The power of collective memory

31 12 2008

For some reason, it’s really bugged me how all the news people keep saying that 2008 was a really crappy year.  Of course, the last half of the year has been filled with financial doom and gloom, which is fair, but was it really that bad?  Or more importantly, who has the right to tell me what my year was like?  Even in the very worst of years (and I don’t think this is it) good things happen.  There are surely people who had a really good 1933, or 1929.  People got married in those years, fell in love, had babies.  People enjoy personal triumphs every year, no matter what happens to a nation as a whole.  But collective experience is a powerful thing, and so I do hear a lot of people walking around saying how crappy 2008 was, without (I think) really examining what happened this year.  As for financial issues, yes, there are many people very directly affected by this, whether they were laid off, experienced bankruptcy or foreclosure, or couldn’t get a new job.  But I think the worst is yet to come, and there are plenty of people who haven’t experienced any financial difficulties yet.  For me, I think it’s been a decent year, if nothing to jump for joy about.  I’m not looking for a job until next summer, I’m financially stable, and in fact there have been some good things going on financially – flights got way cheaper and the price of milk even went down a bit.  Personally, the second half of the year has been hard just because there have been no holiday celebrations and I haven’t seen my family since this time last year, but it’s not all bad.  I’m having a friend over for New Year’s Eve dinner and we’ll have some nice food and I’ll go to bed way before midnight like the old lady I am.  So happy new year, everyone, and remember – you are not your own country.  Live your own successes and failures, and enjoy your own agency.  It’s a beautiful thing.

A query

25 12 2008

Why is it that some women who are sexually dominant assume that they have license to make everyone they meet do as they please, or that women who are sexually submissive are expected to defer and automatically be interested in them sexually? I’m not saying that all, or most, dominant women are like this, but I encountered one casually (not in a romantic/sexual context) and it really baffled me. My understanding is that kinky relationships are something to be negotiated, based on trust. So perhaps that sort of dynamic would evolve within a relationship, and I can respect that. What I don’t understand is someone who assumes that because they take on this role they should suddenly have everyone wait on them hand and foot. That’s called arrogance.

California Dreamin’

15 12 2008

I didn’t want to say anything until it was official because I’m superstitious about some things, but I’ve booked my ticket and hotel room so I think I can announce it.  I’ll be presenting a paper in March at the Global Arc of Justice: Sexual Orientation Law Around the World conference, hosted by the Williams Institute of UCLA law school and the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association, in Los Angeles!  I’ve known that I was probably going for a month, but now that funding for 3/4 of the trip came through and I was able to book the flight, I have an ear-splitting grin on my face.  It will be amazing academically, with several of my favorite scholars, and professionally, with several people from the NGOs at which I’d most like to work in attendance, and also I have to admit that it’s pretty cool to be in West Hollywood for three nights.  I’ve never been a big LA person, though I went to San Francisco once when I was 14 and loved it, but I keep thinking about the L-Word and laughing to myself.  It’s like a fantasy trip.  If anyone reading has academic experience, I would love some advice.  I know nothing about presenting a paper: for example, do you tend to stick with laying out the paper’s argument or do you extrapolate and give interesting facts with just your core argument as a teaser for people to read the paper?  I don’t know if/when this will be published, so a teaser seems a bit silly, though maybe this will be a jumping-off point to publication.  Also, PowerPoint or index cards?  Any other tips?  I’d love to hear them.

A Room of One’s Own

14 12 2008

I’ve been a great admirer of Virginia Woolf since high school, but this is my first time reading this particular work, and I’m quite struck by it.  She has a way of communicating that is hard to match, and I would recommend A Room of One’s Own before any denser modern material in a basic women’s studies class.  I think that in the time we live in, it’s very easy to get accustomed and complacent and forget just how monumental the steps are that have been made in recent years for equality.  Women and men are not equal, that’s for sure, but it’s just amazing to think that I was so lucky as to be born in this shimmer of time where I can forget the long years of oppression and hopelessness for women and have not only a room of my own, but three, and on top of that not one degree but two, and one of those in law no less.  I’m sure Woolf would be very pleased indeed to learn that such things would be possible so soon after she wrote.  We haven’t conquered the realms of men, but we have entered them, and that’s saying a lot.

Question of the Day: Can I live like a student for 3-5 more years?

