level in terms of the structures and models it can consider. As gay marriage establishes itself as a more and more acceptable institution, let’s try to keep in mind that the availability of gay marriage is a milestone in the road to real equality—not the final destination.

Erica Chu is a student at Loyola University Chicago and is seeking a PhD in English with a concentration in Women Studies and Gender Studies. She manages the blog and can be reached at

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Latest Column in Gay Chicago Magazine

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

Queers, Hate, and Videotape

A couple months ago, one of my Facebook friends commented on a video, and after noticing how many people had commented on it, I decided to see what it was all about. The video was three and a half minutes of a woman and a man exchanging insults and occasional kicks and punches. The two were having this altercation on North Halsted and weaved in and out of a crowd of about twenty bystanders who all appeared to be watching the scene with a certain amount of joy.

What is it about people fighting that is entertaining? Recently, the entire country has been in shock over a local school fight caught on camera, a fight which ultimately ended in the death of a high school student. That fight, which is gut-wrenching to watch, ended in personal tragedy for those involved, and it also represents a need for systemic change.

What is wrong with our communities, school systems, criminal justice systems, kinship groups, and sense of morality and honor, when these kinds of fights happen? And why is such a painful result necessary before such a problem is recognized as serious?

In the case of the fight I watched on Facebook, no one was injured, but the signs of a serious systemic problem are all too evident. Hate speech was invoked in reference to ethnic and racial identities as well as economic status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

One of the most striking aspects of the video is that each of the people exhibiting hate speech has likely been subjected to ridicule for their own identities. For instance, the woman who calls the man a “nigger” and some of the bystanders “white trash” and “faggots” is herself transgendered and has presumably endured ridicule from others for her identity. The man is the only person of color in the video and speaks with an accent. I would assume he has faced some amount of discrimination. Still, he exhibits misogyny when he calls the woman “fat” and “sissy,” and implies she is only after sex.

If this weren’t bad enough, the onlookers (themselves likely queer) seem to be entertained by the fight. Two people are recording it on video, many more are laughing and watching in amusement, and a few men in the crowd (who appear to be both gay and deaf) mock the entire event. If those who experience oppression because of their identity cannot restrain themselves from inflicting hate speech on others because of their identities, then we too require systemic change.

I sat on my couch watching this video and critiquing the bystanders who did nothing to stop the fight or neutralize the speech being used, but I also sat on my couch shaking my head at the derogatory language used in the video title and comments. I couldn’t do anything about the fight or speech being used on North Halsted that night, but I could have done something about the hate speech being used on Facebook. I knew I should have too, but because I didn’t want to rock the boat or upset people, I said nothing.

This is a shame. We shouldn’t wait until tragedy occurs before we’re willing to stand up and speak out for what is right. It’s only by rocking the boat in our communities, our workplaces, and our kinship groups that we will change the attitudes that will ensure safe spaces for all kinds of identities. I hope we value our own safety enough to protect the identities of others.

Erica Chu is a student at Loyola University Chicago and is seeking a PhD in English with a concentration in Women Studies and Gender Studies. She is also a member of the Gay Liberation Network and manages the blog She can be reached at

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Text of September piece on Homo Phobias

Since I can't figure out how to post a PDF file, here's an image of my article.

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

Homo Phobias

The phobias of the “homo” population are many, and I’m not talking spiders, roaches, and mice (oh my). I’m talking about the fears that really shape us, define us, and even grant us a sense of community.

Since the last time I wrote for GCM, I came out to my mother. My reasons for telling her now are complex and very specific to my cultural and religious background, my family circumstances, and my personal situation, but there is undoubtedly something general about my experience. I fear(ed) pain, rejection, change, and suffering, and this kind of fear is common to many of our coming out stories.

