Author: Bergen Nelson

Celeb pseudo-lesbianism perpetuates binary

This past week at a stop on the “Bangerz Tour,” two women, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, shared a kiss. It may seem minimal in the scheme of current events, but the kiss became a scandal across the Internet as various sources wondered if the celebrities could possibly be, gasp, lesbians! Yet others cried out against these waves of speculation and against Perry and Cyrus for using pseudo-lesbianism as a publicity stunt and spitting in the face of the LGBT rights movement.

I cannot comment on whether the celebrities are lesbians or pseudo-lesbians, for both sides of the issue could stand to remember that sometimes, a kiss is just a kiss. But I’d like to discuss the criticism that the two celebrities are using lesbianism as a publicity stunt. It seems quite likely. If there is one thing that Perry and Cyrus have been good at throughout their respective careers, it is finding cultural boundaries to what is acceptable and jumping across them to cause scandals for the sake of attention.

But here is where I find a problem: For these two to have caused a scandal by acting as pseudo-lesbians would mean that they crossed a cultural boundary that dictates that lesbianism, or even same-sex expressions of affection, are not fully acceptable and are matters of controversy. If the Internet is shocked by two arguably grown women kissing each other, it shows that our society as a whole still treats lesbianism as something foreign and unacceptable.

When we support celebrities such as Ellen Page for coming out, as we should, we celebrate them for crossing a cultural boundary dictating that lesbianism is abnormal. At the same time, we are unconsciously acknowledging and assisting the continuance of this unjust cultural boundary. Let me explain: Would Jennifer Lawrence cause a media uproar if she admitted that she was attracted to men? I think not. We did cause an uproar for Ms. Page, however, and by treating a declaration of lesbianism as a spectacle, we let the media know that we still consider lesbianism to be something abnormal and uncommon. Even in celebrating her bravery, we reinforce the power of a cultural boundary against lesbianism that she had to cross and is now considered different for crossing.

Why does our society pay such heed to a boundary that is being enforced by what is rapidly becoming a minority? I don’t believe that we can be a fully LGBT-friendly society until we cease to acknowledge the existence of this archaic boundary, until we treat lesbianism as something wholly normal and until our society as a whole can see two grown women kissing and not freak out.

In response to the Perry and Cyrus issue, my advice is to ignore it, or at least to avoid making a big deal out of it. If they meant it as a genuine romantic expression, great. If it was a publicity stunt, then treating it as if it was something normal will let them know that pseudo-lesbianism is ineffective since lesbianism is no longer a cultural boundary that our society acknowledges. If a celebrity comes out, congratulate them for their courage but leave it at that. Ignore the cultural boundary that they are crossing; let this unjustly imposed boundary die from a lack of acknowledgement. Try to create a society where people can express love however they choose without having to make a declaration of their sexual orientation. Force our culture to acknowledge homosexual relationships as the normal relationships they truly are, not as the subject of spectacle.

This may not strike at the heart of the problem for our American culture’s unjust treatment of lesbianism, but it is something that everyone can practice in order to create a society in which expressions of lesbianism are normal, not the subjects of spectacle or scandal. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for any kind of quietism. I certainly believe that we should continue campaigning for LGBT rights and fight against injustices. Rather, my proposition involves our behavior in our daily public spheres. I believe that we each must work to alter our individual perceptions of lesbianism in order to force our culture to treat lesbian relationships like the normal, perfectly acceptable and wonderful relationships that they are. We should not apathetically allowing ourselves to support a society that treats open lesbianism as a spectacle.

Bergen Nelson ’15 nelsonb@stolaf.edu is from Buffalo, Minn. He majors in English and philosophy

Graphic Credit: ALLI LIVINGSTON/MANITOU MESSENGER

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Students rally in support of equal marriage rights

At a rally held on Sept. 10 by the organization St. Olaf Votes No, speakers and students affirmed their belief that Oles can change the course of politics in Minnesota.

