Friday, November 11, 2011

Gay Chicago Closes

I came to write for Gay Chicago Magazine after running into the partner of someone I'd been involved in a political action with.  He worked there, mentioned they were looking for columnists, and set me up.  At first I was writing monthly editorials, then I was working with someone else and writing two columns a month.  At times I wondered if it was the right publication for my work, but I was glad for the opportunity to offer something.  My time writing for them was really good because it gave me an outlet for a kind of writing that I wasn't able to do elsewhere, but at times it was difficult because I felt tokenized and misunderstood.  In the end I stopped working for them just a couple months before they stopped printing.  Still, I'm grateful for having had the opportunity because the writing I did was incredibly helpful for me and I hope to a couple folks out there.

As of recently, Gay Chicago has ceased to operate either in print or online.  Good luck to you who are moving on from your time there.  Thanks too for the experience.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

History Yet To Be Written

This essay now posted on Bilerico under the title "Standing with Queer 'Riff Raff'"

Once upon a time, a bunch of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, and otherwise queer people liked to hang out in certain parts of town. The world looked down on them—and the most resentful of their presence were the respectable neighbors who lived nearby. Now "lewd and lascivious acts" (including gay sex) were against the law, but that didn’t stop people from frequenting cruising spots, gay clubs, and gay bars. Since they distrusted the police, they sometimes solved their disputes in less-than-healthy ways. They sometimes fought, often got drunk, took illegal drugs, had sex, and generally ran amuck in places where they made the neighbors feel uncomfortable, fearful, and even unsafe...

Be sure to read my other posts on this topic:
Working for Safety in Lakeview: 3 Suggestions
Safety Concerns Meet Racism in Lakeview? 
“Hoodlums and Thugs” in Boystown

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Working for Safety in Lakeview

[Posted at Huffington Post:]

Working for Safety in Lakeview
by Erica Chu

Right now, people in the historically gay neighborhood of Lakeview (AKA Boystown) are becoming more concerned about safety.  Justifiably so—a series of violent incidents has underscored to many that the places they once felt safe don’t seem as safe anymore.  At the same time, racial tensions are rising in this predominately white neighborhood.

The vast majority of Lakeview residents are happy to welcome people of every color to the neighborhood, but there is definitely a caveat: Make yourself at home—as long as you live up to middle-class standards—be polite, be fairly quiet, and don’t gather on sidewalks, in alleys, or on streets.  Of course, inconsistencies exist.  If you’re a middle-class person blocking the sidewalk, urinating in an alley, being loud, calling out to strangers, or lingering outside while en route to a Cubs game, your favorite bar, or a good brunch spot, all is well.  Drunken, rude, and inconsiderate behavior is apparently tolerated as long as you’re supporting local businesses. 

The youth of color who come to Lakeview can’t afford such entertainments and are definitely not middle-class. Like the poor homeless youth among the rioters at Stonewall Inn, young people have migrated to the part of town that is most accepting of queer identities.  Each person has taken a good look at the danger and rejection they feel among the family and neighborhood they were raised in, and they come to Lakeview seeking refuge and the opportunity to meet others like themselves.   Many have permanently left their families of origin.  The lucky ones stay with friends, and many others wander the streets at night or try to sleep in some quiet place, braving all kinds of weather.  Still others commute. 

While few middle class whites feel hatred for youth of color, racism and classism are exhibited in much more subtle fashion.  Annoyance and resentment over minor infractions by poor youth build up over time, and when opportunity strikes, the middle class turns with suspicion, fear, intolerance, and accusation.

I’ve heard over and over again, that those rallying for increased safety measures are not making any statements about race or class—they just want safety.  I believe that they do want and should work to make Lakeview safer.  I also believe that they have assumptions and biases about race and class which cause them to target black youth in unknowingly sinister ways.

Every summer, there is increased violence in Lakeview and across Chicago.  Some violence is committed in an attempt to steal, and some in an attempt to gain respect.  Both cases are unfortunate and, I believe, wrong.  We should try to prevent such violence, and one method that has been adopted by the majority of those decrying the lack of safety is increased surveillance by the state, by police, and by citizens with access to the internet.  For one, this method is often done in ways that focus on the infractions of blacks or the poor and not the same infractions committed by whites or the middle class.  More importantly, I don’t think this is quite right or even the best route to ensuring safety, but I understand why many want to take it. 

Another method of preventing violence that I believe is more effective is to attend to the root causes such as injustices that bring about the desperate need for resources and respect.  Poverty is one of those injustices and has all sorts of ramifications—educational inequality, fewer employment options, even health risks and greater discrimination.  Residents of Lakeview may find it daunting to address those injustices and prevent things like gang activity, but there are a few very tangible things that can be done more quickly to prevent some of the violence that has occurred.

First is to prioritize the issue of LGBTQ youth homelessness.  In this era of “It gets better,” it’s a damn shame if we do nothing but say “Move on” to the youth who don’t even have a place to stay for the night.  We need shelters specifically dedicated to LGBTQ youth, who face harassment and abuse in other shelters.  We need these shelters to be open year-round and to have enough beds to house all who need them.

Secondly, we need to provide safe space for LGBTQ youth to express themselves and explore their present and future.  We can do this by providing useful and affirming programming organized by compassionate staff who include the youth in planning.  We also need to keep safe spaces open as long as possible.  Closing doors to youth early in the day will not make them disperse sooner, it will encourage them to find other things to do and find other places to socialize.  Some youth may choose the streets and sidewalks over youth centers and that is their right, but when we provide options for youth, we make them less vulnerable to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And most importantly, respect the youth.  Respect their right to be in the neighborhood they call home.  Be intolerant of violence, but be tolerant of ways of expression that may not be similar to your own.  If the noise they make is disruptive, ask them to be quiet as you would ask any other group.  If they are belligerent, warn them you will call the cops if they don’t quiet down or move.  Some of these kids don’t always make wise decisions, but they are worthy of your respect.  They are individuals with their own stories and reasons for making the choices they make.

Even if we do these three things perfectly, violence will not stop completely.  Some matters are too big and would need cooperation and resources beyond what Lakeview has access to—but if we who are progressive claim to care about the LGBTQ community, we must care about this very vulnerable subset.  And if safety really is our concern, we will find that when we do these three things, we will absolutely make this community and its streets much safer for all.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Safety Concerns Meet Racism in Lakeview?

It’s true there have been several incidents of violent crime in recent years. Two summers ago, a wave of violent muggings in the Lincoln Park area resulted in many people being injured and even more fearful for their safety. More recently, several subway thefts and “flash mob” robberies in the downtown area have involved many perpetrators and left some victims and bystanders injured. In Lakeview, robberies have even put some in the hospital. People are afraid, and you know what, they have a right to be. No one wants to be a victim of violence, and no one deserves to be treated in such a way. But here’s the thing: when people get afraid, sometimes bad things happen to innocent people.

Remember the two young men who killed Matthew Shepard in 1998 because, they claimed, he threatened their heterosexuality by making sexual advances? Remember the two Detroit auto workers who murdered Vincent Chin in 1982 because they blamed the Japanese for damaging the US auto industry? Remember the Germans who in the 1920s were experiencing such economic hardship that they lashed out at and eventually exterminated large populations of Jewish people, who they characterized as economic leeches?

Each of these acts of extreme violence was committed because resentment became fueled by fear.

