Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Double Take on Civil Unions

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Double Take on Civil Unions

Because of the tremendous efforts of activist organizations and concerned citizens, civil unions are finally going to be available for same-sex couples in Illinois.  This is great news, but there are also other sides to the story.  Below I’ve listed three of the big reasons we should celebrate the passing of the civil unions bill followed by some thoughts on what else we might consider as we move forward.

1. The passing of the civil unions bill is a sign that social attitudes are changing.  It’s only been 7 years since gay sex has been legal nationwide.  Since then, the nation has undergone a major change in its attitudes toward gays and lesbians.  Passing laws that protect same-sex couples in the same way different-sex couples are protected sends a message to American society that such unfairness is unacceptable.

Of course the era of equality and tranquility will not arrive when the new law takes effect.  It’s easy to assume all of Illinois is progressive when we’re in our accepting work environments, when we eat and shop in neighborhoods like Andersonville and Lakeview, or when our families have become more supportive over the years.  Yet not everyone is surrounded by such affirmation. 

Though progress is surely on the way, even with civil unions, it’s not here yet.  We have to keep coming out and staying proud, protesting bigotry wherever we find it, challenging ignorance even among those we love, and we must keep giving to organizations that work to support our most vulnerable LGBTQAI members.  Social attitudes are changing, but not everyone experiences relative freedom.  We have to keep working to benefit our entire community.

2. People can now benefit from the rights and privileges civil unions ensure.  For many couples, civil unions will allow families to make medical and legal decisions as well as share benefits and property more easily, more reliably, and with less expense.  On the one hand, I’m happy this method is now available.  It’s simply unfair that different-sex couples have this process available to them while others don’t. 

On the other hand, if I want my sister to make all my medical decisions or a close friend to be in charge of my assets should I become incapacitated, I’d have to hire a lawyer, pay a lot of fees, and keep my documents up to date.  If our friend MJ were to move in with T and I, she couldn’t be added to my health insurance plan no matter what I pay a lawyer, and why not?  The government is only interested in my romantic relationships (only one at a time at that), and my relationship is a central factor in my ability to obtain medical coverage, to share or leave property, and to designate who should make decisions for me.

Should the right to decent healthcare be determined by relationship status? Why should the government favor one kind of family structure over others?  Shouldn’t a wide variety of kinship structures be valued?  It’s inconvenient that legal protections cost so much and are so difficult to obtain, but why should romantically involved couples (gay or straight) have access to a major advantage while others aren’t?  A much fairer system would value the individual no matter what kinship structure is chosen.

3. Civil unions are a step toward full equality.  Civil unions are not recognized in all other states or by the federal government, but as more and more states work toward civil unions and ultimately civil marriage, the chances for federal recognition and protection increase. 

Marriage is a useful pathway to justice, but it’s my hope that the fight for gay marriage causes state and federal governments to lose interest in the romantic relationships of their citizens.  Non-traditional familial structures in all their diversity should have the same access to legal benefits as straight couples.  State and federal governments should focus on the individual’s ability to easily, inexpensively, and reliably make and share decisions about their life and property with whomever they choose—regardless of romantic relationships.

As many among us look forward to planning our civil union ceremonies, let’s remember that just because we might taste a bit of justice, these new laws don't actually benefit all.  Equality would allow all citizens the same rights no matter what sexual orientation, kinship structure, or chosen life.  Let’s keep taking step after step because the road to justice is long indeed.

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

Of Cereal Boxes and Kinship

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Of Cereal Boxes and Kinship

My last article spoke about dealing with families during the holiday season, and now might be a good opportunity to raise the issue of kinship—especially the queer variety. 

We’re used to the idea of family—our parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts, and all the rest—but family can certainly extend beyond the biological or legal.  These traditional structures are the families that get pasted onto billboards and into television shows, movies, and commercials.  Even cereal comes in “family sized” boxes.  As ridiculous as such a marketing tool is (buying in bulk doesn’t have to say anything about your kinship structures!), I think a cereal box is a good image for understanding what family and kinship are and can be.

I recently bought a “family size” box of Cheerios.  I normally eat a bowl every morning, but my partner T helps herself to a handful or two every now and then.  The box is still sitting in my cupboard half-full, and I wonder who will consume the rest of it.  Maybe MJ will come over, maybe Jack, and if they’re hungry, I’ll offer them whatever I have.  When Isis stays over, she’ll certainly have some.  These folks are part of my life, and it’s easy to share my life with them—cereal included.  Even though I would share cereal with my parents, sisters, or cousins, I probably won’t since they aren’t often nearby. 

A “family-sized” box of cereal is just as likely to be eaten by a husband, a wife, and their kids as it is to be eaten by T, me, and our friends.  I’m also more likely to share my cereal with friends than with biological family.  In the same way, kinship is a complex structure that is more than just the images of family that society encourages us to accept. 

We in the LGBTQAI community have become accustomed to stories of family estrangement and the need for chosen family.  We plug ourselves into social networks, political and service organizations, and community groups, but do we ever really consider these friends our family?  If we really stop to consider who is important and why, we may discover that our kinship structures are a lot more complex than we thought.

Romantic relationships are similarly complex.  Socially, we’ve been taught to accept a husband and a wife as normal.  We fight to have same-sex relationships recognized, but are we guilty of being less accepting of other kinship structures?  A mom, dad, and some kids are a family.  So two dads or two moms and some kids are a family too.  But what about two moms and a dad, or two dads and a mom?  What about single parents, variantly gendered parents, couples who don’t have or want children?  What about individuals who are permanently single?  What about polyamorous configurations in all their diversity? 

The lesson we should learn from the difficulty in gaining recognition for same-sex couples is that kinship is as diverse as the people who comprise them, and the structures that work for some do not necessarily work for others. 

Perhaps “family” will never lose its biological and legal context, but there is a certain warmth in the word.  I hope you cherish your kinship relationships in whatever form they come.  I hope too we do more than tolerate alternative structures and affirm them just as we wish ours to be affirmed.

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

Dealing with Family and Keeping Sane over the Holidays

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Dealing with Family and Keeping Sane over the Holidays

It may not seem like it quite yet, but the holidays are quickly approaching: Christmas music is playing in stores, Starbucks has red wintery cups, and our coveted vacation days are fast approaching.  Whatever holidays we observe, his time of year is supposed to be happy and wonderful, but more often then not, it ends up too busy and extremely stressful.  Holiday pressure only becomes more complicated when we have to consider our families and the expectations they have for us. 

Happiness seems far away when all we want is acceptance, but for many of us LGBTQAIs, mothers cry, fathers disapprove, siblings say terrible things, and grandmothers refuse to talk about it.  Family gatherings are often pressure-filled opportunities for us to feel strange, unloved, and pushed back into a closet.  Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but bear it, but that means being good to yourself is all the more important.  To help us as we enter this holiday season, I have four reminders for we who scurry around trying to please family and keep sane.

Don’t be afraid to say no.  My grandma never liked Christmas, and when my uncle died one December, Christmas became even more difficult for her.  For the sake of children and grandchildren, she has bravely endured the holidays year after year, but I know she’d rather skip the whole thing and stay home reading a book.  I admire her devotion, but at some point, you’ve got to just say no.

