Sunday, September 02, 2007

The "Toe-Tapping Menace"

This is the first sensible "mainstream" commentary I've seen on the Sen. Larry Craig "scandal." (Admittedly, if I was spending my time reading more extensively on the subject, I might have found more.) Are men who "cruise" in public restrooms a menace? No! Is Sen. Larry Craig "gay"? Probably not, unless one is operating according to a rigid conceptual framework that there are only two types of people, and that if a male has sex with another male, that necessarily makes him "gay." According to this logic, the fact that he may also have sex with his wife means that he is just "fooling" himself about his true sexual orientation. But--isn't it possible that Craig could be "bi"? Or better yet, wouldn't it make more sense to think just in terms of sexual acts, rather than trying to read essential identities off of these sexual acts?

Does the fact that Craig has been convicted of a misdemeanor for a victimless crime require that he be run out of DC on a rail? Why are supposedly liberal-minded people jumping up and down with glee because another "hypocritical" family-values Republican has been exposed and punished? Shouldn't we instead be opposing such useless policing activities? And shouldn't we be struggling against the "politics of shame" that Michael Warner writes about so compellingly in The Trouble with Normal, the politics of shame that ruined the reputation of Bill Clinton and thousands of everyday folks who refuse sexual "normalcy"?

New York Times, September 2, 2007
America’s Toe-Tapping Menace
By Laura M. MacDonald

WHAT is shocking about Senator Larry Craig’s bathroom arrest is not what he may have been doing tapping his shoe in that stall, but that Minnesotans are still paying policemen to tap back. For almost 40 years most police departments have been aware of something that still escapes the general public: men who troll for sex in public places, gay or “not gay,” are, for the most part, upstanding citizens. Arresting them costs a lot and accomplishes little.

In 1970, Laud Humphreys published the groundbreaking dissertation he wrote as a doctoral candidate at Washington University called “Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places.” Because of his unorthodox methods — he did not get his subjects’ consent, he tracked down names and addresses through license plate numbers, he interviewed the men in their homes in disguise and under false pretenses — “Tearoom Trade” is now taught as a primary example of unethical social research.

That said, what results! In minute, choreographic detail, Mr. Humphreys (who died in 1988) illustrated that various signals — the foot tapping, the hand waving and the body positioning — are all parts of a delicate ritual of call and answer, an elaborate series of codes that require the proper response for the initiator to continue. Put simply, a straight man would be left alone after that first tap or cough or look went unanswered.

Why? The initiator does not want to be beaten up or arrested or chased by teenagers, so he engages in safeguards to ensure that any physical advance will be reciprocated. As Mr. Humphreys put it, “because of cautions built into the strategies of these encounters, no man need fear being molested in such facilities.”

Mr. Humphreys’s aim was not just academic: he was trying to illustrate to the public and the police that straight men would not be harassed in these bathrooms. His findings would seem to suggest the implausibility not only of Senator Craig’s denial — that it was all a misunderstanding — but also of the policeman’s assertion that he was a passive participant. If the code was being followed, it is likely that both men would have to have been acting consciously for the signals to continue.

Mr. Humphreys broke down these transactions into phases, which are remarkably similar to the description of Senator Craig’s behavior given by the police. First is the approach: Mr. Craig allegedly peeks into the stall. Then comes positioning: he takes the stall next to the policeman. Signaling: Senator Craig allegedly taps his foot and touches it to the officer’s shoe, which was positioned close to the divider, then slides his hand along the bottom of the stall. There are more phases in Mr. Humphreys’s full lexicon — maneuvering, contracting, foreplay and payoff — but Mr. Craig was arrested after the officer presumed he had “signaled.”

Clearly, whatever Mr. Craig’s intentions, the police entrapped him. If the police officer hadn’t met his stare, answered that tap or done something overt, there would be no news story. On this point, Mr. Humphreys was adamant and explicit: “On the basis of extensive and systematic observation, I doubt the veracity of any person (detective or otherwise) who claims to have been ‘molested’ in such a setting without first having ‘given his consent.’ ”

As for those who feel that a family man and a conservative senator would be unlikely to engage in such acts, Mr. Humphreys’s research says otherwise. As a former Episcopal priest and closeted gay man himself, he was surprised when he interviewed his subjects to learn that most of them were married; their houses were just a little bit nicer than most, their yards better kept. They were well educated, worked longer hours, tended to be active in the church and the community but, unexpectedly, were usually politically and socially conservative, and quite vocal about it.

In other words, not only did these men have nice families, they had nice families who seemed to believe what the fathers loudly preached about the sanctity of marriage. Mr. Humphreys called this paradox “the breastplate of righteousness.” The more a man had to lose by having a secret life, the more he acquired the trappings of respectability: “His armor has a particularly shiny quality, a refulgence, which tends to blind the audience to certain of his practices. To others in his everyday world, he is not only normal but righteous — an exemplar of good behavior and right thinking.”