Though seemingly not as severe, such resentment and fear is building up in Lakeview. I’ve heard stereotypes invoked and discriminatory statements made by people I know, and I’ve seen racist and classist statements written all over social media sites, most predominately on the Facebook group “Take Back Boystown.” The concern is safety, but the result is bias and resentment against youth of color.

Who are the suspects of committing the recent wave of violent crimes? Most often, the description is of young black men. The logic of some therefore leads to suspecting all young black men of being criminals—especially the sketchy ones. And what constitutes “sketchy”? Well, people who don’t look respectable. And respectable, of course, means dressing the way you think is normal, talking the way you think is normal, and treating you, the middle-class observer, the way you think is normal. Now, what separates “the normal way” from the “sketchy”? Well, you just know, right? Well, that internal feeling of knowing what way is the normal way to do things is actually rather subjective and is based on your experience, your identity, and your desires. Trying to force one’s ambiguous expectations about normal behavior on others often takes the form of racism, classism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and a whole lot of things that are not good.

Take for instance what happens when a person of East Asian descent has a role on a television show with a predominately white cast. This person does not look like the “normal” characters and so she’s not so much known as “Tina” but as “the Asian girl.” And if we were watching Glee, and someone suddenly said “An Asian person just robbed a store” the audience immediately thinks “the Asian girl” did it, and if not her, it was one of her relatives or friends.

Glee has trained us to be discriminatory toward Asians (what with “Asian kisses,” “Asian Camp,” and “Other Asian,” come on.). The fear and bias of history, written from the perspective of white elites, has trained us to accept stereotypes about youth of color. This being said, we are each responsible for what we do with the discriminatory skills we’ve unwittingly learned.

Of course we need to take action to keep ourselves and our neighborhoods safe. Walk in groups at night and when possible in the day, keep your expensive items hidden away in public so as not to cause unwanted attention, be aware of your surroundings, and if put in any position of danger, it’s better to lose an iPhone than risk a bruised rib. Is it fair that you have to take such precautions? No. But it’s not the fault of every young black man you see in the neighborhood.

At one time gays were seen as trash bringing all sorts of unwanted behavior into the neighborhood. We know those who judged were wrong, so don’t give into being wrong this time. Black youth should be as welcome in Lakeview as anyone else is. If they aren’t, racism—not safety—reigns.

I’m not saying colorblindness is a realistic or even positive way of seeing the world, but when we give into our tendencies to see race, class, age, and style of dress instead of individuals each with their own story and their own journey in this world, we give in to prejudice. Perhaps our racism and classism don’t come in the form of hatred, but disapproval, suspicion, and support for stereotypes are nearly as bad.

In predominately white, middle-class neighborhoods like Streeterville, Lincoln Park, Lakview, Edgewater, Andersonville, and parts of Rogers Park, long-time residents have grown accustomed to seeing mostly white, middle-class people. Some meet the neighborhood’s standards of behavior and some don’t, but when poor youth of color don’t meet their standards, tolerance quickly runs out.

Poor youth in Lakeview are making efforts to figure out their identities and their lives. Many deal with homelessness, family difficulties related to their sexual and gender identities, economic hardships, difficulty attending school and finding work, and harassment and even abuse from people who should be protecting them. Whatever your race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, or other identities or characteristics, you are susceptible to falling into prejudicial thinking. If a black man of a certain age and style of dress robs a store, all other people that seem or look like him are not also likely to rob a store. There is no need to fear black men or any people group. Violence is to be feared.

In our quest to prevent violence, let’s all be aware of the possibility of our fearful and prejudicial thinking and work tirelessly to make our neighborhoods safe for all—especially those who are most vulnerable.

See also my post from yesterday: "Hoodlums and Thugs" in Boystown

Correction (updated 7/2): The above post alludes to robberies in Lakeview that resulted in hospitalization.  In fact, the incident referred to does not appear to have been a robbery.  More information here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

“Hoodlums and Thugs” in Boystown

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

“Hoodlums and Thugs” in Boystown

“OMG, did you hear about the mob violence during Pride? Some fucking thugs got all ghetto on some people at Pride, and I hear a police officer was hurt. Those people need to take their ignorant asses out of Boystown till they can act right. This neighborhood sure has gone to shit.”

I got on Facebook and saw a picture posted of several (mostly black) people crowded around a scuffle. The comments were flooded with sentiments similar to those represented above.

I was outraged. I was horrified. And I felt incredibly sad. When crowds and alcohol mix, results are often ugly, but the public rhetoric surrounding that picture is focused completely on race, class, and a very limited vision of who is allowed to be in Boystown and a part of Pride.

Who are the “hoodlums”? Well, poor youth of color of course. Everyone knows that the South and West sides are full of them (and even up north in Uptown). That’s why all the peace-loving folks who can afford it move to places like East Lakeview, where they can eat brunch, party, and shop in a place where they feel comfortable. When other people start occupying the same space and make these respectable people feel uncomfortable, well “Uh-uh! Get these hoodlums and thugs out of our neighborhood!”

These are the times when overt racism and classism bubble up and reveal how prejudiced the community really is.

“Now wait a second, there are lots of people of color in East Lakeview who are welcomed and accepted and who are as mad about the hoodlums as whites.” That is certainly true, but take a moment to paint a mental picture of the people of color who are welcomed in East Lakeview and then compare that picture to the mental picture of people of color who are labeled hoodlums. Does the way they dress, speak, or act have anything to do with it? Yes, and that’s why we’ve got a problem. Whether it’s middle-class folks (white, black, or otherwise) who look down on “white trash” or “ghetto trash,” we’ve got a major problem with prejudice in the form of classism and racism.

We often unfairly turn to blame the people we are otherwise made uncomfortable by.

The people loitering on your favorite corner are no longer middle-class people (mostly whites) in their late twenties to mid-forties sipping Starbucks and greeting you when you walk by. Now there are poor youths (mostly of color) who are hanging around, and they not only fail to smile—they seem actually to resent you. Why do they make you feel so uncomfortable?

Because they are loud? Because they aren’t friendly? Because they resent you? Because they remind you that you are privileged? Because they aren’t as respectable as you?

Here are a few truths to help deal with the answers to those questions:
• Middle-class people tend to tolerate the noise when other middle-class people are the ones making it.
• Poor youth don’t tend to warm up to people who think they shouldn’t be around.
• Middle-class people tend to take pride in the fact they aren’t rich, and they resent the fact that much of what they have and do is considered an extravagance by others.
• People—including poor youth—need space to freely explore their gender and sexuality.
• Middle-class people tend to believe in stereotypes about poor people.
• LGBTQ people have always been criticized for not being respectable.
• Respectability is overrated.

The bottom line: Be critical of your own discomfort.

No one likes being called out for racism or classism, but denying the possibility that you could be demonstrating prejudice only confirms the fact that you probably are. This article could very well contain elements of my prejudice, and I want to be open about that possibility and willing to confront and if possible correct it. I hope the rest of the LGBTQ community can be similarly willing to explore how we need to be more critical, respectful, and diligent in pursuing a safe and just world.

I have much more to say about the “hoodlum problem” in East Lakeview, but it will have to wait until next time. Until then, let me just say violence committed by poor youth of color is a shame, but a bigger shame is the rhetorical and political violence committed against poor youth of color by a community that should seek to welcome all who wish to claim it.

Be sure to read my other posts on this topic:
Working for Safety in Lakeview: 3 Suggestions
Safety Concerns Meet Racism in Lakeview? 

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. They manage the blog and can be reached at

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Gayest Day of the Year

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

The Gayest Day of the Year

Sunday is the gayest day of the gayest month of the year. In Chicago, the parade’s official name is the Chicago Annual Pride Parade, but it’s also commonly called the LGBT Pride Parade, PRIDEChicago, and most famously the Gay Pride Parade—and these are just the terms used by parade organizers.

Perhaps you’re reading this on Sunday while comfortably sitting in a lawn chair, beer in hand, staking out the best place for watching the parade. It can’t get any better than this, right? Well, if you’re gay, it is pretty sweet. But what if you are a member of the LGBTQ community but not in fact gay? What does the gayest day of the year mean to you? Well, look no further for a bit of feedback because I’m not gay. I am, however, queer and genderqueer, which I suppose gives me double membership in the LGBTQ community because I’m both a sexual and gender variant. I of course can’t speak for all nongay LGBTQs, but I can tell you that every time I hear “gay pride,” I feel a bit untrusting. Yes, yes, I am all for gays, and I’m all for pride, rights, recognition, fun, and a movement for gay people, but most of the time, the “gay” in phrases like “gay pride” is used as an approximation for all LGBTQ people. As a nongay LGBTQ person, that makes me feel like I’m invisible, or rather that people refuse to see me.

As simple as it may seem, the fact is we’re not all gay, and what makes someone like me different from a gay person is as important to my sense of self as what makes a gay person different from a straight person. We are all human, but even for those of us who experience same-sex attraction and share in common a desire for recognition in a world that devalues us, words like “gay,” “bisexual,” “pansexual,” and “queer” have four very different meanings and consequently represent four very different communities and kinds of identities.

If you’re gay, I imagine you get frustrated when a social or political group you belong to assumes everyone is straight. You may want to yell out, “Hey, I’m here, and I’m gay!” You may well get angry and remind everyone that this group is for you too, and you’re not straight and don’t have to be. Well, we nongay LGBTQs feel similarly. The LGBTQ community is supposedly our social and political group, but often gays just expect us to celebrate their gayness and ignore our own needs and identities.

For gender variant people such as trans and genderqueer folks, “gay pride” can be even more frustrating. There is a whole host of issues related to gender identity that goes completely unnoticed by many supposedly LGBT organizations, and even some organizations that work on trans issues operate in such a way that issues related to sexual orientation always trump those of gender identity. I often hear complaints that trans people are tokenized, meaning organizations and campaigns primarily interested in benefiting gays will claim that they help trans people even though doing so is just an afterthought. Such organizations advertise their connection to trans people as a way of making their work seem progressive and inclusive even if they’re working exclusively for the benefit of gays.

Pride Month and Pride Week can be frustrating for nongay LGBTQs because their invisibility is made even more obvious. Though the parade has many marchers and floats dedicated to quite a few bisexual, queer, and trans causes, we nongay LGBTQs often feel like the tokenized guests at someone else’s party.

In addition to the matter of non-gay LGBTQ invisibility, recent manifestations of Pride Month and Pride Week also represent a major change in what was once a project focused on minority rights, political organizing, coalition building, and visibility. When the Chicago Pride Parade first began, the purpose was overwhelmingly political. The Chicago Dyke March Collective builds upon that tradition, but sadly Chicago Pride has been depoliticized and become all about partying, corporate sponsorship, advertising, and profits. There is of course an attitude of celebration, which is a much-needed political tool, but Pride has definitely lost its intense political edge.

The gayest day of all the year is unfortunately not as wonderful as we may have imagined it was. Not only does it highlight the invisibility experienced by a large non-gay segment of our community, the commercialization of Chicago Pride distracts from the radical political work that Pride was founded in. This year, I encourage you to sit back and enjoy the parade, but once it’s over, get up, take a critical look at all the revelers, the signs, and the trash left in the parade’s wake. Leave motivated to start educating yourself about what needs to change, and join in the work of helping the gay community refocus its energies on being more inclusive and more radically political.

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. They manage the blog and can be reached at

Normal Sex

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Normal Sex

I will try to fight the urge to sing a certain Salt-N-Pepa song right now, but the topic I want to talk about today is sex. Most of us probably grew up with certain expectations about what sex would be like. The typical narrative is that a man and a woman fall in love, fool around a bit, get married, and enjoy a reasonable amount of sex for the next several decades.

It’s clear that this narrative is not quite accurate for most.

Despite the sexual orientation of the majority of Americans, same-sex relationships have proved more suitable for a large number of us. We who are a part of the LGBTQ community have also come to respect the different narratives that we and our peers have written: some spend years frequenting cruising spots, some permanently incorporate such spaces into their lives. Some seek out and value monogamy, and others find it best to embrace open relationships, polyamory, nonmonogamy, or other forms of nontraditional sexual relationships.

As LGBTQs, we’ve all broken with the sexual narrative that has been accepted as the norm, but we don’t always notice that what is typical is changing. Most heterosexual people have also strayed from the imaginary norm. Even those who seem to fit the traditional narrative by waiting to “have sex” until they’re married tend to get quite intimate during the pre-marital “fooling around” phase, often participating in sexual acts ranging from fingering and hand jobs to oral and anal sex—the same acts that often serve as main courses for same-sex couples. Heterosexuals, like LGBTQs, are often becoming more open about their kinks, fetishes, and other sexual interests, preferences, and acts.

We have a history of making a claim to acceptance based on orientation, personhood, and identity rather than acts, preferences, and interests. The logic goes: because homosexuals exist, homosexuality should be accepted and valued. Well, other aspects of sexuality don’t always define our identities but are of value anyway. Our sexual preferences, interests, and chosen acts add great value to our experience of life, and as such can be valued and protected even if—and maybe even because—they don’t define us.

Too often, I hear folks making disparaging statements about others who have attitudes about sex that stray from the norm. For some, monogamy is the imaginary norm they’ve come to expect. For others, nonmonogamy is the expected norm for all progressive people. This column has often critiqued the category of the norm, and today is no different. The norm is imaginary, and the norm is often oppressive. The majority’s experience is not a just reason to determine the lives of the minority, and the minority’s experience cannot be the ruler by which we measure further marginalized minorities or even the majority.

Whatever choices you make, whatever preferences and interests influence your life, don’t think for a moment that you are normal. And don’t think for a moment that you should even want to be. That being said, we’d be unwise to discard all manner of sexual ethics. Though sexual ethics will vary based on our own values, partner expectations, and ethical communities, the BDSMers have a creed that’s an excellent starting point: be safe, sane, and consensual.

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. They manage the blog and can be reached at

Asexuality as Identity

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Asexuality as Identity

“After this failed relationship, I guess I’ll be asexual for a while.” I’ve overheard a lot of people make joking comments similar to this. What they mean is their sexual relationships aren’t quite working out the way they want, so they are accepting their unfortunate circumstances. Though the joke may seem appropriate, such comments ignore the fact that many people are asexual. Asexuals don’t just happen to be sexually inactive at the moment—they actually claim asexuality as a sexual orientation and identity.

In my last column, I pointed out that there’s a difference between romantic and sexual attraction, and we shouldn’t feel bad if we don’t experience one or the other. In fact, there are a number of people who identify as asexual because they do not experience sexual attraction.

The asexual community is actually quite diverse—some seek out romantic partnership, others prefer a solitary life, forming friendships but not partnerships. Some asexuals find partners who experience sexual attraction and choose to engage in sex, some asexuals masturbate only, others prefer absolutely no sexual contact. Some asexuals are homoromantic, some heteroromantic, some are gender variant, others cisgendered. Though the community is diverse, asexuals take seriously their identity. It’s not a joke, it’s not phase, it’s not about sexual repression, and it is very real.