Sometimes, you just can’t not show up for the holiday gathering, but don’t let your feelings get swept under the rug.  Every year, people try to get my grandma interested in shopping, watching holiday specials, or cooking special foods, but she says no.  She brought a ten-dollar bill for each kid, a frozen apple pie, and her books, so we leave her in peace to read.  Like her, you may need to make room for yourself in the social systems your family creates.  So tell your mom you’re bringing your boyfriend for dinner.  Tell your dad you’re playing by his rules this year, but next year will be different.  Tell your nieces and nephews you love them dearly, but you hate the sugar cookie tradition and this year you’re bringing Oreos.

Savor time with your chosen family. Many in my family disapprove of “my lifestyle,” and when I’m with them, I feel out of sorts and not myself.  When my chosen family gets together though, whether at a restaurant or someone’s house, I feel just fine.  We love each other, support each other, sometimes get on each other’s nerves, but mostly just enjoy each other’s company.  Because these relationships are so fun and often easy, when it gets busy we tend to push them down on our priority lists, but even when you have more social obligations than time, remember your chosen family.  You need them just as much as they need you.

Be nice to your given family.
  When family is unsupportive or just plain stubborn, we wish we could just forget them.  I think it’s worth considering whether or not your birth family should play a significant role in your current life, but no matter what you do, remember to be kind.  Make decisions that are good for you and fair to them, but even when your family is dead wrong, the pain they feel is very real.  Demonstrating kindness during difficult times is never the wrong move.

Give where it makes a difference.  Be good to yourself, make decisions that are good for your mental health (and your credit score!), but remember there are a lot of people suffering in this city.  It’s good to be reminded what they’re going through and help where you can.  Your aunt may never come around to appreciating what you have to offer, so trying to impress her with your green bean casserole may just be a frustrating waste.  The folks down at North Shore Housing and Support Services, however, would love a good casserole.  When you use your resources to serve those who actually appreciate it, everyone wins.

You deserve sanity (and happiness too).  The holidays are hard, and family even harder, but be good to yourself, and you’ll make it through.  You might even find a little happiness along the way.

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

Community (Not the TV Show)

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Community (Not the TV Show)

The past few months I’ve been in hiding.  Several major projects have been demanding my attention, but locking myself away from the eyes of people I know has also been rather empowering because it’s freed me to consider myself and my possibilities apart from the people I’m usually close to.  It may seem like a sad and cold existence, but there are times in every person’s life when solitude is useful, comforting, and empowering.

It is comforting, and as much as I’ve tried to make use of these months alone, lately I’ve been reminded how important being a part of a community is even if my immersion in it only happens in waves. 

I saw a friend yesterday, a person I love dearly but hadn’t seen in a while.  He was struggling, and I reached out to him.  I’m not silly enough to think I solved any of his problems, but opening ourselves up to each other and sharing hugs between tears  meant something—to him and to me—and it means something still.  We both left somehow changed even if it was all confusing.

It’s hard to figure out exactly what that moment meant, and the general meaning of community is similarly elusive.  All I know is there are hurting people in every social circles we navigate through each day, and it’s a damn shame if we regularly hide from those with whom we could form real bonds. 

I love the term “fellowship.”  It makes me hungry actually because in my growing up years, fellowship meant there would be food.  The truth of the matter is that when there’s food, people tend to let their guards down, let go of their private thoughts, and start acting like family.  Fellowship can even be a kind of meal: we feed each other with our words and our support.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we all go out into the world trying to feed everyone with our great wisdom and experience.  We may indeed have something to share, but when I sat down with my friend the yesterday, I felt community most intensely when I wasn’t saying a word.  I felt incredibly close to him when my mouth was shut and when my whole heart and body was in tune with what he was saying and feeling.  His pain was heavy, and by sharing it with him for just a moment, I felt its weight.

Community is not just a fun television show, and fellowship is not always a carefree meal.  Both require a willingness to suffer, a commitment to learn, and an acceptance of ambiguity.  I will never know what it means to feel the pain my friend is feeling, and to presume I know would only hurt him more.  Being in community means opening ourselves up to learning what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes and feeling their pain with them. 

Of course it also means celebrating the good things and trying to find solutions for the bad, but it seems the most ignored aspects of being in community are the moments we let go of our self interests and focus on the joys and pain that someone else is feeling.

We can also extend this discussion to larger groups.  For example, when gay men on the north side of Chicago spend time among themselves, they gain a sense of comfort and empowerment, but if they were to consistently isolate themselves from other groups, they would lose the potential for being in community with lesbians, bisexual men and women, queer and trans people, and the whole spectrum of LGBTQAI identities, ethnicities, abilities, and backgrounds. 

Queer homeless youth in Boystown are harassed by police on a regular basis.  You don’t have to be homeless, trans, or 16 to feel something with these young people or to find and listen to their stories.  You may not know what it all means, but feeling sorry for them only further separates you from them.  Being in community means listening to them, feeling their joys and pain with them, and struggling with what it all means.

Whether you sit over coffee comforting a friend or sit at your computer reading about the experiences of homeless youth, community is a powerful thing.  It’s sometimes heavy, but even though I puzzle over its meaning, I guarantee community is transformational.

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

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Coming “Out”

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Coming “Out”

October 11th was National Coming Out Day. Most people I meet know I’m not straight, but here’s my confession: I haven’t told anyone I’m genderqueer.

Well, there you go. Maybe you don’t even know what that is, and for now, I’ll just say it’s a kind of transgender identity. My heart’s racing even as I write this—I’m new to saying it to myself let alone others, and I also hesitate to commit to a label. It makes me nervous to come out in public, but I’m putting myself through this exercise because lately it’s become all too apparent that LGBTQAIs need to know they’re not alone.

In the past several weeks, seven young people have committed suicide, and all seven were being harassed because they were gay. Reading what little is available about their lives and deaths is heartbreaking and has left me wondering what I can do. Many have participated in vigils, suicide prevention events, and have promoted organizations like the Trevor Project. Others, like Dan Savage, have turned to internet forums like YouTube to share stories about how we can make it through the hard times.

Gender identity and sexual orientation are sensitive areas for many children, teens, and adults, but there are as many sites of conflict as there are kinds of people and types of personal expression. People are discriminated against and sometimes taunted everyday on the basis of things like economic status, clothes, body size, accent, language, ethnicity, disability, hobbies, interests, and so much more.

I can attest to the fact that it’s been hard. I was told repeatedly that I was not feminine enough. I was mocked, called names, and spit on because I was too quiet, not white enough, and not “American” enough. I was made to feel ashamed because I didn’t weigh the same and dress the same as everybody else. As an adult I often face derogatory comments, unfair treatment, and judgmental attitudes from strangers, peers, and even family. I’ve been depressed. I’ve considered suicide.

Though mine is a common story, it shouldn’t be; children should not expect to go through this and worse. The adage “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” fails to account for the many who die despite their strength. In the past few weeks, seven people died because the world treated them like they weren’t wanted. Whether it’s because people think they’re too fat, too brown, too loud, or too gay, this is unacceptable.

We tend think of ourselves as underdogs because as LGBTQAIs we’re a minority class. We watch Glee and think that because we root for the unpopular kids we’re safe people, but bullying doesn’t end when we’re not in school anymore. Office gossip, email, Facebook, texting, and blogs like People of Walmart give people of all ages the opportunity to judge, belittle, and devalue individuals and types of people. The sad thing is we’re rewarded when we log in, giggle, and pass it on: we assert our membership in the “in” crowd.

Being a part of the “in” crowd isn’t worth it. We’re not in high school anymore, and it wasn’t even cool then.

