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