You may go back to your family tree and wonder about an unmarried older relative. “I bet she was gay,” is often the response I hear. Maybe she was, maybe she just didn’t find the right person…or maybe she was asexual. Unlike many other identities, someone’s asexuality is difficult to notice because many pass (often unintentionally) as straight, gay, bi, pan, or any other kind of sexual identity. Because many asexuals are in romantic relationships or even sexual ones, it’s hard for outsiders to identify them. This can be frustrating for many asexuals who feel society has rendered them invisible. On the other hand, it can be frustrating for any of us who belong to sexually variant communities because we’re always being seen only for our gayness, our queerness, our bisexuality, or our asexuality.

I was at an LGBTQ and Women’s Studies conference a couple months ago, and after my presentation on the relationship between asexuality and other queer identities, a lesbian professor made the off-handed comment “I’m not asexual, and I don’t know why anyone would want to be.” I felt devastated. I do not identify as asexual, but I do not consider my queer identity to be an unfortunate circumstance or an unwise choice. Straight people often don’t understand my orientation, my relationships, my life, and my choices, but as a community, we often force them to learn respect, tolerance, and self-education. People who experience sexual attraction often don’t understand asexuality, so it’s time we also learn to hold ourselves accountable.

For more information on asexuality as an identity, check out the Asexual Visibility and Education Network at

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. They manage the blog and can be reached at

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

7 Things to Consider When Coming Out (as Anything)

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

7 Things to Consider When Coming Out (as Anything)

Yes, there are many identities you can claim and come out as. Besides the typical sexual identities that we’re all used to, many people also come out as having a different gender than the one people assume. Others may affirm something most people don’t recognize or that society has devalued. Some examples include coming out as: being fat, undocumented, asexual, polyamorous, or having a disability--whether it’s more visible (like using a wheelchair) or less visible (like having HIV or a mental illness). Though the following list doesn’t apply to all identities, it does expand the typical notion of “coming out,” and it serve as a challenge to many of us who think we have ourselves pretty much figured out.

I was saving this piece for the next National Coming Out Day, but since tonight I’m initiating a long overdue coming out talk with my dad, I thought we could all use the reminder of what to consider when coming out.

1. You can choose your own identity. You may not have chosen the raw material that is your body, genetic background, and the experiences that have shaped your life, but you can choose your identity, which is comprised of both the words used to describe who you are—gay, fat, and butch for example—and the definitions you assign those words. Others may use different words and definitions to describe your life, but you have the option of accepting, rejecting, or modifying what others offer.

2. Identity is rarely stable. The words and definitions you choose to describe yourself need not explain your entire life story or even remain permanent. You may realize later that you were wrong about either the word, the definition, or both, but it’s also possible you will someday realize that you just want something different. Be okay with changing your mind. Don’t worry about “discovering your true identity.” Figuring out today’s identity is a hard enough project.

3. There is a difference between romantic and sexual attraction. Romantic attraction describes what kinds of people you want to date/be partnered with, and sexual attraction describes what kinds of people you want to have sex with. It’s okay to feel none. It’s okay to feel one and not the other. It’s okay to feel one or both in ways that are uncommon.

4. Sexual attraction, gender expression, and gender identity are very mixed up. Sexual attraction is who and what kind of person you want to have sex with, gender expression is how you dress, cut and style your hair, even what kind of underwear you choose, and gender identity is the word you use to name your identity—man, woman, genderqueer, etc. The “do-be syndrome” (questioning whether you want to do someone or be them) may or may not apply to you, but also keep in mind that your sexual or romantic feelings may show up differently when you change your gender identity and gender expression and when you are treated as a different identity. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your gender expression. Doing so does not automatically threaten your gender identity.

5. Your body is your body. It isn’t anyone else’s—your parents’, your partner’s, your friend’s. If you want to change it, you can. If you don’t, you don’t have to. Educate yourself, but be critical of the materials and advice you get. It might take a lot of work, a long time, and maybe money you don’t have, but making goals is sometimes more important than the end result (as if there really were one). Be wary of making decisions to please others or be accepted by others. Be as sure as you can before making big changes, but remember to trust yourself. It’s okay to take years and years to decide if and what changes you want.

6. Be prepared to stray from the paths you’ve encountered. The models of identity you’ve seen (whether straight, gay, trans, genderqueer, asexual, queer, monogamous, thin etc.) may or may not apply to you. You don’t need to conform to other people’s narratives of how and why they came out and who and what and how they live. You can write your own narrative. Be especially wary of narratives that are nonnormative. Just because you aren’t a girly girl doesn’t mean you are a lesbian or that you’re a transman. Consider many options and be critical of each one. Find the identity and expression that best fits your life right now.

7. Take it as slow or as fast as you feel comfortable. Sometimes, people just want to come out and tell everyone all at once. That is great, but it’s also okay to only tell yourself. Tell people as you feel comfortable—just try to be good to yourself. If you want to start looking or acting differently, coming out can help a lot, but it’s not required. Coming out to some people also provides a lot of emotional support that you may need, so consider that as well. Only you can know the right (or necessary) time for when and how you should come out.

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. They manage the blog and can be reached at

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Celebrating Characteristics A-Z

[This is actually from a couple times ago--I forgot to post these in the right order, so here you go. Better late than never I guess!]

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Celebrating Characteristics A-Z

Imagine a world that rewards all people with “Characteristic X” but punishes people for exhibiting all other characteristics.

This is in fact the world we live in, and Characteristic X can be things like heterosexuality, cisgenderism (not being transgendered), monogamy, or whiteness. Yet sometimes Characteristic X is something unreal and imaginary, and we can get so caught up in the cultural shame, we fail to recognize its impossibility.

Mental illness. There, I said it. Now who wants to fess up and say they’ve got one (or two…or three…)?

Whether we call it mental illness or just issues related to mental health, the LGBTQ population is especially susceptible. Perhaps you’ve been lucky in this regard. Perhaps not. But consider this: perhaps you’re so caught up in the assumption that you are as sane as they come that you haven’t even stopped to consider if your mental health needs some attention.

Characteristic X is perfect mental health, and as we should have figured out by now, perfection is impossible and often undesirable.

When Characteristic X is assumed to be heterosexuality or whiteness, we resist the assumption that sexual and racial minorities ought to be punished for not meeting this standard. We stand up and scream, “We are valuable human beings, and what you say is worthy of shame, we embrace with pride.”

We don’t, however, tend to extend the same logic to issues of mental health. In some ways, it’s for good reason. For example, we who have or do experience depression know we’d rather have it otherwise; however, depression can sometimes be very productive. It gives us new and valuable perspective, it forces us to reassess the paths we take in life, and it sometimes provides the impetus for new motivation, deeper relationships, and richer life experiences.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not suggesting we try to embrace the negative aspects of our life to the point we don’t fight for what we want and need, but I am suggesting there is good in what we often assume is too shameful to even discuss.

In some periods and even still in some communities today, homosexuality is discussed with shame by those who practice it, but we who have learned to turn shame into pride celebrate our sexual identities and embrace how our differences enhance our lives. I wish embracing my sexual and gender identity had not caused me to become alienated from those with whom I once had a strong connection. Yet I celebrate myself, and I labor so that others can see the value I see in myself.

Mental health is not so very different. We may wish the negative aspects were not present, but we must value ourselves enough to turn shame into pride—getting the help we need along the way, grieving for what we’ve lost, but most importantly accepting and loving who we are.

This of course extends to others. So the next time you start to judge someone because of your perception of their mental health, think again. Turn shame into pride, and value the different characteristics that each person offers. The world is much better because LGBTQ people are full of pride. It can be even better when all differences are supported without shame.

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. They manage the blog and can be reached at

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Open Letter to OCC Alumni

Open letter to OCC Alumni who use Facebook to express their disapproval of homosexuality

A note on Facebook by Erica Chu, posted on Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 10:54pm

Truth: This is my life.  I have not made my choices lightly.  I said this in a recent comment, but let me say it again: I honor the Lord with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind. I am also not straight. I am also not cisgendered. I am also not ashamed.

Though you say you love, though you say you appreciate, though you may even end with “we should agree to disagree,” you often treat this subject like a theoretical conversation that has no real consequences.  I am a person.  I exist.  I have beliefs that are contrary to your own.  And I can’t believe it’s necessary for me to have to say this, but THESE THINGS HAPPEN, and they do not threaten you.

There are times when close friendships, mentorships, and spiritual advising relationships require one person to tell another, “I think you’re making some wrong decisions here.”  Such conversations must take place with great care, prayer, forethought, and love.  If I haven’t had any communication with you in the past few years, that’s a cue to you that your judgmental proclamations about my personal choices are unwelcome and inappropriate.  If you are making such comments in a public forum, speaking without giving it much thought, or attempting to “correct” me without having sought guidance from others who are concerned for my spiritual well-being, these are signs you are taking a wrong approach.  And when I say “wrong” here, I mean ineffective as well as morally reprehensible.

Your passion for God's truth ought to be matched by your passion for God's love, God's people, and God's investment in placing the last first and the first last.  If you take out your Bibles and turn to the gospels, you’ll find that you look a lot more like the Pharisees, and I look a lot more like the people Jesus went to the cross for.

You have objections to what I believe.  I get that.  And if you’re looking for a place to vent your concerns, might I recommend the Facebook group, OCC Talks, where the forum is one of debate on issues—not personal attacks on my views and life.

In case you haven’t gotten the message, LGBTQ people face a lot of problems—and not just because they live what you’d probably call sinful lives.  1.6% of the general population has attempted suicide at least once over the course of their lifetime.  For gays and lesbians, the percentage is twice as high, and an astounding 41% of transgendered people have attempted suicide.  You may say sin has caused this problem.  I (and a whole lot of other people) say the ignorance, rejection, and judgment of others has caused this problem.  You may think bullies are just muscle-y boys with anger problems, but they’re also housewives, church deacons, and Sunday school teachers who misuse their Christian witness.  Whatever the reason, LGBTQs face oppression and suffering.  And more to the point in this particular circumstance, I face oppression and suffering.  Like it or not, a lot of what I suffer from stems from the rejection you embody.

Instead of love, instead of respect, instead of even critical questions to help you understand my position in this world (a world that harms me, and makes me susceptible to violence, death, isolation, and despair)--instead of all this, I just receive assertions of your beliefs, your condemnation, your rejection.

God accepts me, and calls me beloved.  God blesses my sexuality and romantic relationship.  If somehow I am wrong, let God judge.  Let God condemn.  Let God be God.  If you are a Christian, you are his hands and feet—not his gavel.  And as such, you should not be off-handedly dismissing the choices I have so carefully, prayerfully, and solemnly made.  You should be out preaching the gospel, feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick, and comforting those who are suffering.  Which incidentally includes a lot of people like me.



P.S.  As pathetic as the following requests may sound, please do them as a show of support to me, who is often discouraged by the homophobia that exists among Christians.  Do them also as a sign to others who will see this and also need the encouragement.

- Whether you think homosexuality is a sin or a blessing, if you want to comfort LGBTQs because they have a rough time, please “like” this post.  

- If you want to “come out” as a supporter of LGBTQs because you believe God likes heterosexuality as much as any other kind of sexuality, respond with the word “Yes” followed by any comment you want.

- If you have a problem with this post, write whatever you like.

Religion and Sexuality: A Reflection

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Religion and Sexuality: A Reflection

When I was 8 I asked Jesus to be my savior. When I was 14, I dedicated my life to the Lord. When I was 20, I told God, “I’ll go wherever you send me.” When I was 24, I came out as queer.

You could say I was a late bloomer in large part because of the sexual repression I had experienced and the limiting cultural and religious environment in which I’d been entrenched. Some people hear my story and immediately understand that religion has done me wrong. That’s at least part of the story anyway. If I had not been surrounded by such a restrictive environment, my life would definitely have been easier, been less filled with shame, loneliness, and at times despair.

The rest of the story, however, is that my life was full of a lot of good. Though many religious arguments ultimately did damage to me, the religious people that surrounded me were full of love and light. They were also filled with some ignorance, bigotry, and misunderstanding, but my life was richer because I knew them. I know everyone can’t say the same thing. In some cases, religious people have been full of hatred, and they’ve used their God and love as weapons, but in my particular case, the damage was not so severe.

My life is better now. I have made peace with my sexuality and with the sense of sexual ethics I have gained from my relationship with God. I am happy to have come out as queer and to have distanced myself from the limiting cultural environments these religious communities foster, but it’s not easy. I am hurt that I am no longer accepted among those I used to call my spiritual family. I am angry that I’ve worked so hard to make them understand, but it so often seems they are incapable. I am offended that those who say they stand for God’s truth misrepresent the God I know, who is loving, is righteous, is holy, and who accepts a wide variety of sexualities.

Judgments and clashes over religious ideology are common—especially between LGBTQs and traditional conservatives, but it’s also common among LGBTQs. Many of you have faced similar issues with religion—whether Christian or otherwise. Some of you may have left religion behind, and some have renegotiated your relationships to spirituality and to certain religious communities. Others of you may have been nonreligious your whole lives yet can’t avoid interaction with those who represent religious perspectives.

I am a Christian, and I regret none of my former or present zeal. I do regret having at times been unwise, uneducated, and judgmental about sexuality—regrets that extend to mistakes I make about other issues today. Whatever your religious situation and your ultimate choice, be wary of making judgments about what religion means to your fellow LGBTQ. Religion may have been used to do a lot of damage to LGBTQ individuals over the millennia, but in wiser, more educated, and less judgmental hands, religion is also a source of much strength 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. They manage the blog and can be reached at

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Musings on Minority Status and Mental Health

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Musings on Minority Status and Mental Health

Despite my title for this week, I’m actually really uncomfortable with the way many gay people refer to themselves as minorities, often making inappropriate comparisons as a way of justifying their political goals (i.e. “Gay is the new black”). Systematic oppression has limited the economic opportunities and political power of generations of people on the basis of such things as race and ethnicity. LGBTQA folks face oppression, and often of an economic and political variety, but minority status for one group is not the same kind of oppression another group experiences. Even if they share similarities, the causes are often vastly different—as are the results. The point I want to emphasize, however, is that regardless of type, all minority groups share one thing in common: they face the difficult challenge of existing in a world that expects them to be otherwise.

We who are a part of the LGBQA community understand what it’s like to exist in a world that expects us to be something that we aren’t. Whether we’re kids, young adults, middle-aged, or aging, we face pressure and judgment from a culture that treats heterosexuality as the only “normal” possibility. Somehow, we’ve managed to “come out” and boldly resist the standards others would try to set for us, but the process is often very difficult.