Gloria AnzaldĂșa writes about el mundo zurdo—the left-handed world—which is home to all the queers, misfits, and outsiders the “in” crowd rejects. Being a part of this kind of outsider community is difficult because everyone is so different, but what can hold it together is the knowledge that the “in” crowd isn’t always right. It’s an easy thing to forget—especially when it seems so natural to make fun, to laugh, or to say nothing when someone reveals their judgmental attitudes.

Being LGBTQAI is one thing, but to come out as an ally to all kinds of misfits and rejects is about practicing justice and doing good more than claiming a label. Being a member of the “out” group means being a safe person and making every environment you’re in a safe space.

So let’s go ahead and come out, tell our stories, and remind others that they’re not alone. Things will get better, and life does get more manageable. The world can even get more welcoming…one person at a time.

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

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My “Dorky” Identity

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

My “Dorky” Identity

Little known fact: I’m a huge dork. Actually, that’s been a fairly consistent aspect of my being for as long as anyone has known me. For Halloween one year, I dressed up as a super-hero version of myself named Super Chu. I made a chest logo with puff paint, an elaborate utility belt equipped with a banana gun, and even attached a cape that the night before had served as my bed sheet. Then I insisted on wearing it all to school. Did I mention I was 16 at the time?

Of course these dorky tendencies had begun much earlier in life. At seven, I could not stop telling (and laughing about) unfunny knock-knock jokes; at ten, I sang Christmas carols to my dogs. One day when I was eleven, I was told to fold the laundry. My mother, a well-endowed and curvy lady, was quite surprised when twenty minutes later I came into the living room modeling her underwear and bra, both of which were stuffed with an assortment of clean (but unfolded) whites. A chic pair of violet suspenders brought some unity to the whole ensemble.

I could describe a large array of past dorky behavior, but there is an actual point in all of this reminiscing: my identity was not self-evident. I did not come out of the womb and into the world with the letters “D-O-R-K” tattooed on my skin and its Webster’s definition applied to my life. When I walked into school on October 31, 1997, I was labeled “dork” not because my appearance and behavior were inherently dorky. I was given that label by classmates who recognized some aspect of how I appeared and connected it with a pattern they had come to associate with words like “dork” or maybe “nerd” and “weirdo.”

What does “dork” even mean? It’s just a string of letters, some vibrations in your throat that sound a certain way. This and every word has a certain etymological history which shapes its use, but language is a living, vibrant, and changeable structure. Words come to mean different things over time and across contexts. What is dorky today may mean something entirely different ten years from now.

In this case, the word is “dork,” but in other cases the words may be “woman,” “gay,” “trans,” “Asian,” “disabled,” “queer,” or any other variety of identity categories. Every word is relational—the person being called “dork” or “gay” may claim that identity or refuse it or be indifferent about how others think of them.

The point I want to make is that identities come in a lot of different forms, and everyone probably claims multiple identities on the basis of things like race, gender, sexual orientation, maybe even occupation, sports affiliation, or hobbies. And just as every person is different, so does each person experience identities in different ways. Some people are born being called male and claim maleness and socially defined masculinity as an identity and a value. Other male-assigned people may decide to adopt traditionally feminine interests and attributes but still claim and assert masculinity in those settings. Still other people assigned male at birth may refuse to accept that identity and permanently claim a female identity or some other very personal mixture of what we commonly associate with masculinity and femininity.

The same may be true for other identities. Words are just words, and the meaning changes constantly. We may be forced to confront the words and meanings others like to assign to us, but it’s important that we as individuals name ourselves and make choices about how we want to live and be in this world.

I may have been called a dork from a young age, but I do not need to accept the whole identity. Today I claim a bit of that dorkiness, but tomorrow I may refuse to be called one.

I sent a text to T today that ended in “(smmoooch!).” When she reads it, she will probably think “Wow, I’m partnered to such a dork,” but if she doesn’t also smile and feel loved, she probably doesn’t know me very well.

I can change. I can stay the same. I can attempt to control how those close to me perceive me and maybe work to make society see me in a certain way too. Yet even when no one understands, I name myself, and I negotiate my own identities.

There are some who say “I was born this way” and feel it very strongly. I tend to think yes, you were born a certain way, but the words that people use—whether good or bad—shape how we understand ourselves.

Is there a binary or spectrum for dork to cool, gay to straight, or female to male? Frankly, it doesn’t matter. You be you or some version of yourself. Let those around you be their version of themselves. All the rest is just words.

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

Little Things

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Little Things

It’s the Sunday night before Labor Day. My partner and I walk down the stairs of the el station after enjoying a dinner out. Inwardly, I groan when I see how crowded the platform is; I had thought the crowds would have thinned by ten. At the bottom of the stairs, my eyes are immediately assaulted by the sight of a young straight couple locked in slobbery embrace despite the dozens of people standing in very close proximity. I look to my left, and another couple is standing close by, kissing every few seconds, the man’s hands resting inside the woman’s back pocket. I mutter a bit too loudly, “What the fuck.”

I’m disgusted by their blatant heterosexual privilege. I’m probably jealous too because when T and I hold hands, or give a peck on the cheek, we’re stared at, judged, spoken of like freaks, called out to, or worse. Mostly, I’m angry at the crowd because no one is batting an eye. If I did something similar, all hell would break loose, but this scene on the platform is normal?

T gives me mean looks. She gets annoyed when I let myself get upset over little things.

Two trains later, we finally get enough nerve to squeeze ourselves into a car, and after several stops, there’s a little room to breathe. Eventually we find seats. All the passengers seem exhausted after being packed sardine-style for so long, and everyone is quiet. Everyone but one guy, who breaks the silence to very loudly hit on a girl. The girl is being more than polite, but she’s not interested. T seems embarrassed for them both. I roll my eyes.

As the train car moves further and further north, a murmur of chatter begins again. Suddenly a loud voice says in ultra-stereotyped feminine ditziness, “Show me, I want to see everything!” A young woman is carrying on wildly with a guy who I had noted earlier was alone and looking very drunk. I am beyond annoyed. Is this what it means to have a “normal” sexual orientation and gender identity? If so, I’m thanking the Lord I’m as queer as they come.

Still, what if some guy tried hitting on another guy? The whole car would be staring and whispering disapprovingly. Some jerk might even start something.

As T and I breathe fresh air on the sidewalk leading home, I grumble about “damn breeders,” and T tells me how one of her students asked about whether gay people can oppress straight people. The student had been called a breeder and been made to feel unwelcome. T told her class that in order to oppress, one has to have power, and though this student had obviously been treated rudely, it takes the misuse of power to produce oppression.

Had we really been oppressed that night? Well, we’d certainly avoided a lot out of a desire to prevent problems. T and I held hands on the street, but not on the platform. We kissed briefly in the restaurant, but not when very many people were around. I had thought of wearing a tie but decided I’d rather not deal with any unwanted attention. Maybe we were being overly cautious, but most of these decisions were made unconsciously. The bottom line is that the anticipation of negative attention should not be as commonplace as it is.

So, yes, we had been oppressed in a way. Still, I had not really felt oppressed, just upset and annoyed by the little things. The people I got annoyed with didn’t realize they made me feel like an outsider. Everyone was just doing their thing, and for the most part, there’s nothing wrong with that. My anger was a little misplaced. The problem is not straight couples but a social system that encourages everyone to accept some behaviors as “normal” and others as not.

Am I powerless? No. In many ways, I have more power than a lot of the people on that train, and that means I have the responsibility to try to keep myself from making others feel like freaks. But how often have I judged a person based on their appearance? How many times have I thought I knew better when I didn’t even fully understand the situation? How often have I made assumptions about someone based on a stereotype?