Even those who were never in the closet cannot deny that much of queer history has been defined by fear. Fear of death, violence, economic hardship, humiliation, rejection from religious and social institutions: fear of discrimination and suffering. These fears have shaped our history and bound us together, forcing us to provide what was denied us, causing us to boldly assert our identities, and driving us to unapologetically demand our rights.

Even today, these fears motivate our politics, sustain our activism, and we assure ourselves that the things we fear will not happen if we work hard enough to prevent them. And we’re right. . . . Fear is such a powerful motivational tool.

Unfortunately, fear can also inspire the wrong kinds of action. Homophobia motivates much of the fight against progressive policies that would protect queer citizens. I once heard a counter protester at a gay rights rally refuse to accept that he was homophobic, and that is precisely the problem.

We, on the other hand, can admit to our fears of suffering and discrimination and therefore justify our politics. The homophobic can’t. Once they identify their homophobia and fail to justify it, we’ve gained an ally. So if we want progress, we have to “help” the phobic know their phobias and force them to try to justify them. It’s an uncomfortable and labor-intensive project, but as we well know, the stakes make it well worth the effort.

In this light, are we phobic too? If homophobia is among the phobias straight America has to grapple with, what phobias must we in the gay community confront?

Transphobia exists in straight and gay communities (and just as going to a gay hairdresser does not make one exempt from homophobia, attending drag shows does not make one immune to transphobia). So what of transsexuals, the transgendered, cross dressers, and the genderqueer? And what of those of other races, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, abilities, body types, and economic statuses?

So often the word “gay” invokes an image of a white, Western-European American, able-bodied, middle-class male with no religious ties. That may be a fairly large subset, but our community is so much more diverse. The gay community has always been very liberal and open-minded, but we cannot be satisfied with the proliferation of unjustifiable phobias within our community (phobias such as racism, classism, sexism, able-bodiedism, ethnocentrism, religious intolerance, and transphobia among others).

Our fears shape and define us whether we like it our not, so we must be sure we know which fears are justifiable and which aren’t. Most importantly, we must be diligent in actively fighting against unjustifiable phobias both inside and outside our community. The stakes certainly make it worth the effort.

Erica Chu is a student at Loyola University Chicago and is seeking a PhD in English with a concentration in Women Studies and Gender Studies. She is also a member of the Gay Liberation Network and manages the blog She can be reached at

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

“Oh My God, Gross!”

This piece came out today in the August 20 issue of Gay Chicago Magazine. Here's a link to the PDF. I should clarify that the text I provide on this blog is my version and not the sometimes altered version printed in GCM. This week I got a color picture, which I'm pretty happy about. Enjoy!

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

“Oh My God, Gross!”

Over dinner, I recently heard a gay man in his late twenties seriously freak out when someone made a passing reference to a vagina. “Oh my God, gross,” “That’s disgusting,” “Ewww, nasty”: I think we’ve all heard similar reactions whether in reference to vaginas, clitorises, labia, or even feminine hygiene products. But seriously, is “Oh my God” necessary?

Vaginas are part of life for a lot of folks—many who own and love their vaginas and others who just love vaginas. Because gay men may not be in intimate community with women, it’s easy for them to fall into the trap of fearing female anatomy. Lesbians can be similarly negative about male anatomy, but our wider American culture seems much more accepting and even entertained by jokes about penises, testicles, and condoms. Just think of how many erections are represented in film or how many characters talk jokingly about their testicles.

On one level, it’s just unfair that the mention of some people’s nether regions cause disgust and terror while dicks, cocks, balls, and nut sacks are referenced constantly to no one’s shock or horror. If we freaked out every time we heard mention of any of these, there’d be a lot more people suffering from hypertension—especially in our community.

On another level, it’s sad to see queer folks of any kind falling into the same social traps that contribute to their oppression. For a long time (and it continues), being queer was thought of as shocking and gross, and queers felt ashamed, forced to hide from the world. Thankfully, we see things differently. Queer people are an oppressed minority, so we work hard to rid our culture of the attitude that gender determines who we love.