Mr. Humphreys even anticipated the vehement denials of men who are outed: “The secret offender may well believe he is more righteous than the next man, hence his shock and outrage, his disbelieving indignation, when he is discovered and discredited.”

This last sentence brings to mind the hollow refutations of figures at the center of many recent public sex scandals, heterosexual and homosexual, notably Representative Mark Foley, the Rev. Ted Haggard, Senator David Vitter and now Senator Craig. The difference is that Larry Craig was arrested.

Public sex is certainly a public nuisance, but criminalizing consensual acts does not help. “The only harmful effects of these encounters, either direct or indirect, result from police activity,” Mr. Humphreys wrote. “Blackmail, payoffs, the destruction of reputations and families, all result from police intervention in the tearoom scene.” What community can afford to lose good citizens?

And for our part, let’s stop being so surprised when we discover that our public figures have their own complex sex lives, and start being more suspicious when they self-righteously denounce the sex lives of others.

Laura M. Mac Donald is the author of “The Curse of the Narrows: The Story of the 1917 Halifax Explosion.”

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"Career Women In Japan Find A Blocked Path": NYT

An article in the August 6 New York Times provides a useful update on women in management positions in Japan. Useful in particular as supplementary material for Anne Allison's Nightwork, her ethnography on the sararimen of Japan.

Here are some key excerpts:

In 1985, women held just 6.6 percent of all management jobs in Japanese companies and government, according to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency. By 2005, that number had risen to only 10.1 percent, though Japan’s 27 million working women made up nearly half of its work force. By contrast, women held 42.5 percent of managerial jobs in the United States in 2005, the organization said.

Experts on women’s issues say outright prejudice is only part of Japan’s problem. An even bigger barrier to the advancement of women is the nation’s notoriously demanding corporate culture, particularly its expectation of morning-to-midnight work hours...

Even with cases of blatant discrimination, lawsuits remain rare because of a cultural aversion to litigation. Another big problem has been that the equal opportunity law [passed in 1985] is essentially toothless. Despite two revisions, the law includes no real punishment for companies that continue to discriminate...

Still, women’s rights advocates say that the realities of Japan’s shrinking population are slowly forcing change. They say the need to find talented workers has pushed a small but growing number of companies to make more efforts to hire women as “sogo shoku,” or career-track employees, in line for management. Some analysts estimate that about a quarter of career-track hires in recent years have been women.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

As women penetrate the workforce in East Asia, gendered changes in corporate culture

Anne Allison's important ethnography, Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club, shows how the (mandatory) after-hours socializing of Japanese businessmen ("sararimen") at hostess clubs produces a form of masculine identity that accords with the needs of the corporation. This New York Times article, although it concerns corporate culture in South Korea, perhaps suggests ways in which gendered corporate culture may be changing in Japan as well, as women penetrate managerial and professional levels.

"Corporate Korea Corks the Bottle as Women Rise"
By NORIMITSU ONISHI, New York Times, June 10, 2007

SEOUL, South Korea — In a time-honored practice in South Korea’s corporate culture, the 38-year-old manager at an online game company took his 10-person team on twice-weekly after-work drinking bouts. He exhorted his subordinates to drink, including a 29-year-old graphic designer who protested that her limit was two glasses of beer.

“Either you drink or you get it from me tomorrow,” the boss told her one evening.

She drank, fearing that refusing to do so would hurt her career. But eventually, unable to take the drinking any longer, she quit and sued.

In May, in the first ruling of its kind, the Seoul High Court said that forcing a subordinate to drink alcohol was illegal, and it pronounced the manager guilty of a “violation of human dignity.” The court awarded the woman $32,000 in damages for the incidents, which occurred in 2004.

The ruling was as much a testament to women’s growing presence in corporate life here as a confirmation of changes already under way. As an increasing number of women have joined companies as professionals in the past half decade, corporate South Korea has struggled to change the country’s thoroughly male-centered corporate culture, starting with alcohol.

An evening out with colleagues here follows a predictable, alcohol-centered pattern: dinner, usually some grilled pork, washed down with soju, Korea’s national vodkalike drink; then a second round at a beer hall; then whiskey and singing at a “norae bang,” a Korean karaoke club. Exhorted by their bosses to drink, the corporate warriors bond, literally, so that the sight of dark-suited men holding hands, leaning on one another, staggering toward taxis, is part of this city’s nighttime streetscape. The next morning, back at the office, they are ready to fight, with reaffirmed unity, for more markets at home and abroad.