Yes, we as a community face oppression, but we are often in a position to misuse what power we have and thereby oppress others. We may not even know we’re making anyone feel like an outsider, so let’s be tireless in learning about our own privilege and fighting against social tendencies that mark some folks as “normal” and others not. It’s little things that need to change, but it will take more than a little effort. I think we’re up for the task.

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

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Title and a Little Queer Reflection

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

New Title and a Little Queer Reflection

After over a year of running this column under the title Feminist Thoughts, I’ve decided to switch it up a little and offer more of an accessible title for all the people who think feminists are just hairy-legged, bra-burning lesbians. (But for the record, though I do have hairy legs and am not currently wearing a bra, if my partner T were a man, transman, bi-, pan-, omni-, or ungendered person, I’d totally be into her/him/hir).

My first article for Gay Chicago Magazine addressed the word “queer,” and since my blog and new column title are both Keeping It Queer, I think it’s fitting we return once again to that term.

A lot of people are offended by the word “queer,” and I don’t blame them. If someone goes around menacingly calling you ugly, it isn’t pleasant when one of your supposed friends calls themself or others ugly. If for you the word queer is tinged with accusations, shame, and pain, I’m sorry. Try though if you can to understand how and why others may choose to reappropriate and use that word.

In its original contexts, “queer” just means different, strange, eccentric, maybe even suspect. It later acquired more negative connotations, leading eventually to its perhaps familiar usage as a derogatory term for homosexuals. My question, and the question a lot of people are asking is What’s wrong with being different, strange, and maybe even suspect?

In this world, gender variant and same gender loving people are despised, and when they are tolerated, they are expected to at least stay out of the way and act as much like straight people as possible. In recent years there has been so much attention on topics like gay marriage and adoption by monogamous gay couples that other kinship structures are ignored and often criticized. LGBT people are normal—that recognition is what we’re fighting for, right?

Choosing to be known as different or strange and aligning oneself with what is suspect is a way of trying to resist the social structures that mark some people as inside the norm and others outside. If all respectable people have good table manners, claiming to be different/strange/suspect means showing up at the table making use of your elbow patches and chewing with your mouth wide open.

In my first article in Gay Chicago Magazine, I used “queer” as an umbrella term for LGBTQAI identities. Over the course of my time writing this column, though, I’ve realized I was wrong.

Queer has so much of its own specific cultural and political meaning. People who identify as queer (not as say “gay” or “bisexual”) tend to understand themselves as relating to a community quite a bit smaller than the larger LGBTQAI crowd. Queer-identified folks tend to spend more time with trans and gender variant folks and many from those subsets consider themselves queer. There are specifically queer dance parties, social groups, blogs, zines, discussion groups, artistic collectives, political organizations and more.

When I identify as queer, I like that saying “I’m queer” allows me the ability to identify the group of people I share political and social kinship with but also the freedom to name myself with as much or little detail as I feel comfortable sharing. I’ve quickly found that to use “queer” as an umbrella term is as insufficient as calling the LGBTQAI-and-all-the-rest community “gay.” It often gets the meaning across, but it’s not really accurate.

I hope to keep the title Keeping It Queer longer than I did Feminist Thoughts. Though I’ll still be writing feminist articles, I write for the unity and encouragement of the LGBTQAI community as a whole and from a distinctly queer perspective. From what I can tell, there isn’t a thing wrong with being different, strange, or eccentric, and if aligning oneself with the suspect can help other disenfranchised folks find commonalities with our communities, well, I hope you too will lend a hand in keeping it queer.

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

Misperceptions and the Media

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Misperceptions and the Media

How often are there big-name actors playing gay roles in movies you can see at any major theater franchise in the country? Well, there was Philadelphia (1993), Brokeback Mountain (2005), and Milk (2008)—all receiving incredible box office success and at least two Oscars each. And movies about gay women? Well, there are fewer to choose from, and even fewer portraying the lives of transgendered or queer people (notable among these are Boys Don’t Cry and Transamerica).

Into this relative void of sympathetic representations of lesbian life comes Lisa Cholodenko’s new film The Kids Are All Right, which has been getting a lot of attention in part because the lead actors are incredibly famous and talented. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening play a partnered couple who have two teenage children.

This past week, my partner and I decided to go check out this movie even though up to that point we’d heard nothing about it. I was prepared to like the film, and as I settled into the characters, story, and plot, I became more and more disappointed. (Spoiler Alert—in what follows I will mention some of the important plot elements). The disappointments I just can’t get over are:

1 – Despite their acting talent, the version of intimacy this film produces looks very much like two strangers putting their arms around each other in desperate attempts to convince the audience they could have lived in the same house for twenty years.
2 – The couple’s son asks if they thought he was gay. They both reply “Of course not!” as if being gay were a completely unnatural thing that no good mother would ever suspect their child of.
3 – When Moore’s character makes the unfortunate choice to cheat on her partner with a man, she looks at his penis like she’s been pining away her whole life in distressing need of what only a male’s genitals can offer.
4 – There are three characters in the film who aren’t white. Each one is a canned stereotype (lazy manual laboring Latino, exotic and sensuous racially mixed woman, and nerdy and passive Asian American male), and each is casually used and abruptly dismissed by one of the white main characters.

What bothers me so much is not that these things happened in a film that I was watching but that they happened in a film that everyone is raving about. Yes, I was thoroughly impressed with quite a few aspects of the film. Yet as the lights turned on and all the upper middle-class white heterosexual couples started jabbering about how this was such a powerful film and how Moore and Bening should both win Oscars, I started to feel a little queasy. All these people were fooled into believing this film depicts life as lived by lesbians—even a pair of very messed up ones. And it seemed to me that the audience was congratulating themselves on having such progressive views. Of course they don’t mean lesbians and racial minorities any harm, but limited and skewed assumptions do harm against individuals and communities every day.

As a queer woman of color, it’s disturbing that their view of our lives could be so inaccurate and even offensive. It makes me angry. It hurts. It gives others leeway to render me invisible.

It would be easy to just throw up my hands, spit complaints of fire, and go on, but this whole situation also makes me a little terrified about my own views. What do I quietly congratulate myself for? How do I know that my thoughts about particular kinds of people aren’t canned images thrown at me so frequently that I accept them as reality?

Confronting our cultural views with suspicion is one of the most difficult things we can do, but it’s necessary if we are going to see the world for what it really is and if we’re going to work toward any kind of justice. I hope movies, television, and the media at large make us angry sometimes, but let’s not lose sight of where that momentum can take us. We who’ve been misperceived also have may be guilty of similar crimes.

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

Are You A Closet Feminist?

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

Are You A Closet Feminist?

I’m contemplating changing the name of this column because I’m afraid the “Feminist” bit might seem a little scary to some and too specific to others. Before I do though, I better take the opportunity to talk about what all these hairy-legged, bra-burning radicals have to offer.

First off, the stereotype isn’t really accurate (unfortunately perhaps), but in mainstream culture there definitely is a sense that feminists are overzealous women on the fringe of sane society. We who move among the LGBTQAI crowd know a little better, but let’s be honest, even in our community feminists have a bad rap. With the label comes the image of an ultra sensitive bitchy woman unwilling to enjoy conversation that is not critical of everyone and everything.

Well, let’s just put away the vicious stereotypes—I think we can all understand that when you’re in a heterosexist or sexist world, sometimes you have to go ahead and say the unpopular thing. We could go ahead and actually look at what feminists believe, but it’s easier said than done because “feminism” is a term claimed by many many different types of people.