13 12 2008

Like many recent and upcoming graduates, I’m starting to panic just a little at the economy.  I assumed that when I finished law school in summer ’09, I would be able to just slip quietly into an entry-level position at an NGO and work my way through the ranks, but with the economy like it is, there are no entry-level NGO jobs.  No entry-level anything, really.  I’ve been considering diving back into academia and hiding for a little while, but there’s a bit of a Catch 22.  The fellowships I’m looking at have January-March due dates on the applications, and they start July-September.  I wouldn’t really be able to start looking for jobs till April or so, I’d assume.  I mean, I think if you’re listing a job, you’re looking for someone to start within the next few months at least.  So I kind of have to make a decision.  Honestly, I love academia but I have no money.  I’d rather be able to work a few years and make some, but if I end up having to waitress, I’m not going to make much of that.  Here are the academic possibilities:

Columbia Law/Center for Reproductive Rights Fellowship:  Money-wise, this one is ideal.  It’s a two year research fellowship with a $55K/year stipend, which is actually enough to live in New York.  It’s geared towards reproductive rights/human rights, and it’s designed for those planning to go into legal academia, which I’ve been considering.  The problem is that I can’t necessarily commit to it, because if later something opened up in an activist direction, I might want to take it.  I do plan to research all my life, but that may not be as a professor.  Also, it starts in July, which is a problem with a lot of these – I’ll be prepared to start when they say, but I don’t know if they’ll accept me because I won’t have the J.D. in hand until August.

Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences:  This is a PhD fellowship in Bremen, Germany.  The program looks interesting, but not necessarily practically useful if I don’t go into academics.  However, if I wanted to teach in European universities, I might be able to do so with a European PhD.  The theme of the PhD is “The Future of Social and Political Integration,” and they have five topic areas you can pursue, all very interdisciplinary.  Fellows all get a 1200 euro/month stipend for three years and no tuition.  I would probably have to get a part-time job if I did this, depending on cost of living in Bremen.  The good news is I have until March 15, so time to think about a dissertation topic.

New York University:  I could get a JSD, which is basically a PhD in law.  The deadline is January 1, so I’ve decided that I’m not applying for this one this year.  It’s just not enough time to come up with a dissertation topic or commit to something as major as a doctoral degree.  However, this is a definitely possibility (for that matter, as is a Fullbright) if I can’t find a job and end up waitressing or temping this time next year.  It is a funded program, but $20,000 stipend for three years isn’t close to enough to live on in New York, so I’d need to find a job where I could make that again in salary.  

European University Institute: This is one of the most interesting programs to me.  The program is English/French, and I could do history or law.  Both are doctoral level, and it’s in Florence, where I’ve always wanted to go.  The catch is that funding is only available to European citizens, so this isn’t an immediate option.  Still, it’s in the back of my mind as something I might do in 5-10 years after saving up some money if my career isn’t really blossoming.

Book club reminder: Poll closes Sunday.  If no one votes, then I may just start selecting books myself from the suggestions given, so please vote if you’re interested in doing so.  If not, then I don’t mind picking and we’ll all read along!

Heads up on an interesting discussion on gay marriage

10 12 2008

If you haven’t yet seen it, Jon Stewart makes some really thoughtful arguments in a discussion with Mike Huckabee about gay marriage.  One of my favourite points: “Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality.”  You can get it online at, just click full episodes and select Tuesday’s night’s show. The discussion is right after the last little black commercial break bar at the bottom of your screen.

Marriage equality in Iowa? Say it’ll be so!

10 12 2008

I was pretty bummed after months of planning to go to the oral arguments in the Varnum v. Brien case today that my ride decided that it wasn’t likely enough that we would get a seat in the courthouse and changed his mind, but I understood and due to the freezing rain it was probably a smart call anyway.  Instead, I watched the arguments at a OneIowa viewing party here in Iowa City.  These are my thoughts.


  • The lawyer for the defense, a Mr. Cool, was disrespectful to the court, bumbling, and just not all that great.  He barely answered a question, he stumbled a lot, he ran himself around in circles, he contradicted himself, he often told a justice that he didn’t want to answer a question or that the question wasn’t good, and twice he reminded the court that his time had run out.  He held his folders in his hand at one point and looked like he just wanted to get the hell back to his chair.  This isn’t substantive, but I hope it will make the court look less kindly on his arguments.
  • The defense presented a lot of weak arguments that haven’t worked well in other states.  The focus was heavy on procreation, and the justices all hammered the attorney on that point, wanting to know what heterosexual marriage has to do with raising a healthy family.  You could tell that the attorney knew he was backing himself into a corner and he never really made his way out.
  • He also relied pretty heavily on the rational basis test, which the court very well may use, the but the court repeatedly asked him about strict or heightened scrutiny and he couldn’t answer.  Probably because if they apply strict scrutiny, he’s screwed.