Many professional women manage to avoid much of the drinking by adopting well-known strategies. They slip away while their male colleagues indulge in a second or third round of drinking. They pour the drinks into potted plants. They rely on male colleagues, called “knights in shining armor,” to take their turns in drinking games.

Companies, too, have begun to respond. Since 2005, Posco, the steel manufacturer, has limited company outings to two hours at its mill in South Korea’s southwest. Employees can raise a red card if they do not want to drink or a yellow card if they want to go home early. At Woori Bank, one of South Korea’s largest, an alarm rings at 10 p.m. to encourage workers to stop drinking and go home using public transportation, which stops running before midnight.

“My boss used to be all about, ‘Let’s drink till we die!’ ” said Wi Su-jung, a 31-year-old woman employed at a small shipping company.

Ms. Wi, who was out enjoying the sun in downtown Seoul, said the atmosphere began changing as more women joined her company in the past couple of years. “The women got together and complained about the drinking and the pressure to drink,” she said. “So things changed last year. Now we sometimes go to musicals or movies instead.”

Kim Chil-jong, who was taking a walk on his lunch hour, said he owned a nine-person publishing company. In the last couple of years, he hired two women for the first time.

“We drink less because of their presence,” Mr. Kim, 47, said. “Before, I’d encourage my workers to drink whenever we went out, but I don’t do that anymore.”

Still, at least 90 percent of company outings — called “hoishik,” or coming together to eat — still center on alcohol, according to the Korean Alcohol Research Foundation. The percentage of women who drink has increased over all as they have joined companies.

Over all, South Koreans consume less alcohol than, say, most Europeans, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a research organization financed by industrialized nations.

But Cho Sung-gie, the alcohol foundation’s research director, estimates that South Koreans rank first in binge drinking: the goal is to drink as much as possible, as quickly as possible, so that co-workers loosen up.

Companies have awakened to the potential dangers of bingeing: health threats, decreased productivity and, with more women working, the risk of sexual harassment.

The foundation, though financed largely by the alcohol industry, is considered the authority on the country’s drinking culture. It runs programs on responsible drinking and abstinence, and assists companies to organize outings not centered on alcohol. Chang Kih-wung, a manager in the education team, has even joined company outings to the movies.

“Usually, a company decides to do something about drinking after a guest, often a foreigner, visits and makes a comment like, ‘Man, people drink like crazy here!’ ” Mr. Chang said. “So they’ll invite me for a lecture or organize a single activity — then they forget about it and go back to drinking.”

Traditionally, this corporate culture often began at the job interview itself. Asked whether they liked to drink, applicants knew that there was only one correct answer.

“If they said they didn’t drink, we’d think that we couldn’t work closely together,” said Lee Jai-ho, 40, an engineer at a paper mill that was bought by Norske Skog of Sweden in the late 1990s.

Mr. Lee said he was asked whether he was a good drinker during his job interview in 1992, and he asked the same question of job candidates later. The company’s hard-drinking culture changed, however, after it changed to foreign ownership.

It is this fear of not being accepted as full members of the team that has led many women to drink to excess. A 31-year-old lawyer for a telecommunications company, who asked that her name not be used, blacked out during a company outing shortly after she became the first Korean woman to serve as a lawyer in the legal division three years ago. “During my studies, I always competed against men,” she said. “So I didn’t want to lose to men at hoishik.”

She drank so much during dinner at a Chinese restaurant that she remembered nothing past 9 p.m., though the outing lasted until 1 a.m.

However, as more women have joined her division, she said, the emphasis on alcohol has decreased.

“Before it was always grilled pork with soju followed by mixed drinks,” she said. “Now, I can suggest that we go to a Thai or Italian restaurant.”

Not all men were so flexible, though. In the case of the 29-year-old graphic designer, when she was interviewed at the 240-employee online game company in 2004, she was also forced to submit to an “alcohol interview,” according to the court ruling. She could drink only two glasses of beer and no soju at all, she said.

Her boss, though, liked to go out with his 10-person marketing team — six men and four women — at least twice a week until the predawn hours and brooked no excuses.

One time, he told her that if she called upon a “knight in shining armor,” she would have to kiss him. So she drank two glasses of soju. Another time, after she slipped away early, he called her at home and ordered her to come back. She refused.

At the trial, the boss said he was so intent on having his subordinates bond that he sometimes used his own money to take them out drinking. He called the woman a weirdo and said of the lawsuit, “I’m the victim.”

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Vogueing: Alive and Well

I frequently show Jennie Livingston's great documentary, Paris Is Burning, in my gender/sexuality classes, and this article does a great job of updating us on the voguing scene, which not only remains vital, but has spread far beyond New York City.