Some organizations have longstanding reputations for setting standards about what feminism is, and they tend to say that feminism stands for abortion rights or the protection of women from a prominent rape culture. Some say feminists value and celebrate womanhood or they work for female empowerment. This group may look to conservative figures like Elizabeth Dole or Sarah Palin for examples of positive feminist models. How are we supposed to know who’s right, and who’s wrong?

Some feminists are content to say feminism is a term in flux, so we shouldn’t try to pin it down. They may have a point, but I’ve found bell hooks very helpful on this front. She says we need a clear definition because there must be a goal we work toward. According to hooks, “Feminism is the struggle to end sexist oppression,” and feminists ought not value women over men or any specific race or class over another. Sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, homophobia, cisexualism, and transphobia are all matters central to this definition of feminism.

In this light, Dole and Palin may be interesting female figures, but they are no feminists. Some organizations invoking their status as feminist are only operating in partial support of feminism since they may focus on issues specific to only a certain class and perhaps religious and ethnic background as well. Significantly, these organizations deal almost exclusively with issues specific to heterosexual cisgendered women (heterosexual women assigned female at birth).

Even some LGBT rights organizations only partially fulfill a feminist mission because they cater to the majority of LGBT people (that is, GLBs). These organizations focus on immediate success even if it’s at the cost of fairness. Take for example the issue of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which for years only took up the issue of sexual orientation because it was more likely to pass in a form that excluded the needs of transpeople. In other situations, the focus on predominant groups (such as white GLBs) puts ethnic and gender minorities at risk especially when public funds and private donations are scarce.

To be feminist is to do so much more than complain that men are called bachelors and women spinsters. Feminism may be that too, but it also deals with issues the LGBTQAI community holds very dear: human rights, safety, respect, equal protection under the law, justice, and changing the world.

Feminism has the potential to transform the lives of every person, so even though being a “feminist” seems to have negative stereotypes attached, don’t be afraid to speak and act with confidence against sexist oppression. You don’t have to claim the name “feminist.” The important thing is to be someone who supports and advocates feminism.

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

Monday, July 19, 2010

Queer/Trans 101

The following is a handout I prepared for a workshop at Broadway United Methodist Church. The workshop was an introduction to Queer and Trans issues. Other workshops in the series specifically addressed sexism and racism. Because we weren't able to have a workshop specially dedicated to disability and body image, I also included a brief disability keywords section at the end. The handout is not comprehensive, and definitions may be simplified and un-nuanced, but for a very general audience, this information may be very useful.

Education Hour, Broadway UMC, June 20, 2010

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Col 3:28

Introduction to Trans and Queer Identities

Gender: In common usage, “gender” is typically used interchangeably with “sex” and is used to refer to the condition of being either a man or a woman. In more specific conversations, the term refers to a wide range of behaviors, social roles, and identities. For example, gender can be used to describe large categories like “men” and “women” as well as gendered roles among men or women (such as “femme,” “butch,” “top,” and “bottom”). Gender is also used to describe cultural or personal practices that are perceived as “masculine” or “feminine” (such as wearing makeup or sitting with your legs far apart).

Most scholars emphasize that gender roles are socially constructed: For instance, in the US men typically do not wear dresses while women are encouraged to. It’s not that wearing a dress is more natural or right for women; rather American boys are taught by their families and schools that dresses are inappropriate attire for boys, and the rest of American media and culture support and enforce that view.

Sex: The condition of being male or female. These categories have traditionally been determined by the presence or absence of a combination of factors including: penis, vagina, testes, ovaries, uterus, levels of testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, and X and Y chromosomes.

Many scholars argue that sex is also socially constructed. They ask if the definitions of male vs. female stable are over time, and whether these definitions are adequate. For example: If a “man” has a penis and testes but is unable to produce sperm, is he male? If a “woman” goes through menopause and takes estrogen and progesterone therapy, is she still female? If a child is born with neither a recognizable penis nor vagina, what sex is the child? If a “woman” with breasts, functioning ovaries and uterus takes a gender test and is found to have chromosomes other than XX, is she female?

Intersex: A person born with genitals that medical professionals consider ambiguous or a person with genetic information that results in uneasy or impossible classification within the XX or XY binary is an intersex person or person with intersex. Because our culture so highly values sex/gender, in most countries intersex is medically classified as a disease whose treatment is surgery typically performed on babies followed by hormone treatments at puberty. Parents are typically uninformed about any other options. Very often, babies with intersex are categorized as female because doctors find it simpler to shape a clitoris than a penis. The medical community typically believes that it’s better to cut an intersex baby’s genitals to the size of a “normal” clitoris than to allow the child to grow up as a female with a large “clitoris” or as male with a small “penis.” These procedures often result in the inability of the adult to experience sexual climax.

An intersex movement has been gaining more attention in recent years. Many adults who were medically diagnosed as intersex are coming out as intersex. Others argue that “intersex” should not be recognized as a category because it was entirely invented by the medical community to enforce sexual difference and gender roles. Many prefer that intersex or disorders of sexual development (DSD) remain strictly within the confines of the medical establishment; they say that people with intersex belong as much to the LGBTQA community as persons with any other medical condition. Most people with intersex would not classify themselves as trans or queer, but all three groups experience oppression from the medical and social establishments for not adhering to strict gender norms. In addition, Cheryl Chase and the Intersex Society of North America has worked together with trans people and organizations to develop theoretical ground that would benefit both groups.

Queer: Many people use “queer” as an umbrella term for lesbian, gay, and related sexual orientations, but a definition that is more congruent with the Queer in LGBTQAI is an identity that acknowledges the constructedness of the categories of sexual orientation (gay or straight), sexual difference (male or female), and gender roles (being a “real” man or woman). Those who claim a specifically queer identity emphasize the choices they make to create their own identity apart from societies that value adherence to specific kinds of gender and sexual norms.

In a world where we’re constantly given directions to “check the box that describes your identity,” a queer identity chooses a mode of expression that purposefully disrupts the assumptions behind such directions.

Cisgendered: A person with one of two gender identities that is recognized by society as matching the sex one is assigned at birth. For example, a person who adopts male pronouns, a male social role, and who has had a medically recognized penis and testes since birth. Most people are cisgendered. Using the term cisgendered recognizes the fact that traditional gender/sex combinations are not natural but have been culturally constructed.

Transsexual: Someone who adopts a gender role that society recognizes as opposite the sex they were assigned at birth. Transsexuals use surgery or hormones to modify their bodies. Examples are FTM (Female to Male) transsexuals and MTF (Male to Female) transsexuals.

Transgendered (Trans): A person with one or more gender identities that do not conform to traditional definitions of gender. Transgender is often considered an umbrella term that includes transsexuals, cross dressers, drag queens, drag kings, genderqueer folks and androgynous persons (among many others). All trans identities can contain folks of any sexual orientation or preference.

Transgender is often used more specifically to describe those who adopt a gender role considered opposite their assigned sex and who do not use surgery or hormones to modify their bodies. Examples are FTMs and MTFs.

Genderqueer: Similar to the definition for “queer,” “genderqueer” refers to expressing one’s gender identity outside of the binary of male or female. There are many possibilities within the genderqueer category; examples are those who alternate gender roles and pronoun use and those who prefer gender neutral pronouns, but there are many others.

Gender Neutral Pronouns: Many gender variant/ gender nonconforming people prefer gender neutral categories. Instead of He/She, use Zie. Instead of Him/Her, use Hir. Some may also prefer to use They and Them as gender neutral pronouns; some may use other forms or words.