  • The court mentioned a very recent Iowa case called Mitchell that I don’t know but apparently it requires the plaintiff when arguing no rational basis not only to argue that the government has no rational state interest but also to provide specific evidence to back it up.  The problem is that our side has the burden if the court picks rational basis, and the court basically said that neither side has any decent social science evidence despite thousands of pages submitted.
  • It seems at least possible that they’re going to reverse the District Court on the affidavits that it refused to accept, affidavits from experts including religion professors and a history professors about heterosexual marriage being traditional, etc. etc.  The reason for not accepting those affidavits is that they were personal opinion rather than actual expert testimony, but there was a whole run-around about legislative vs. adjudicative facts and one justice asked whether the case should be remanded or decided if it didn’t agree on that point.
  • One that had the law students in the room kind of gritting our teeth and holding our breath was a question about polygamy.  The defense focused a lot on the “four thousand years” of marriage and tradition and the danger of marriage being eroded in a generation domino effect blah blah blah.  The court then asked the attorney for the plaintiffs what the line is for the definition of marriage, i.e., if we’re allowing gay marriage why aren’t we allowing polygamy?  That was a tough question, though I do think he managed to squeak out of it with an explanation that polygamy changes the actual structure of marriage while same sex marriage only changes the people who can enter into that structure.  Granted, I don’t really have a big problem with polygamy myself, but I think he handled it pretty well.

Call in Gay Day: Tomorrow!

9 12 2008

Just a reminder for those of you in work or school tomorrow, December 10th, that’s it’s the day to call in day.  People around the country, including LGBT people and their allies, will be calling in queer to work to demonstrate how important our presence is.  I, unfortunately, cannot participate, for the simple reason that I have nothing to do tomorrow but study hard for finals, and I can’t afford to blow that off to go volunteer, but if you do decide to call in gay, spend the day volunteering for your favourite queer (or otherwise) organization!

Like Tomboy, Like Lesbian?

8 12 2008

I was just in the shower, thinking (like you do) about lesbian stereotypes.  I think that there’s at least some assumption that if you’re a gay girl, you might have been a tomboy growing up, or you really get along with “the guys.”  And for some lesbians, I know this is true, but I never fit into that mold.  I didn’t have any really close guy friends as a kid – sure, I had a few male friends, but I never connected with them in any significant way.  I had fairly “girly” interests, and I’ve always been touchy feely and liked long conversations.  Not that there aren’t men like that, but not so many in elementary and middle school.  My best friends were always girls, and I got along well with girls.  But when I young and assumed that I was straight, and when I was a bit older and identified as bisexual, I always figured that once I was in a serious relationship with a guy, he would be my best friend.  That was what I was looking for, and it never occurred to me that it wouldn’t just… happen.

Now I know there are exceptions, and there are plenty of lesbians who relate well with men but prefer women romantically, and plenty of straight women who don’t have any men friends but connect with their romantic partner.  However, the example that comes to mind is my parents, who indeed were best friends throughout thirteen years of marriage and fifteen years and counting of divorce.  My mom has always been heterosexual and she’s always had close male friends.  It didn’t occur to me that the same wouldn’t happen for me, but in my only serious relationship with a man, it really was a “Men are from Mars” situation.  We were just speaking different languages.

Since then, I’ve always thought that women are preferable as romantic partners because you can fall in love with your best friend.  And I think there’s something to that – if your best friend is always a certain gender, and you’ve never been particularly close to the other gender, you’re probably at least somewhat unlikely to suddenly become best friends with someone of the other gender because you get into a romantic relationship with them.  So maybe it’s not that unusual when a girly girl becomes a lesbian.  After all, doesn’t it make a certain amount of sense?

Lesbian book club reminder: the poll is up now for round three and will be open until Sunday afternoon.  Please vote!  Also, feel free to start discussing for round two if you read the book.

Lesbian Bookclub Timeline Available Through April

4 12 2008

See here.  If you haven’t registered for the boards yet, you’ll need to do that first.  Dates for Rounds Three-Six are set including open and close of book suggestion periods, open and close of the poll for which book to read, and open of discussion period.  This will make it a little easier to know when to go to the boards – just stick these dates in your calendar and show up as needed.