New York Times, May 22, 2005 Sunday (Style Section, Pg. 1)
"Still Striking A Pose," by Guy Trebay

SELVIN KOOL-AID GIVENCHY was stalking the runway, letting fly his hands and his wild invective. ''Work it, girls! Serve it like a legend!'' said Mr. Givenchy, who is something of an underground legend himself, what with his Moms Mabley mug, his colossally oversize sweatshirt and a mouth that would make that raunchy comedian's seem snowflake pure. ''Remember,'' Mr. Givenchy commanded the ladies, although ladies was not the word he employed. ''I am in charge of the girls!''

The girls were not girls, of course, and the boys not boys. The runway was a makeshift theater on which, over the course of a long evening, the girls and the boys would stomp and pose and parade and dance attired in zoot suits or chiffon dresses or else very little at all. The gathering was a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the New York-based House of Ultra-Omni, one of the last of the original drag queen houses whose balls proliferated in the 1980's, then faded from memory and, seemingly, disappeared.

Whatever vague awareness most Americans may have of this bygone scene probably comes from Madonna's ''Vogue,'' the influential 1990 hit that was either an act of homage to the underground that inspired it or one of creative larceny. A fuller introduction was provided by ''Paris Is Burning,'' Jennie Livingston's 1991 documentary, a remarkably clear-eyed appraisal of the epoch and the quirky ''legends'' who gave it birth.

No one can say for sure when or how voguing seemed to vanish, and with it the houses that brought it into the world. Those houses constituted groups of gay men organized and run by ''mothers'' and ''fathers,'' populated by ''children'' and named for fashion designers no one involved had ever met. Then and now, even people who were in on the scene might have been forgiven for assuming that its practitioners had moved on in the decade after ''Vogue'' and ''Paris Is Burning,'' or, as likely, were now dead.

The reality, it turns out, is astonishingly different. True, AIDS decimated the ball world, carrying away many of its founders. But far from fading out, the balls survived and are being revived by a new generation that has exported them from the urban centers where they first flourished to the Sun Belt and the Midwest.

Balls are now being staged almost every weekend in cities like St. Louis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington and Detroit. The House of Ultra-Omni alone has branches in 10 states. A dozen or more Web sites are devoted to the scene, which also has its own magazine and newsletter and is the subject of a new documentary that brings things vividly up to date. "How Do I Look" was filmed over the past decade by the German filmmaker Wolfgang Busch; fresh from making the rounds of an academic circuit still eager for tales from the gender front, the film will be released on DVD next month.

''People thought it all ended with 'Paris Is Burning,''' said Wayne Tanks, the father of the Wisconsin chapter of the House of Ultra-Omni. Along with dozens of other children, Mr. Tanks had traveled to Los Angeles to celebrate his house's quarter-century mark. ''But we're still here.''

In Los Angeles this was made abundantly clear as members arrived to represent venerable houses like Ninja, Versace, Mugler, Cavalli, Moschino, Bizarre, Blahnik, Givenchy, Balenciaga and Prestige. Mothers and fathers and children from each of these clans descended on a Westin hotel near L.A.X., curiously resplendent beings whose existence gave proof to the survival of an implausible phenomenon conjured from the raw material of hard lives.

They came to commemorate, to celebrate, to dance and posture and do serious battle on a catwalk in an overlighted banquet room. They also came, if one may borrow back a phrase from Madonna, to strike a pose.

''When I first heard about the houses, I thought, this culture is so underground,'' said Brandon Harp, a member of the Atlanta House of Ultra-Omni. ''Then I found that, in places like Kentucky, where I had never been, people knew who I am and what my best category is.''

Mr. Harp arrived in Los Angeles prepared to walk in a category called Butch Queen Realness, a kind of extravagantly performed commentary on self-presentation, in which an out gay man impersonates an apparently straight or closeted gay man by wearing a costume that exaggeratedly telegraphs masculinity. Mordant social commentary has always been at the core of the voguing balls, and long before academia institutionalized the notion that gender is performance, the ball children were tartly making the same point at elaborate fetes where competing groups vied to outdo each other at caricaturing the masks of sex. Wealth and power, it should be mentioned, also tend to come in for some sharp appraisal at these gatherings, critiques the more pointed because ball children have historically possessed little of either.

Throughout their history, ball children have strutted down improvised runways in categories like ''executive realness,'' ''femme attitude'' and ''sex-siren effect.'' The costumes they donned were most memorably of the feather boa sort. But, just as often their ''drag'' runs to ''executive'' suits and wingtips or else do-rags and Timberlands worn by Down Low types.

In the past the ball children battled in gay clubs and leased Elks halls. They took trophies and earned credibility and status on a circuit that was both intricately networked and, at the same time, so seemingly informal one would think the balls were arranged ad hoc. All that has changed, Mr. Tanks said. Thirty members of his house split their time between working up ensembles for catwalk competitions and creating outreach programs promoting ''awareness and prevention of H.I.V.'' and other forms of sexually transmitted disease.