We who are gender variant experience the pressure to be “normal” in even more dramatic ways. To be gay is often considered strange or sinful, but to identify with a gender that doesn’t fit social expectations is considered even more deviant and abnormal. It seems everyone thinks they’re an expert on who has a “normal” gender and who doesn’t, and transpersons and other gender variant folks have to navigate through all these judgments to find what they want and need.

Resisting societal pressure because of minority status is very taxing to our personal strength, but after some initial difficulties many of us make it through with relative ease. Others of us slog through the best we can, snatching up moments of happiness along the way. Still others of us have an even harder time.

The mental health of the LGBTQ population is often discussed in the media—especially in light of all the recent attention given gay teen suicide, but mental health is not necessarily something spoken about in less formal settings. Despite our reluctance to speak about these things, as a community we face increased susceptibility to such mental health-related issues as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and self-harm.

1.6% of the general population has attempted suicide at least once in their lifetime, but according to a 2008 publication from BMC Psychiatry, twice as many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have attempted suicide. A 2010 joint study released by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reports that 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide in the last year. As startling as these statistics are, suicide is just one aspect of our community’s relationship to mental health issues, but among friends, colleagues, and neighbors, it’s just not something we talk about.

Admitting to issues with mental health is often unthinkable. Such vulnerability makes us feel weak, incompetent, and crazy, but there should be no shame in being real with ourselves and others. The world does not make life easy for our differences. Just as coming out as gay can encourage others who are struggling with their sexual orientation, acknowledging our mental health struggles can provide hope and support for both our friends and ourselves.

Don’t be afraid to share your experience with mental health issues, and when someone opens up to you, support them as best you can. Even if they don’t take you up on offers of support, an ally is always good to have.

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. They manage the blog and can be reached at

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Combating Bullying by Affirming Variation

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Combating Bullying by Affirming Variation

In my last column I talked the root causes of anti-gay bullying: the policing of gender norms. Whether it’s chastising your sister because her eyebrows aren’t tidy enough or teasing your friend because his jeans are a little too feminine, enforcing “normal” gender standards on others does nothing but limit the potential happiness of others and the possible range of human expression. We who are LGBTQ understand what it’s like to be pressured into being something we can’t or don’t want to be, so as we think of what must be done to prevent anti-gay bullying, we have to start creating an environment that accepts all kinds of gendered expressions: from showtune-singing men and toolbelt-wielding women to men in heels, women with facial hair, and people with all manner of clothing, hair, ways of looking, being, and talking about themselves.

Despite these insights, the lingering question for many responding to the recent increase in attention to bullying is “Why is anti-gay bulling the central concern?” The short response is it shouldn’t be. Bullying has been a very serious problem for all kinds of people for quite a long time, and it has played a central role in many people’s experience with depression, suicide, and violence. Most kids taunted with anti-gay slurs never end up identifying as LGBTQ—this kind of bullying damages straight kids too. Expecting young people to be and act like a very limited standard of masculinity and femininity is constraining and costly even for those who pull it off.

Maintaining an image is difficult, but it’s something we all end up doing (for good or ill) whether it’s trying to act straight enough, gay enough, masculine, feminine, or some other kind of normal enough. When we can’t pull it off, we’re bullied or we’re reminded in more subtle ways that we need to try harder.

As an adolescent, I was rarely bullied with anti-gay slurs, but I was often treated like I was too fat, not pretty enough, not white enough, not American enough, not Chinese enough, too strange looking, not rich enough, too religious, too smart, too weird, too goofy, and basically not normal enough. For every person, the list is varied in content and length on what we supposedly need to work on to be more acceptable in the world.

Our cultural obsession with normalcy is what causes judgment, which then leads directly to bullying. If we want to stop bullying, we must stop striving after normalcy, stop trying to enforce normalcy on others, and start accepting and affirming variation.

Variation is good. Weirdness is good, and failing to affirm others in their departure from the norm (no matter how weird it seems to you) is just as bad as telling them they shouldn’t be gay because heterosexuality is normal.

The end of bullying may seem along ways off, but we can start now by making sure we’re not supporting the logic bullies use. The next time you start thinking “That is so weird/ugly/too ___/not ___ enough,” challenge yourself to affirm the choices of others. Don’t give up the battle to stand up for the outsider—even the battle taking place inside your head. If you can change your own mind, you’re on your way to changing 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. They manage the blog and can be reached at

The Roots of Homophobia

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

The Roots of Homophobia

A few months ago, the suicides of several young men caused us all to take pause. Some have argued that bullying is an inevitable part of growing up, but the stakes are too high for such easy dismissal.

The world has responded to what we’ve labeled “anti-gay bullying” with campaigns encouraging youth to make it through the difficulties of adolescence so they can experience the happiness that comes after. As much as these encouragements are helpful, some among the LGBTQA community have pointed out that waiting is not an option, and the happiness that comes after is often laced with a whole lot of other difficulties.

Change needs to happen now, but how do we stop anti-gay bullying?

The first step in bringing about change is to reexamine the question. Why is anti-gay bullying our central concern? What about bullying against people because they’re perceived as “too ugly,” “too fat,” “too weird,” “too foreign,” or in some other way too different from the imaginary norm? The gay community of course has an interest in anti-gay bullying, but it’s important that we realize that bullying is the problem—a problem neither limited to gay folks or to young people.

I recently heard Riki Wilchins, a noted writer and activist, give a presentation about the damaging consequences of gender policing. She pointed out that when kids use words like “fag,” “gay,” “sissy,” or “pussy” to taunt each other, it has nothing to do with sexual orientation but rather gender. Adults and children use these kinds of words to correct their peers about meeting the common expectation of masculinity, and the ideal masculinity has less to do with the gender of a male’s sexual partner and more to do with the colors he wears, the inflection of his voice, and the ways he relates with others. Yes, sexual orientation is a part of that masculine ideal, but the bullying is centered on masculine behavior, not sexual orientation.

Whether gay or straight, all kinds of people are confined and damaged by the rigid gender roles perceived as ideal or acceptable, and most of the time we don’t even know we’re being damaged.

Gay people are typically able to express their gender identities in more fluid ways than straight people, but often we don’t even think about the gendered options available to us. What underwear do you wear—boxers, briefs, panties, or thongs? What kind of jeans or shoes do you wear—those in the men’s section or the women’s? If you’re male, have you ever thought about growing your hear long or wearing eye liner? If you’re female, have you ever thought about shaving your head or growing out your facial hair? For the most part, we just accept the gendered boundaries enforced on us. Women shouldn’t have beards, and men shouldn’t wear bras. Why? Because that’s the way it’s always been.

Something the gay community needs to understand is that if we’re going to stop anti-gay bullying, we need to stop policing gender. Sandy Woulard was killed in recent months because she dared to transgress the boundaries of expected gender norms. I would hope you are not likely to engage in ruthless violence and hate, but do you trashtalk those who do not meet your expectation of what a man or woman should do? Do you use words like “tranny,” “dyke,” or “queen” to enforce your gender ideals on others?

As much as we try to eliminate hate and bullying in our own lives and behaviors, our assumptions about what’s “normal” tend to creep in. Be brave enough to admit when you bully others with your actions, words, expectations, and assumptions. If everyone could do that, this world would be a hell of a lot better already.