Because those with female anatomy are not a minority, it’s much easier to continue the cultural attitudes that seem to have been around forever, but we who have overcome shame in order to come out as queer should know better. In addition, there are sexual minorities among us.

Most gays, bisexuals, and lesbians seem completely oblivious to the fact that intersex people can be seen as part of the queer community and that having ambiguous sexual attributes need not cause shame. Aren’t we about rejecting society’s classifications for our bodies and our lives? We who have fought cultural expectations for what our anatomy is supposedly for should be fighting the hardest to get rid of these oppressive cultural attitudes.

No one should feel ashamed of their anatomy regardless of how foreign, shocking, or strange it may seem to others. That means we all need to recognize that if we can lightheartedly laugh about penises, we can be as accepting of vaginas and any other sexual anatomy. If we are turned on by a certain kind of anatomy, we can recognize that something smaller, bigger, or completely different is no cause for shock or judgment. You’re “Oh my God,” may very well be someone else’s “Oh, thank God.”

Erica Chu is a student at Loyola University Chicago and is seeking a PhD in English with a concentration in Women Studies and Gender Studies. She is also a member of the Gay Liberation Network and manages the blog She can be reached at

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Text of July Piece on Duct Tape

Here's the text from my piece in Gay Chicago Magazine's July 16 issue:

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

How I Learned to Love Duct Tape

It’s common knowledge that duct tape is good for just about anything, and at this past month’s Pride festivities, I witnessed it being effectively used in very diverse ways. Duct tape was holding signs in place, keeping parade floats together, attaching rainbow flags to broom sticks, and of course…covering nipples. As you may know, females who expose their nipples in public are subject to fines whereas males are free to bare their chests to the world no matter how voluptuous their breasts. Consequently, many a conservative radical has used duct tape, band-aids, or stickers to bare what they dare without risking hefty fines.

A couple weeks ago I marched with over a thousand other folks in the 2009 Chicago Dyke March, and I was proud to march alongside quite a few softly bouncing pieces of duct tape. The streets of Pilsen seemed to be lined with people pointing, and there were also several folks looking shocked as they observed the parade of queers from the curb. It was my first time participating in the event, and as much as I enjoyed the spirit of it all, not so long ago, I would have been one of the appalled onlookers.

It used to be that when I saw the duct tape-clad and dancers in their underpants, I shuddered. I thought, “These crazies are giving gay people a bad name. Just because sexual orientation is what distinguishes the straight from the gay does not mean sex should be the thing we advertise.” I, like so many others, had somehow gotten it into my head that I was normal, that I was pretty radical, and anything more radical or more risqué than me was just indecent, decadent, or unnecessary.

It’s been a long road full of questioning the things I’ve taken for granted. Sex may sometimes be advertized, but many people are just making public their personal mode of self-expression. And if that were always safely kept behind closed doors, we’d all still be in the closet, wearing collars up to our chins and gloves on all occasions.

During my few years on this road of questioning, I’ve had to constantly face the often desperate realization that I do not know as much as I think I do. It sounds simple, but living it everyday should be a goal for us all. I’m lucky to get through fifteen minutes.

Members of the queer community have had to question social rules early on, but I think we may have taken for granted how radical we are. We recognize that gender is not the determination of how and who we should love, yet we judge others who don’t live up to the gender norms we’ve accepted. We snicker when we see people dressed in ways that don’t match what we think are acceptable. We belittle others when they do things we don’t understand or say nothing when someone else does.

As a community, we’re off the mark, but as individuals who have been forced to question so much in the pursuit of honestly expressing ourselves, we have incredible potential to make our community more inclusive and just.

You will not be seeing me in duct tape any time soon, but I cheer on those who proudly wear it. They are representing themselves, pushing social boundaries, and refusing to allow an idea of someone else to represent them. I hope that in our own ways we each try to do the same—with or without the aid of duct tape.

Erica Chu is a student at Loyola University Chicago and is seeking a PhD in English with a concentration in Women Studies and Gender Studies. She is also a member of the Gay Liberation Network and manages the blog She can be reached at

Text of June Piece on Lables

Because Gay Chicago Magazine hasn't made a non-PDF version of my pieces available online, I've decided to start making them available here (for all my nonexistent readers!).

Here's my piece from the June 11th issue:

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

Do the Labels Matter?

In this age of transgressing boundaries and an ever-growing list of distinct identities, it’s not surprising that our community finds it difficult to name itself. The gay community? Gay and Lesbian? GLBT? LGBT? LGBTQ? Queer? The problem of course is that our community is really a collection of communities. LGBT is one of the most popular because it represents those who experience same-gender desire and those who are transgendered. Placing the L before the G also recognizes the traditional devaluing of women in the movement and gestures toward correcting that problem.

Personally, I prefer queer because it is a term that can be used to reference those who express sexual orientations and gender identities that are not traditional, but the term is loose. If I say I’m queer, the person I’m speaking to may wonder if I’m a lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (among many other possibilities) but identifying as queer allows me to express a political identity without having to offer personal information.

While it’s true that asserting specific identities is one of the first steps toward political and social equality, there is something very freeing about not being bogged down by specific labels like lesbian, transsexual, etc. Because really, whose business is it anyway? It’s mine and my potential partner’s.

For me, the same goes for race and ethnicity. All my life I’ve been constantly faced with the question, “What’s your background?” To which I try with no small amount of effort to treat with politeness. What I really want to say is, “What possible reason do you have for needing to know?” And what possible reason does anyone have for needing to know anyone else’s sexual and gender identities?

So they can appease their curiosity and stick us in a category in their minds? Probably. I do the same thing, and I’m sure you’ve had your moments as well. But what I want to suggest is this: if the only reason we name our identities is to appease someone else’s curiosity, than we should stop. And if by broadening the word we use to identify ourselves strengthens our community, then maybe we should consider switching to “queer.”

I’m not saying we all have to identify as queer, but if we really tried to see ourselves as part of a coalition of many identities, we’d be much more willing to stand up and speak out on behalf of those we never before thought of as part of “us.” And heaven knows “we” need as much help as “we” can get.

Erica Chu is a student at Loyola University Chicago and is seeking a PhD in English with a concentration in Women Studies and Gender Studies. She is also a member of the Gay Liberation Network and manages the blog She can be reached at

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How I Learned to Love Duct Tape

Here's the link to the PDF of my new piece in the Gay Chicago Magazine (see page 12). It's mistitled "How I Learned to Use Duct Tape" though unfortunately the only way I use it is for conventional purposes.

It talks about my experience as a conservative learning to embrace what I didn't understand.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Do the Labels Matter?

My short piece "Do the Labels Matter?" is in the Gay Chicago Magazine this week (June 11, 2009). Because I'm being considered for a monthly column (called "Feminist Thoughts"), they haven't given me a section for the online version; therefore, I can't link to it. But since it would only be there for this week, you might as well look at the PDF. I'm on page 11.

Things I would add? "Queer" does have a history of being an epithet, but it also means different. What's wrong with being different?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who I Am

My name is Erica Chu, and I am a graduate student at Loyola University Chicago seeking a PhD in English and a concentration in Women Studies and Gender Studies. My subject areas are contemporary literature of the Americas, postcolonial literature, and feminist and gender theory, and I have taught College Writing and Women in Literature at Loyola. I received my MA from Loyola in 2007 and my BA in English (with a minor in International Studies) from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2006. I also received an Associates Degree in Missions from Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri in 2002.

I am a former military brat and have lived all over. I write poetry from time to time, love to watch movies, and dabble at guitar and djembe. I am also dying to learn violin.

I attend Broadway United Methodist Church, am a big fan of welcoming churches, and love Jesus like mad.