Social service was a galaxy away from anyone's concerns at the Westin hotel on this spring evening, as the ball children tucked into a dinner of poached chicken and mesclun with slices of Brie. The meal was a marked departure from balls of the past, where the food, if there was any, tended to be chips or pretzels or anything useful at soaking up booze. If not an entirely sober occasion, the 25th anniversary of the House of Ultra-Omni was a Kiwanis picnic by contrast with the frenzied, and often drug-stoked, blowouts of earlier days.

Still, it was a serious ball, serious meaning frivolous to a nearly demented degree. As Mr. Givenchy repeated any number of times, ''The girls better serve it serious, they better work, and they better come out here punishing my runway with a nasty attitude and a sickening walk.'' Irony being mother's milk in the ball world, words like sick and nasty and over (or ''ovah'') are terms of the highest approbation: Webster's take note.

Of all the contributions the ball world has made to culture, dance is probably the most durable, athough that oddly seems to have escaped much scholarly notice. ''Voguing is truly an evolution of ancient African dance forms rehearsed and refined into a form of first-world party artistry,'' explained Muhammad Ultra-Omni, real name Salaudin Muhammad, before taking to the stage in a white linen suit and a white straw hat whose crown was cut out to allow for his fountain of dreadlocks.

Once onstage Mr. Muhammad put in play the stylized walks and poses and dips and spins and chest poppings and stupefying dead drops that have qualified him for legendary status on a scene where legend is a hard-won formal honorific.

''Break dancers get together and do stuff like this, and it's fully accepted,'' said Willi Ninja, surely the most celebrated dancer ever produced by the ballrooms, speaking in a mainstream sense. ''If Madonna does voguing, it's O.K.,'' he added. ''But when the ball children dance, even now, people say, 'Oh, it's a bunch of crazy queens throwing themselves on the floor.'''

Yet even the most skeptical observer would have trouble disputing that real artistry is involved when Muhammad or Ninja takes the floor. And not even a churl could keep from being charmed by the House of Cavalli, a posse of refrigerator-size men who swept into the Westin ballroom near midnight wearing demure French twists and dresses of diaphanous chiffon that had to have been cut from acre-sized bolts.

To the chanted (and entirely unprintable) exhortations of Mr. Givenchy, each performer took his thrashing, popping, stalking, prancing or whirling turn on the runway and posed and performed in a way that one contestant described as ''so nasty and ovah it's sick.''

The clear high point of the evening, for this observer at least, was reached when Warner McPherson, also known as Hershey Ultra-Omni, pranced onstage with his lean body oiled and naked but for a G-string kitted out with plastic Wal-Mart foliage. In a blur that lasted less than three minutes, Mr. McPherson miraculously managed to conjure the entire history of voguing in a performance so stylized and manic that inspired is hardly an adequate word. It was possessed.

''Work it, Miss Hershey! Bring it! Serve it! Show them girls how it's really done!'' The voice belonged to Kevin Burrus, or Kevin Ultra-Omni, who helped found the house of that name 25 years ago in New York. ''You know, seeing Hershey makes me emotional,'' explained Mr. Burrus, as his protege performed. ''After all that we have been through, with the AIDS and the drugs and the death and the homophobia, I see Hershey dancing and realize that the ball children are still strong and still out here, carrying on.''

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Same-Sex Public Displays of Affection

This article is about as good an account of "hetenormativity" and the un-marked and usually unnoticed limits it imposes upon everyday behavior as you can get. (As an aside, last year a female friend of mine was nuzzling with her girlfriend right behind a Dickson street eatery in downtown Fayetteville. A guy passing by in his truck, his girlfriend in tow, leapt out and punched my friend hard in the face, and then jumped back in the truck and drove off. Luckily my friend didn't get her nose broken, but she looked terrible from the assault. The matter was reported to the police but the perp has never been caught.) See Snickers ad here.

New York Times, February 18, 2007
A Kiss Too Far?
By Guy Trebay

The spot was only 30 seconds, almost a blur amid the action at the Super Bowl. Yet the hubbub after a recent commercial showing two auto mechanics accidentally falling into lip-lock while eating the same Snickers bar went a long way toward showing how powerfully charged a public kiss between two men remains.

Football is probably as good a place as any to look for the limits of social tolerance. And the Snickers commercial — amusing to some, appalling to others and ultimately withdrawn by the company that makes the candy — had the inadvertent effect of revealing how a simple display of affection grows in complexity as soon as one considers who gets to demonstrate it in public, and who, very often, does not.