I’ll return to the topic of bullying in the context of race, class, body type, and ability in my column in two weeks, but in the mean time, I hope that as we fight anti-gay bullying we realize that fighting bullying on the basis of gender expression should be our top priority.

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. They manage the blog and can be reached at

Friday, February 11, 2011

Seven Things Allies (YOU!) Can Do

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Seven Things Allies (YOU!) Can Do

The world is an incredibly unjust place, but one of the best things you can do to make it better is to acknowledge the advantages you receive for being read as “normal” (whether it’s because you’re middle class, formally educated, able-bodied, slim, or not transgendered) and then make the conscious decision to ally yourself with those who are ill treated because they are read as “abnormal.”  We all know what a difference it makes when straight allies speak up and become part of overcoming homophobia, and so it’s all the more important that we also come out as allies in the fight against the systems of injustice that devalue the lives and experiences of: ethnic and racial minorities, people struggling to make a living, people struggling to get an education, people with disabilities, transpeople, genderqueer folks, intersexed people, and so many other kinds of people.

So what can you do to be an ally?  Glad you asked.  Here’s my list of seven things allies (you!) can do.

1. Be responsible for your own ignorance.  Although a lot of people enjoy talking about their experiences as a person with disabilities, as a transperson, or as some other kind of minority, there’s nothing more annoying than answering a series of mundane (and often offensive) questions because the person you’re talking to has been too lazy their whole life to try to figure out the answers on their own.  Curiosity is a wonderful attribute to have, but when you voice your curiosity about a transperson’s genitals, for example, you’re liable to get smacked.  A little research on your own can fill you in on the basics and prepare you for what kinds of topics are not acceptable for randomly bringing up with acquaintances.  The internet is a beautiful thing, and never before has it been so easy for you to figure out what you don’t know.  Don’t have regular access to the internet?  Try the library, use dictionaries, ask friends for books and other reading materials.  Yes, research can sometimes be time-consuming and difficult, but don’t you wish all the people you’ve known through the years had been knowledgeable about your identity and what offensive things not to say to you?

2. Listen first, listen second, speak later.  The saying goes, “You’ve got two ears and one mouth for a reason.”  Sometimes our eagerness to show support can come off as being condescending, creepy, and even rude.  Remember that even if you’ve read up on how to be an ally to people with disabilities, you’re not the expert on experiences with disability.  Keep your ears open.  Be available.  Wait for an invitation to be in conversation with someone about disability, but remember you’re here to learn, to show support, and to listen.

3. Remember that there is a time for questions (and that time is usually not now).  Similar to numbers one and two, this is a reminder that curiosity is not always a good reason to voice questions about personal issues.  What is your waiter’s ethnicity? How’d the guy in accounting lose his leg?  What was your transgendered colleague’s birth name?  Does your neighbor who has two partners have sex in a group or one at a time?  The answers to these questions do seem pretty interesting, yet when you presume to have the right to ask such personal questions, you assert your “normal” privilege in really hostile ways.  Wait till you’re close enough friends that the subject comes up more naturally.  Even then, ask in such a way that it’s still safe for the person not to answer.

4. Check your privilege. We tend not to notice our privilege till it’s gone.  This makes it extremely difficult but also extremely important for allies to be aware of what gives them advantages in this world.  Perhaps you can’t change how people read you, but you can try to stop taking advantage of it.   

5. Don’t try to prove that you’re an ally.  Be an ally because it’s the right thing to do not because you like having a reputation for being a good person.  Don’t talk about your support for a minority group so that others think you’re really progressive.  Live a progressive life.  Stand up and talk about the things that are important to you, but save the “evidence,” name dropping, and showing off talk for the posers.

6. Be understanding, not uncritical.  People with disabilities are the experts on disability.  Trans people are the experts on transgender issues.  But every person experiences these issues differently.  Always respect a person’s perspective, but don’t accept it as the gold standard of what it means for all people to have a disability or to be transgendered.

7. Don’t stop caring.  A lot of times, people come out as allies for a few months or a couple years and then stop.  Maybe you’ve stopped being friends with that transperson from work.  Maybe you don’t see your cousin with MS as much because she moved to California.  There are all sorts of reasons for losing that heightened awareness that you’re an ally, but don’t stop caring.  Look at the world differently.  Is it a safe and affirming place for every kind of person?  What can you do to work on that?  It’s easy to go back to our comforting privileged perspective, but if we want that better world, we have to keep on caring.

Why be an ally?  Read my column from two weeks ago.

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.  They manage the blog and can be reached at

Friday, January 28, 2011

Follow up on Sandy Woulard Story

I've been considering and may again return to the story of Sandy Woulard--a person I did not know, but an important person to my own personal history and political involvement.  I've been in a funk and not been writing much, but I hope to again soon.

In the meantime, make sure you read Joseph Erbentraut's very well-done piece on tackling the social problems that make people like Sandy at risk to such horrendous violence.  It's from a couple months ago, but definitely worth the reread.

Why You (Yes You!) Should Be An Ally

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Why You (Yes You!) Should Be An Ally

You may be skimming through this article and thinking, “But I’m gay. Why would I need to be an ally?” Well, by the time you get to the end I think you’ll understand.

One of the worst things a society can do is to act as if the experiences of one group is the universal human experience. A conversation I had with my grandfather when I was eight might help explain this problem. All my life I’d eaten white rice with Chinese food, eggs, or occasionally with some meat and gravy dish, but one day I got in an argument with my Anglo-Nebraskan grandfather, who told me rice was a food exclusively served with sugar, cream, and raisins. I was shocked, horrified, and vehemently against the idea of this rice pudding monstrosity replacing or even supplementing rice the way God intended. I insisted that rice was not a sweet food and that everyone eats plain rice, but he argued that it was a dessert.

Even though I am still uninterested in rice pudding, I can now acknowledge that my experiences and preferences are not universal, and the fact that I like plain white rice and am around a lot of people who also do doesn’t mean everyone does or needs to. It’s fairly easy to come to those conclusions when it comes to food, but the difficult history of minority groups in this country has taught us that such lessons are not so easily learned.

Gay people have historically been treated as outsiders and even been labeled sick, sinful, or somehow set apart from the “normal” people. We have all witnessed the social and emotional pain that a belief in “normal” sexuality has caused and have come out against such unfair treatment, but being straight is not the only sign of “normalcy.”

In the US, there is a persistent belief that normal Americans are of white European ancestry, speak English as a first language, are middle class, heterosexual, cisgendered (nontransgendered), Christian, formally educated, able-bodied, slim, and believe strongly in monogamy, raising children, patriotism, and capitalism.

These qualities are great qualities to have and there is quite a large number of people who this description accurately describes, but there is absolutely no reason someone should be given preferential treatment because they fit the description of “normal” more closely than another. Yet this is exactly what happens in most civic, professional, and social environments.

When we’re shown favoritism by coworkers, people in the street, or by larger institutions such as educational systems and the government, we become privileged. We expect that we’ll be treated in a certain way, and we have options for taking action if our expectations are not met. There’s nothing wrong with expecting to be treated well, but the problem is when we demand that we be treated well at the expense of others.

Privilege comes with how we are perceived, so even though I don’t make much money, because I have fairly new clothes, I am perceived as middle-class and therefore able to gain the privileges that come with being fairly well off. For instance, I’m not followed in clothing stores, I am seated right away in restaurants, and I am not harassed by police. If at any time I am, I have the option to fight back through talking with supervisors and appealing to my “upstanding” qualities. If I tell the supervisor, “Your employees should not harass me because I’m not a thief” they will likely not believe me. I might then be tempted to say, “Look at me: I am clean, my clothes look nice, I have a job, I come from a good family, I am a college-educated person—how dare you!” These comments would likely elicit an apology from the supervisor, but appealing to my class, education, and employment only supports a system that would reward that narrow definition of “normal.”

