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