The demarcation seemed particularly stark during the week of Valentine’s Day, when the aura of love cast its rosy Hallmark glow over card-store cash registers and anyone with a pulse. Where, one wondered, were all the same-sex lovers making out on street corners, or in comedy clubs, performance spaces, flower shops or restaurants?

“There’s really a kind of Potemkin village quality to the tolerance and acceptance” of gay people in America, said Clarence Patton, a spokesman for the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. “The idea of it is O.K., but the reality falls short.”

Provided gay people agree to “play a very tightly scripted and choreographed role in society, putting your wedding together or what have you, we’re not threatening,” Mr. Patton said. “But people are still verbally harassed and physically attacked daily for engaging in simple displays of affection in public. Everything changes the minute we kiss.”

The lugs in the Snickers commercial recoiled in shock at their smooch, resorting to “manly” behavior like tearing out their chest hair in clumps. Alternate endings to the commercial on a Snickers Web site showed the two clobbering each other, and related video clips featured players from the Super Bowl teams reacting, not unexpectedly, with squeamish distaste. The outrage voiced by gay rights groups similarly held little surprise.

“This type of jeering from professional sports figures at the sight of two men kissing fuels the kind of anti-gay bullying that haunts countless gay and lesbian schoolchildren on playgrounds across the country,” Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. A spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation condemned the advertisement as “inexcusable.” Masterfoods USA, a division of Mars and the maker of Snickers, withdrew the offending ads.

But for some the commercial left the lingering question of who owns the kiss? How is it that a simple affectionate gesture can be so loaded? Why is it that behavioral latitudes permit couples of one sort to indulge freely in public displays lusty enough to suggest short-term motel stays, while entire populations, albeit minority ones, live real-time versions of the early motion picture Hays Code: a peck on the cheek in public, one foot squarely planted on the floor?

The freedom to kiss in public is hardly the most compelling issue for most gay rights advocates, or perhaps even in the minds of many gay Americans. Yet the symbolic weight of simple gestures remains potent, a point easy to observe wherever on the sexual spectrum one falls. “Whose issue is it? Why is it only a gay issue?” said Robert Morea, a fitness consultant in New York.

Although Mr. Morea is heterosexual, his client list has long included a number of high-profile professionals, the majority of them gay women and men. “The issue is there because for so many years, people got beaten up, followed or yelled at,” he said. “Even for me as a straight man, it’s obvious how social conditioning makes it hard for people to take back the public space.”

After considering herself exclusively lesbian for decades, Sarah Van Arsdale, a novelist, not long ago found, to her surprise, that she had fallen in love with a man. At first, as she wrote last week in an e-mail message from a writer’s colony in Oaxaca, Mexico, “ Whenever we would hold hands in public, I felt a frisson of fear, waiting for the customary dirty looks or at least for the customary looking-away.”

In place of revulsion, Ms. Van Arsdale was startled to discover that, having adjusted her sexual identity, she was now greeted by strangers with approving smiles. “I felt suddenly acceptable and accepted and cute, as opposed to queer,” she said.

While few are likely to have shared Ms. Van Arsdale’s singular perspective, her experience is far from exceptional. “I’m a very openly gay man,” said Dane Clark, who manages rental properties and flies a rainbow flag from his house in Kansas City, Kan. “My partner and I don’t go kissing in public. I live in probably the most liberal part of the State of Kansas, but it’s not exactly liberal. If I was to go to a nice restaurant nearby and kiss my partner, I don’t think that would go over very well.”

As many gay men have before him, Mr. Clark chose to live in a city rather than the sort of small town where he was raised in the hope that Kansas City would provide a greater margin of tolerance and also of safety. Even in nearby Independence, Mo., he said, “if you kiss your partner in a restaurant, you could find somebody waiting for you outside when you went to the car.”

But haven’t things changed radically from the days when lesbians and gay men were considered pariahs, before gay marriage initiatives became ballot issues, before Ellen DeGeneres was picked to host the Oscars, and cable TV staples like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” made a competitive sport of group hugs?

In some senses and in certain places, apparently, they have. The landscape of acceptance, as the Snickers commercial inadvertently illustrated, is constantly shifting — broadening in one place and contracting somewhere else. The country in which anti-gay advocates like the Rev. Fred Phelps once drew headlines for picketing Matthew Shepard’s funeral and preaching what was called “a Day-Glo vision of hatred” can seem very far away at times from the laissez-faire place in which an estimated 70 percent of Americans say they know someone who is gay.

“We don’t administrate public displays of affection,” said Andrew Shields, World Church Secretary of the Community of Christ, a Christian evangelical church with headquarters in Independence. “Homosexuality is still in discussion in our church. But our denominational point of view is that we uphold the worth of all persons, and there is no controversy on whether people have a right to express themselves.”

The tectonics of attitude are shifting in subtle ways that are geographic, psychic and also generational, suggested Katherine M. Franke, a lesbian who teaches law and is a director of the Center for the Study of Law and Culture at Columbia University. “I’ve been attacked on the street and called all sorts of names” for kissing a female partner in public, Professor Franke said. “The reception our affection used to generate was violence and hatred,” she added. “What I’ve found in the last five years is that my girlfriend and I get smiles from straight couples, especially younger people. Now there’s almost this aggressive sense of ‘Let me tell you how terrific we think that is.’ ”

Yet gay-bashing still occurs routinely, Mr. Patton of the Anti-Violence Project said, even in neighborhoods like Chelsea in Manhattan, where the sight of two men kissing on the street can hardly be considered a frighten-the-horses proposition. “In January some men were leaving a bar in Chelsea,” saying goodbye with a kiss, Mr. Patton said. “One friend got into a taxi and then a car behind the taxi stopped and some guys jumped out and beat up the other two.” One victim of the attack, which is under investigation by the police department’s Hate Crimes Task Force, was bruised and shaken. The second had a broken jaw.

“The last time I was called a faggot was on Eighth Avenue,” said Joe Windish, a longtime New Yorker who now lives in Milledgeville, Ga., with his partner of many years. “I don’t have that here, and I’m an out gay man,” said Mr. Windish, whose neighbors in what he termed “the reddest of the red states” may be fundamentalist Christians who oppose gay marriages and even civil unions, but “who all like me personally.”

Tolerance has its limits, though, as Mr. Windish found when he and his partner took a vacation on a sleepy island off the coast of Georgia. “I became aware that if I held my partner’s hand, or kissed him in public, the friendliness would stop,” he said.

What Mr. Windish calls a level of peril is possibly always in play, and this no doubt has something to do with the easily observed reality that a public kiss between two people of the same sex remains an unusual occurrence, and probably not because most are holding out for the chance to lock lips over a hunk of milk chocolate, roasted peanuts and caramel.

“We forget here, because New York has been relatively safe for a while, that hate is a problem,” said Roger Padilha, an owner of MAO public relations in New York. The reminders surface in everyday settings, he said, and in ordinary ways.

“My boyfriend and I always hold hands and, when we feel like it, we kiss,” Mr. Padilha said. Yet some weeks back, at a late movie in a Times Square theater, as Mr. Padilha went to rest his hand on his partner’s leg — a gesture it would seem that movie theaters were invented to facilitate — he recoiled as sharply as had one of the Snickers ad guys.

“He was like: ‘Don’t do that. It’s too dangerous,’ ” Mr. Padilha said. “And afterward I thought, you know, my dad isn’t super into P.D.A.’s, but nobody’s ever going to beat him up because he’s kissing my mom at a movie. I kept thinking: What if my boyfriend got hit by a car tomorrow? When I had the chance to kiss him, why didn’t I?”

Saturday, January 20, 2007

51% of (U.S.) Women Are Now Living Without Spouse

Here's that widely-cited NYT article. I particularly like this quote from Sheila Jamison: “I have not sworn off marriage, but if I do wed, it will be to have a companion with whom I can travel and play parlor games in my old age.”

January 16, 2007, The New York Times
51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse

For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results.

In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.

Coupled with the fact that in 2005 married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time, the trend could ultimately shape social and workplace policies, including the ways government and employers distribute benefits.

Several factors are driving the statistical shift. At one end of the age spectrum, women are marrying later or living with unmarried partners more often and for longer periods. At the other end, women are living longer as widows and, after a divorce, are more likely than men to delay remarriage, sometimes delighting in their newfound freedom.

In addition, marriage rates among black women remain low. Only about 30 percent of black women are living with a spouse, according to the Census Bureau, compared with about 49 percent of Hispanic women, 55 percent of non-Hispanic white women and more than 60 percent of Asian women.

In a relatively small number of cases, the living arrangement is temporary, because the husbands are working out of town, are in the military or are institutionalized. But while most women eventually marry, the larger trend is unmistakable.

“This is yet another of the inexorable signs that there is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people’s lives,” said Prof. Stephanie Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit research group. “Most of these women will marry, or have married. But on average, Americans now spend half their adult lives outside marriage.”

Professor Coontz said this was probably unprecedented with the possible exception of major wartime mobilizations and when black couples were separated during slavery.

William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, a research group in Washington, described the shift as “a clear tipping point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women.”

“For better or worse, women are less dependent on men or the institution of marriage,” Dr. Frey said. “Younger women understand this better, and are preparing to live longer parts of their lives alone or with nonmarried partners. For many older boomer and senior women, the institution of marriage did not hold the promise they might have hoped for, growing up in an ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ era.”