This is where you being an ally comes into play. Look again at the description of the “normal” American and note how many of these qualities describe you. Yes, you may indeed be a minority on more than one count, but it’s time to take a look at all the privileges you do receive for appearing “normal.” This is your starting point for figuring out how you can help make this world a safe and affirming place for every kind of person.

Make sure to read my column in two weeks, which will be titled “Seven Things Allies (YOU!) Can Do” for more specifics on this theme.

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

Dinosaur Rage

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Dinosaur Rage

My partner T has recently changed jobs, and in her new work environment, everyone assumes she’s like most of the women there who are heterosexual and who value things like getting married or being a good wife or mother. Of course there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being that type of person, but T wants people to recognize her as queer. Even when she tells them, they don’t quite get it because she likes her hair long, wears heels on occasion, yet she’s not a femme. She’s about as much masculine as she is feminine, but no one seems to understand. Common narratives of masculinity or femininity are difficult for her because they’re all too confining—she wants to identify as something unaffiliated.

Our language and culture are not very accommodating, so despite her attempts to be the non-gendered or multiply-gendered person she wants to be, she gets angry when these expectations are placed on her. She’s filled with rage that everyone assumes they know what she is. She jokes that the rage she experiences justifies a new identity as a dinosaur.

It all makes a good joke, but there is a large amount of seriousness involved. Most of us have felt the pain and anger caused by a straight world that expects heterosexuality or assumes stereotypes. The classic protest chant, “We’re here, we’re queer” comes from the same kind of rage against a society that refuses to see us for who we are and what we want to be. For some of our straight friends it’s difficult to understand where some of our anger comes from. Why should we get angry when someone stares at us on the train? Why should we speak ill of overprotective parents who think movies that reference same-sex attraction is too obscene for young people? Open conversations help our straight friends to really understand where we’re coming from and how this rage forms.

The same thing is true when talking about race. Members of racial minority groups sometimes develop negative attitudes because of continued assumptions about who or what people should be based on what they look like. I have a chip on my shoulder about a lot of white people, yet that chip didn’t magically appear. It developed over time through numerous experiences that have taught me many people make assumptions about me and the world based on a very small perspective. I try to be conscious of my own attitudes and work to be fair, but the rage sometimes escapes. If you’ve been asked as often as I have “what are you?” like you’re an alien who requires immediate classification, would you blame me?

This kind of rage can develop in any group of people who’ve been a minority among a larger group that thinks they are the standard for “normal.” These “normative” groups can be straight, white, people without disabilities, middle-aged, middle-class, male, and numerous other possibilities. In the LGBTQAI community, the “normative” group in danger of alienating minority groups are gay men and to a lesser but still present degree lesbians. Bisexual, transgendered, intersex, asexual, queer, and a gamut of other identities are often ignored, or treated as if they should be gay, should be straight, should be “trannies”, or a variety of other things.

One important challenge for any community is to resist the tendency to make expectations and assumptions about people’s identities. It’s difficult especially within communities such as ours, which are based on outsider status, but in such cases it’s all the more important. Even within twice minoritized groups such as transgender or queer communities, there can be a tendency to assume a “normal” narrative of what and who should be considered trans or queer.

We’ve all had the experience of being a part of the minority group. Chances are, we’ve each also participated in the process of alienating a minority group in some manner. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also incredibly important we acknowledge past and present failings so that we can improve and make the present and future what it must become: a safe place for all kinds of people.

Rage is not the most productive of emotions, but understanding how it develops in each of us sheds light on how we can inadvertently cause others to feel similar kinds of rage. So the next time you see someone who is untrusting and maybe has a bad attitude, ask yourself how it developed. What changes can you make, what changes must we make to create a world that is safe for that person? I’ve mentioned gender, sexual orientation, abilities, and age, but what of identities we’ve not even considered? If dinosaur rage can exist, there must be a lot of other kinds and therefore a lot of other work we need to 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

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Turning Over a New Leaf

Keeping It Queer
By Erica Chu

Turning Over a New Leaf

Congratulations! You’ve survived another holiday season.  It’s now several days into 2011, and as many of us switch out the old wall calendar for a new one, we often think of what resolutions we have for this coming year.  I am (probably like many of you) promising myself that I’ll eat healthier and exercise more, but I’m also thinking of what my priorities should be for the coming year.  I am taking stock of my attitudes toward the unavoidable in my life—school, work, family, relationships, friends, and volunteering. I don’t usually put so much effort into New Year’s resolutions, but this year, the calendar just happens to coincide with some significant changes in my daily routine.  As a result, I’ve also been considering the things I’ve not had time for, the things I’ve let slip away during the inevitable busyness of the last year.

I was once an avid journaler.  I recall being nineteen, and after many months of writing in the same journal, I reached the end.  I had bought a new one with a black cover, a succession of clean, white pages, and as I held this new journal in my hands, I wondered what words, what experiences, what stories would fill these same pages by the time I reached its end.  It was thrilling to open to the first page, uncap my pen, and make those first few notes into what I knew it would become—a worn, dusty journal containing the documentation of a life I once lived.

That journal sits on a shelf near my desk, and as I flip through this dusty book, I am reminded of how much I’ve forgotten of that time in my life.  On one particularly messy page is an entry about my concern for a friend’s well-being.  This guy is still a friend, and the worries I expressed in that entry are very much a continued reality, but I am presently less concerned because the past several years I’ve been so caught up in my own life and my own problems I’ve not often thought about how I could help this friend.  As I set the old journal down again, I resolve to call him and if I can, be of some support.

The more I think about making resolutions, the more I come to understand that taking stock of the present and making goals for what I want for the future is not enough.  I need to look at the future in light of the past.  What has been neglected that I can no longer ignore?  What have I wanted and why?  Do I like the goals I’ve lately been setting for myself, or are there goals from my past that I still want to pursue?

The LGBT community in Illinois is at a similar moment of reflection.  As the passing of the Civil Unions Bill gives same-sex couples a sense of local security and as the repeal of DADT gives us hope that federal change will come, it’s very easy to pat ourselves on the back and say we’ve made it.  We might take stock of our current situations and make goals based on what we’ve experienced lately—public validation for gay people through same-sex marriage or positive representations on popular television shows.  Yet what has been written in the journals of the struggle for LGBT rights?  What has been left out?  What do we want to be written?  What dreams have been forgotten, what priorities neglected? 

There are a lot of possible answers to this question, and though I won’t pretend to know the answers to these questions, I will say I believe our priorities need to be reassessed.  Passing the civil unions bill is a big step toward making life easier for many in our community, but what will make life more livable for our homeless youth? What will make life more livable for the poor among us, for those in need of safe housing, access to healthcare, access to legal documents, those contemplating suicide, struggling with addiction, or aging closeted and alone?

Whether it’s a new year or a new stage in the life of our community, as we look hopefully onto the blank page of our immediate future, it’s my hope we turn over a new leaf.  The immediate past has been full of activism that is progress, but it helps only some among us while many of the most vulnerable have been neglected year after year.  Next year, I want to pick up this messy page and read that we have worked for the most vulnerable in our community, so I pick up my pen, and start writing (and working) on my own personal priorities.

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