Want to Learn More? Be honest with yourself and others about your limited experience in defining gender and sexual difference. It’s important to educate yourself. Utilize Google, Wikipedia, Ask people you think may know for book and article recommendations (feel free to email or A good, useful, and fun book to start with is Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein (1994).

Discussion Questions:
· How do you think a trans/queer person would feel coming to our church for the first time?
· What can we do to help a trans/queer person feel welcomed (we want you here), affirmed (you are beloved by God and us), and a necessary part of this community (part of “us”)?
· Have you felt that you’ve always been free to make choices about your dress, hair, body, behavior, and pronoun choice? Have you felt forced into certain kinds of gender expression? Have you always felt comfortable with the choices you’ve made or been forced to make?
· What can we do to help all sizes and shapes feel welcomed (we want you here), affirmed (you are beloved by God and us), and like a necessary part of this community (part of “us”)?
· How do you think a person with a disability would feel entering our church?
· What can we do to help a person with a disability feel welcomed (we want you here), affirmed (you are beloved by God and us), and like a necessary part of this community (part of “us”)?
Key Terms for Disability Studies

Medicalization: the process by which human conditions and problems come to be defined and treated as medical conditions and problems, and thus come under the authority of doctors and other health professionals to study, diagnose, prevent or treat. The process of medicalization can be driven by new evidence or theories about conditions, or by developments in social attitudes or economic considerations, or by the development of new purported treatments. Medicalization is often claimed to bring benefits, but also costs, which may not always be clear. Medicalization is studied in terms of the role and power of professions, patients and corporations, and also for its implications for ordinary people whose self-identity and life-decisions may depend on the prevailing concepts of health and illness. Once a condition is classed as medical, a medical model of disability tends to be used rather than a social model. Medicalization may also be termed pathologization (from pathology), or in some cases disease mongering. (From Wikipedia entry “Medicalization”)

Disability Studies: Following the lead of critical race, gender, and queer theory, the study of disability is growing worldwide. Disability studies often takes as its starting premise that the disadvantage typically experienced by those who are disabled reflects primarily the way society defines and responds to certain types of 'difference'. (From Wikipedia entry “Disability Studies”)

The Medical Model of Disability: This model is presented as viewing disability as a problem of the person, directly caused by disease, trauma, or other health condition which therefore requires sustained medical care provided in the form of individual treatment by professionals. In the medical model, management of the disability is aimed at a "cure," or the individual’s adjustment and behavioral change that would lead to an "almost-cure" or effective cure. In the medical model, medical care is viewed as the main issue, and at the political level, the principal response is that of modifying or reforming healthcare policy. (From Wikipedia entry “Disability”)

The Social Model of Disability: This model sees the issue of "disability" as a socially created problem and a matter of the full integration of individuals into society. In this model, disability is not an attribute of an individual, but rather a complex collection of conditions, many of which are created by the social environment. Hence, the management of the problem requires social action and is the collective responsibility of society at large to make the environmental modifications necessary for the full participation of people with disabilities in all areas of social life. The issue is both cultural and ideological, requiring individual, community, and large-scale social change. From this perspective, equal access for someone with an impairment/disability is a human rights issue of major concern. (From Wikipedia entry “Disability”)

Accessibility: a general term used to describe the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is accessible by as many people as possible. Accessibility can be viewed as the "ability to access" and possible benefit of some system or entity. Accessibility is often used to focus on people with disabilities and their right of access to entities, often through use of assistive technology. (From Wikipedia entry “Accessibility”)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dear Sandy

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

Dear Sandy

I didn’t know you. I don’t know you—my careful internet searches have yielded only scattered accounts of your death. I know little to nothing of your life though I’ve heard you left behind a mother, a sister, other family and many friends. Fear of intruding kept me from your funeral and from catching a glimpse of what you were like, who you were, what you loved, and who loved you. Perhaps it’s better I didn’t break the intimacy of those gathered in your memory. Yet I’m left wondering how I can speak of you in humble tones, acknowledging my own ignorance of your life while at the same time speaking of what I know is true.

You were a black woman. You were a transwoman. And on a Sunday night just a few weeks ago, you were murdered at the corner of S. Halsted and W. 75th.

I want to ask why this happened, but I already know. You were killed because the world is unsafe for sex workers. The world is unsafe for transgendered people.

The mainstream media hasn’t pressured law enforcement to make your case a priority and there just isn’t much public outcry because the sad truth is that racism and classism are principle organizers of American society. The Sun-Times said you were a man dressed in women’s clothing. Other media outlets didn’t even give more than the name and address on your ID. Had you been a pretty little blond thing from a rich family, your picture would be on the front page, and the person who took your life would be in jail.

I’m angry, disheartened, and disappointed in myself as well. Crimes like this have happened to others before you, and shamefully, I’ve taken little notice. I don’t remember why I wasn’t stirred to action by stories of other instances of anti-trans violence, but hearing about your death has changed me.

Some activists and organizers have spoken up about the economic systems and cultural ignorance that caused your death; I am thankful for their words and actions. During the past few weeks I’ve been stunned first that a crime like this could happen in the city where I live, and secondly that violent crimes targeting trans people are so incredibly common. I’m sorry I was so presumptuous to think that just because I feel safe that you would too.

I can’t stop thinking about you. Pride week came and went, and I couldn’t help thinking, “What’s the point of all this partying and celebration when the threat of violence against transfolk is so present right here in this city?” Without an answer, I walk a bit more somberly.

I don’t know how to adequately honor your memory—it’s made all the more difficult by the fact I don’t know you. I’m sorry I didn’t know you and that I let the geographic, racial, and economic distance between us render you invisible in my life.

Though its grossly inadequate, I do promise to try to honor your memory. I’ll educate myself. I’ll work for justice. I’ll voice my disapproval when someone makes negative comments about anyone on the basis of race, economic options, gender identity, body type, or anything else. I’ll try, no matter how messy it gets.

Sandy, you were a person worthy of safety and respect, and though I have little power in this very big world, I promise to take every opportunity I can to learn what it means to be an ally to every kind of person. I hope I’m not alone in that promise.

In memory of Sandy Woulard, 1982-2010

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

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Letter to Sun Times Media Wire

From: Erica Chu (
Sent: Tue 6/29/10 9:16 PM

To the Editor of Sun-Times Media Wire:

The story I'll be referring to in this letter is entitled "Man found slain near South Side church" dated June 21, 2010, and the web address is,south-side-church-death-062110.article?plckCurrentPage=2&

Your recent story addresses the murder of Credale Woulard and identifies this person as a man dressed in women's clothing. Though the article eliminates some potential motives for the murder, I am shocked and completely taken aback by the fact that there is no mention of this person being transgendered or being potentially targeted because of his/her variant gender identity.

The matter of transgender discrimination and particularly violence against transgendered persons is a major concern in the LGBTQAI community, and one that has motivated hate crime legislation such as the Matthew Shepard Act, which passed in Congress last year.

Though I am grateful that I heard of this story from a larger news outlet, I (and many others in the LGBTQAI community) are very disappointed with the insensitive way this story has been presented. It only further reveals how dangerous it is for transgendered people in this country. If the Sun Times sees Credale Woulard, often known as Sandy, and commits epistemological violence by calling her/him "a man dressed in women's clothing", imagine the kind of physical violence that can occur when a homophobic and transphobic person on the street feels their male heterosexual identity being threatened by attraction to Sandy.

Reporting like this only creates a more dangerous situation for trans people. Reporting like this renders invisible transgender identities and silently justifies the violence committed against trans people.

Perhaps you might view transgendered identities as fringe and therefore unimportant--especially when the victim of violence may very well have been a sex worker. Society may view prostitutes as unimportant, but it should not be so. If Sandy had been a cisgendered woman (what most people typically call a biological female), had she/he been white, had she/he come from some "respectable" or upper middle-class family, even if she/he'd been a sex worker, the media would treat this event much differently.

I challenge you to write a follow up story. I challenge you to bring some visibility to the problem of violence against transgendered people. Sandy's visitation and funeral is Saturday, July 3, 2010, 2:30 -7:00 PM at Midwest Memorial Chapel at 5040 S Western Ave in Chicago. For more information, you can contact the funeral home at 773-737-6959. Sandy has a sister, and she has a mother.

I also strongly recommend you read up on transgender and genderqueer identities and issues. The Center on Halsted may also be a good resource as might the Broadway Youth Center.

I did not know her/him, but I've done some internet searching to find this information. I write for the Gay Chicago Magazine and plan on addressing Sandy's murder in my latest column and may also address this story by the Sun Times Media Wire.

I would certainly like to hear from you regarding your plans to cover this story or your reaction to my accusation that you have written about this story insensitively and perhaps even ignorantly (whether unwittingly or not).

Again, I definitely appreciate that you have provided some information about this crime, but I think that the work you've done is grossly insufficient.

Thank you for your attention, and below I've copied some links to a couple stories I've seen in the LGBTQAI Chicago blogs. I also am pasting below some information about violence against transgendered people.

Erica Chu


Information from the Human Rights Campaign:

Hate violence. Transgender people are often targeted for hate violence based on their non-conformity with gender norms and/or their perceived sexual orientation. Hate crimes against transgender people tend to be particularly violent. Our best estimates indicate that one out of every 1,000 homicides in the U.S. is an anti-transgender hate crime. This estimation is based on data collected by the national organizers of the Transgender Day of Remembrance and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Organizers of the Transgender Day of Remembrance track the number of transgender people killed each year in hate-based attacks using media articles, community reports and other publically available data. By this count, they estimate that at least 15 transgender people are killed each year in hate-based attacks, although we believe the number to be higher based on transgender people’s common fear of going to the police and widespread misreporting. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates approximately 14,000 homicides in the country each year. Based on these figures, we can estimate that approximately one out of every 1000 homicides in the U.S. is an anti-transgender hate-based crime.
Update as of 07.06.2010: Still no response. I thought of calling, but there seems little chance that would accomplish anything. There are three good articles worth reading that have responded to the issues raised in the letter:

GCM Pride Week Issue - Learning to Listen

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

Learning to Listen

Every June is full of LGBT pride activities mainly centered in Lakeview and Andersonville and culminating in Pride Week and the Pride Parade. All kinds of groups participate in the parade and attend events throughout the month, yet some ethnic groups have separate weeks specifically designated for celebrating LGBT pride in their communities. During the first week of June, a week of activities for Latino Pride took place in Pilsen, Humboldt Park, and Lakeview, and during the first week of July, Black Pride activities take place across the city in neighborhoods like South Shore, the Loop, and Lakeview.

The other day a friend complained, “If we’re supposed to be inclusive, why have separate gatherings for Black and Latino LGBTs?” This friend was just trying to express a desire for unity, but I think these questions are worth attempting to answer.

Unity is something I’ve been trying to emphasize in this column: We who have experienced some measure of pain due to discrimination ought to think about how we can interact with others in a way that alleviates the discrimination they experience. A first step in accomplishing that goal is to see how they really are a part of us. If this LGBTQAI unity that we are supposed to work toward is so valuable, then why would African American and Latino organizers seemingly damage that unified “us” by calling for separate weeks of celebration? Shouldn’t we all celebrate our rainbow identities as one community?

This is a complicated issue that activists and academics have been trying to deal with in many contexts over many decades. Since everyone has so recently been excited about hockey, it may be helpful for us to think about a metaphor along those lines.

Let’s say you live in Chicago and you’re a hockey fan in a culture that highly values the Blackhawks. Now imagine (oh the horror!) you’re actually a Red Wings fan. If you were to participate in a hockey celebration, wouldn’t you want to express your Red Wings pride? If you tried though, who would listen?

Now in many circumstances you might celebrate hockey with Blackhawks fans, but wouldn’t you feel like they were overlooking, ignoring, and even viewing with suspicion your identity as a Red Wings fan? In addition, the people who aren’t into hockey may have learned to tolerate Blackhawks fans but may have less interest in understanding you. Is it any wonder then that you might occasionally have your own party where your voice of celebrating the Red Wings can be heard?

This metaphor is not perfect: hopefully there’s not this much segregation and competition among LGBTQAIs, and even though Chicago is a Blackhawks city when it comes to hockey, when it comes to people, Chicago is very diverse.

Still, this picture of the Red Wings fan in Chicago is a kind of representation of what it can be like for black and Latino LGBTQAIs during Pride festivities (as well as for members of many other ethnic groups). Sure, it’s a celebration of rainbow flags, but it often feels like a celebration organized by and for white rainbow flag bearers. A similar feeling of marginality can be experienced by members of the LGBTQAI community who do not identify as gay or lesbian.

Racism, transphobia, and phobias of many kinds unfortunately exist, and though we try to strive for inclusivity, folks within our community can still feel that they’re overlooked and even treated with hostility.

So as we enjoy the last days of this month of celebration, let’s keep in mind that in many cases, our gleeful shouts may have the unfortunate effect of drowning out the voices of those among us with other needs and interests. Let’s try to listen for those voices and learn from them as we strive for unity.

Sometimes it’s only apart from the larger group that some of these voices can be heard clearly. At such times, let’s be sure we are listening carefully and offering our support. Learning to listen to the marginal voice takes time and constant energy. Though it can be exhausting, trying is the most effective thing we can do.

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

GCM June - On the Road to Justice

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

On the Road to Justice

My church (Broadway United Methodist) welcomes and celebrates gay, lesbian, straight, asexual, bisexual and any variety of sexual identities. Most churches are very segregated, but my church is intentional about fighting racism and working for a racially inclusive community. Most churches see only cisgender and able bodies, but every Sunday, the pastors welcome people of all genders and all abilities. You’d think as a church seeking justice, they’d arrived, but their theme for Pride Month is “On the Road to Justice.”

I like that. We’re on the road, but we’re not there yet.

Recently, I spent the day in one of the smaller suburbs. I felt strange walking around in public and feeling gawking or disapproving eyes when I stood too close to or looked too endearingly at my partner. It was jarring because I spend most of my time in places like Lakeview, Edgewater, Andersonville, and the Loop. Occasionally someone stares or makes a comment, but all in all, I feel free, I feel safe, I feel that for me, justice is within grasp.

Last summer, I marched with a few dozen activists in Joliet trying to give visibility to the LGBTQ population there. I also marched with the Dyke March Collective in Pilsen and will march with them again on June 26th in South Shore. It’s important to lend our support to those like us seeking freedom and safety in the places where they live. If we become satisfied with just our neighborhood, we’ll never reach justice.

More important even than fighting for justice for those like us is lending support to those not like us right in our own neighborhoods and communities. How often do we encounter racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, ageism, and outright meanness about body type, clothes, or mental ability? Sometimes people we know, our friends, maybe even we ourselves do or say something that inhibits the freedom and safety of someone else. Being on the road to justice means educating ourselves, lending support, and speaking up when injustice creeps into our lives and spheres of influence.

Too often our neighborhoods and even our Pride month seem more about brunch, bars, and dancing then about justice. Have we forgotten June commemorates a key moment along the road for justice? Today, the potential for walking that road still surrounds us.

This month, let’s be especially diligent in fighting against the ignorance that has and continues to oppress people of all kinds, colors, and shapes. The road to justice isn’t always easy or comfortable, but every step is a very necessary step in the right direction.

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

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Si, se puede

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

Si, se puede

On May first, I walked with thousands marching for comprehensive immigration reform. This was my first immigration rally, and I was spurred to this small action because of my anger over Arizona’s SB1070, a state law much in the news because many say it amounts to state-mandated racial profiling and police harassment. This march, however, was about so much more than Arizona. I listened to the chants and speeches, I read the signs, the t-shirts, and buttons. I looked at face after face, and as the crowds dispersed, I felt an uneasy feeling. I’d been wrong. I had thought immigration reform was important, but it had never seemed to be something I needed to be immediately concerned about. I stood in Daly Plaza and realized I only thought that because there had been no roadblocks in my migration story.

I think back to the story of my father coming to this country. He had $300 in his pocket and carried with him all the sacrifices of his parents, grandmother, and siblings…and all their hopes for a better life. I think of his parents’ journey from China to the then-British-colony of Hong Kong, and of their flight from economic depression and political uncertainty. I think too of the journeys my mother’s relatives made from England and Germany fleeing the same problems and of the celebrated sacrifices made by those white relatives we call “pioneers” and “homesteaders,” not “resident aliens” or “illegal immigrants.”

What all my migrant relatives have in common is that they had access to the documentation that “authorized” their move from one place to another. They worked incredibly hard over generations, taking pride in their work and contributing to the economy. Eventually, I became the beneficiary of their labor.

I think of the most recent chapter of my own migration story—how I came to Chicago to pursue my education and to find a certain amount of freedom to pursue the kind of political and sexual/gender identity I valued. Why shouldn’t others have broader opportunities to do the same?

As LGBTQAI people, we are members of class of people historically (and often currently) classified as “perverted,” “sick,” “dangerous,” or “illegal.” Many of us struggle for the documents that are freely given to others of a more “authorized” identity. We of all people should recognize the dehumanizing effects of classifications determined by those in power.

I hope you will join me in admitting how wrong we are if we think immigration is not an issue that concerns us. LGBTQAI people are joined together because we fight for the right to cross the borders of what others think is appropriate for someone of our gender. Let’s continue the struggle at our national borders and fight for the right of hard-working Americans to be recognized as such. These two seemingly dissimilar struggles are in fact working for the same goals: dignity, freedom, and equality. And yes, each is possible. Si, se puede.

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

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Joy of Unknowing

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

The Joy of Unknowing

I’m going to be a bit more personal here than I’ve been in the past. It’s sometimes easier I suppose to speak in the abstract, but I’m moved to be more vulnerable today if only to put into practice that standard feminist belief that the personal is political.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on the edge of my bed looking for a pen and was suddenly overcome with a deep sadness. I just wanted to sob but couldn't even figure out what sparked this feeling or why I was experiencing it. The only thing I could think was, "I feel so lost."

The significance of this statement may not be immediately apparent, so I should explain a bit about where I'm coming from. I was raised in an Evangelical Midwestern Christian family. As an adolescent, I grabbed hold of the Christian faith with wild intensity and a deep gratitude for who I saw God to be. At eighteen, I packed up and went to a small Bible College in southern Missouri, and it was only there that I began to feel doubt. Not doubt in who God was to me or even who he/she/zie is in a theological sense, but I began to doubt the institutions from which I'd received so much religious and spiritual knowledge.

Even after transferring to a state university and then moving to this beautifully liberating city, I still thought I was sure of some things--of my faith, of my capacity in my studies and job, of my take on politics, of my understanding of the world. If you had talked to me then, I would have given you a piece of my mind. Then the last few years happened with change after change and stress upon stress. Talk to me today, and I'm not so quick to speak.

Of course, I do have confidence in the beliefs I now have and in the roads I’m now taking (some didn’t change at all), but because I was used to being so sure, I have a lingering anxiety about not knowing exactly where I am, who I am, or where I’ll be tomorrow.

Over dinner, I told my partner T about feeling lost and about the sadness I was experiencing because I was no longer sure about anything. A little later when we were talking about my sister (who is not supportive of our relationship), T said, "She needs to get lost." In addition to her beauty, wit, and charm, T is wonderfully wise. I laughed a little and thought of how my relationship with my sister could drastically improve if only she was forced to call into question all she’d learned and had become so confident about.

That moment at our little dining room table was the first time I felt grateful for the last few years of my life and all my crazy lapses in confidence and crises of faith. Unknowing was perhaps the most precious thing I’d learned.

Although this process has been spiritually, emotionally, and even professionally and romantically difficult for me, I want to underline how happy I am to know so little. Acknowledging how changeable I can be allows me so much freedom to investigate new perspectives, consider new views, and even let go of beliefs I no longer consider just.

Imagine if everyone stepped a little (or a lot) outside all they were so sure of and considered the experiences and views of others. I would encourage all of us--as individuals and as the larger LGBTQ community--to take joy in the uncertainty of what we know and in what we could learn tomorrow that would change the way we see and live in the world.

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

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Isn’t Good Enough

I usually only post my GCM pieces after they've been printed, but this time I'm jumping the gun a bit. [It's page 7 of this PDF of the Feb 18 issue]

Feminist Thoughts
By Erica Chu

Why Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Isn’t Good Enough

If you’re gay and you’re interested in equal rights, you’re probably all about the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, something our community’s been trying to get rid of since it became official military policy. As a military brat who went to high school on military posts overseas and as someone who knows quite a few current and former soldiers, you’d think I’d be the first one in line to try to pass the Military Readiness and Enhancement Act (MREA), which would allow gays and lesbians to serve openly.

But I’m not. In fact, sometimes, I want to heckle all the folks in that line.

No, I’m not about to launch into some diatribe against the military or against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or against war in general. The fact is I support the military. Whether some of the actions taken by the military are just we’ll leave for another time. For now, I want to focus on the MREA, the act that we’ve been hearing so much about from (among others) the Human Rights Campaign and the Service Members Legal Defense Network.

The MREA would repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and replace it with provisions prohibiting the military from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Sounds great, right? Yes, it does sound great for all the gays and lesbians who wish to serve openly.

But what about everyone else?

Who else you may ask? This is the precise problem. We in the LGBTQ community only recognize ourselves as being in the LG and sometimes B community. We fight tooth and nail to lift the oppression of gay men and lesbian women, but we often forget about those experiencing oppression for similar reasons.

Transgendered people, transsexuals, and the gender queer may not accept the gender roles and pronouns that society wants to impose on them, but shouldn’t they be able to work every day with the assurance that their employer will not discriminate against them unfairly?

The nondiscrimination policies of the federal government and the US military deserve our special attention because they often set the tone for what will become standard in each state. The MREA makes no provision to protect those with variant gender identification. Sexual orientation is its only priority, which is as tragic as it is ironic because gender is what defines lesbians as lesbians and gay men as gay men.

Oppression on the basis of sexual orientation rotates on the axis of gender. If we could break through that binary, we might actually do something lasting for our community.

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