Emily Zuzik, a 32-year-old musician and model who lives in the East Village of Manhattan, said she was not surprised by the trend.

“A lot of my friends are divorced or single or living alone,” Ms. Zuzik said. “I know a lot of people in their 30s who have roommates.”

Ms. Zuzik has lived with a boyfriend twice, once in California where the couple registered as domestic partners to qualify for his health insurance plan. “I don’t plan to live with anyone else again until I am married,” she said, “and I may opt to keep a place of my own even then.”

Linda Barth, a 56-year-old magazine editor in Houston who has never married, said, “I used to divide my women friends into single friends and married friends. Now that doesn’t seem to be an issue.”

Sheila Jamison, who also lives in the East Village and works for a media company, is 45 and single. She says her family believes she would have had a better chance of finding a husband had she attended a historically black college instead of Duke.

“Considering all the weddings I attended in the ’80s that have ended so very, very badly, I consider myself straight up lucky,” Ms. Jamison said. “I have not sworn off marriage, but if I do wed, it will be to have a companion with whom I can travel and play parlor games in my old age.”

Carol Crenshaw, 57, of Roswell, Ga., was divorced in 2005 after 33 years and says she is in no hurry to marry again.

“I’m in a place in my life where I’m comfortable,” said Ms. Crenshaw, who has two grown sons. “I can do what I want, when I want, with whom I want. I was a wife and a mother. I don’t feel like I need to do that again.”

Similarly, Shelley Fidler, 59, a public policy adviser at a law firm, has sworn off marriage. She moved from rural Virginia to the vibrant Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C., when her 30-year marriage ended.

“The benefits were completely unforeseen for me,” Ms. Fidler said, “the free time, the amount of time I get to spend with friends, the time I have alone, which I value tremendously, the flexibility in terms of work, travel and cultural events.”

Among the more than 117 million women over the age of 15, according to the marital status category in the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey, 63 million are married. Of those, 3.1 million are legally separated and 2.4 million said their husbands were not living at home for one reason or another.

That brings the number of American women actually living with a spouse to 57.5 million, compared with the 59.9 million who are single or whose husbands were not living at home when the survey was taken in 2005.

Some of those situations, which the census identifies as “spouse absent” and “other,” are temporary, and, of course, even some people who describe themselves as separated eventually reunite with their spouses.

Over all, a larger share of men are married and living with their spouse — about 53 percent compared with 49 percent among women.

“Since women continue to outlive men, they have reached the nonmarital tipping point — more nonmarried than married,” Dr. Frey said. “This suggests that most girls growing up today can look forward to spending more of their lives outside of a traditional marriage.”

Pamela J. Smock, a researcher at the University of Michigan Population Studies Center, agreed, saying that “changing patterns of courtship, marriage, and that we are living longer lives all play a role.”

“Men also remarry more quickly than women after a divorce,” Ms. Smock added, “and both are increasingly likely to cohabit rather than remarry after a divorce.”

The proportion of married people, especially among younger age groups, has been declining for decades. Between 1950 and 2000, the share of women 15-to-24 who were married plummeted to 16 percent, from 42 percent. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, the proportion dropped to 58 percent, from 82 percent.

“Although we can help people ‘do’ marriage better, it is simply delusional to construct social policy or make personal life decisions on the basis that you can count on people spending most of their adult lives in marriage,” said Professor Coontz, the author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”

Besse Gardner, 24, said she and her boyfriend met as college freshmen and started living together last April “for all the wrong reasons” — they found a great apartment on the beach in Los Angeles.

“We do not see living together as an end or even for the rest of our lives — it’s just fun right now,” Ms. Gardner said. “My roommate is someone I’d be thrilled to marry one day, but it just doesn’t make sense right now.”

Ms. Crenshaw said that some of the women in her support group for divorced women were miserable, but that she was surprised how happy she was to be single again.

“That’s not how I grew up,” she said. “That’s not how society thinks. It’s a marriage culture.”

Elissa B. Terris, 59, of Marietta, Ga., divorced in 2005 after being married for 34 years and raising a daughter, who is now an adult.

“A gentleman asked me to marry him and I said no,” she recalled. “I told him, ‘I’m just beginning to fly again, I’m just beginning to be me. Don’t take that away.’ ”

“Marriage kind of aged me because there weren’t options,” Ms. Terris said. “There was only one way to go. Now I have choices. One night I slept on the other side of the bed, and I thought, I like this side.”

She said she was returning to college to get a master’s degree (her former husband “didn’t want me to do that because I was more educated than he was”), had taken photography classes and was auditioning for a play.

“Once you go through something you think will kill you and it doesn’t,” she said, “every day is like a present.”

Ariel Sabar, Brenda Goodman and Maureen Balleza contributed reporting.