St. Olaf Votes No is a student-led division of the organization Minnesotans United for All Families MN United. MN United focuses on opposing the proposed amendment to Article XIII in the Minnesota State Constitution, generally referred to as the “marriage amendment,” which states that Minnesota recognizes only a union between a man and a woman as marriage. Polls show that support for the amendment holds the majority, so throughout the past year and a half, MN United has campaigned against the amendment by sponsoring phone banks and canvassing around the state.

At one of these phone banks in Northfield, a group of St. Olaf students met over the summer and decided to bring MN United’s campaign onto campus in the form of St. Olaf Votes No. Upon forming the organization, the members knew that they wanted to hold a rally to raise awareness.

“We knew that we wanted to get our presence known as soon and as loudly as possible,” said Kelsey Gorman ’13, a member of the organization.

At 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 10, the rally began outside of Buntrock Commons as the The Glorious Misfortune played a set of songs, followed by a series of four speakers who presented their reasons for participating in the campaign and encouraged students to become involved.

First to speak was Marie Frederickson, St. Olaf communications assistant, who relayed the story of how her son came out in high school. Frederickson believes that every Minnesota citizen would be affected by the amendment as it would harm someone that he or she loves.

Next spoke Katie Barnes ’13, another member of the St. Olaf Votes No committee. Barnes relayed her story of coming out in a small town, which was not easy for her. She pointed out how glad she was to live in a more accepting community like St. Olaf, but declared that the very idea of the marriage amendment makes her feel unwelcome as a citizen. She does not believe that St. Olaf students should want a system that makes students feel like they are second-class citizens.

After Barnes, Gorman told the audience about her experiences in a MN United phone bank over the summer. At first, she had been nervous to step up and make calls to people who may not want to hear her message, but she faced her fear, and now claims that the experience of changing minds and making a difference was worth it.

Finally, Siobhan Brewer, youth organizing director for MN United, spoke to students about the importance of their generation in the vote against the marriage amendment. Brewer claimed that the involvement of youth, especially college students, could change the direction of the vote, and that their participation mattered if they wanted to see change.

“I want you all to commit to sharing conversations and to commit to changing minds,” Brewer told those attending the rally.

After Brewer’s speech, students could sign up for phone banks and ask representatives of St. Olaf Votes No for more information about the organization while The Glorious Misfortune played another set of songs.

Members of St. Olaf Votes No and attendees reacted positively to the event.

“I would’ve loved to see a thousand people there,” Springer said, “but the people that were there were very enthusiastic, and that’s what we need to change the tide of this election.”

Attendees also hailed the speech as an effective way of connecting with the students and inspiring them toward action.

“These speeches gave a lot of emotion to the campaign,” Gorman said, reflecting upon her speech. “We’re not a bunch of people in suits, we’re people who care with stories that show why we care. It turns what could be a dry campaign into an emotionally-driven experience.”

“By the end, there were a lot of people there,” said Derek Waller ’14, leader of the St. Olaf Votes No committee. “It exceeded my expectations and the number of sign-ups for volunteers exceeded our goals.”

Both the attendance and the amount of sign-ups came as a pleasant surprise to the members of St. Olaf Votes No.

“It comes down to commitment, and it depends on how much students want to change the history of Minnesota,” Waller said. “I think that the number of people there last evening and the number of volunteers that showed up demonstrated that students are ready for this kind of commitment, and that they want to make a difference.”

Likewise, students that attended the rally were inspired by the speakers to believe that they could make a difference in the world outside of the Hill.

“Brewer talked about the significance of youth in this vote,” Springer said. “I really believe that the youth are the ones changing the tone of the debate on this issue.”

The success of the rally has propelled St. Olaf Votes No to set the group’s goals high and try to bring the kind of social change they believe in. However, in doing this, they don’t intend to be divisive, and they believe that there are few places better than St. Olaf to have this kind of conversation.

“The energy and engagement in the conversation on the marriage amendment is huge, and it’s especially amazing that we’re having it without trouble,” Barnes said. “We’re not trying to yell at others and be antagonistic. Our campus community is stronger for discussing issues like these.”

nelsonb@stolaf.edu

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote