August 22, 2012

The First Three Words

After looking for something disgustingly upbeat music in my playlist, I managed to rediscover Sugar Lee Hooper.  She's a Dutch performer known for her bald head, flamboyant style of dress, room-filling voice, and quirky beats.   She was also the Netherlands' first openly gay woman to marry her longtime partner.  I was saddened to learn that she passed away in 2010 after developing complications from hip surgery.  Though there wasn't an awful lot written about her in the English language searches I was doing, one thing remained consistent.  Somewhere in the very first sentence, usually within the first three words, was a description of her sexuality used as part of her identity.  That pattern caught my eye for a moment.  Then it occurred to me that this sort of thing isn't exactly uncommon.


Those of you who are up on your GLBT news, or live in Nebraska know about Charlie Rogers, aka, Rainbow Jane.  She reported that she was attacked in her home not long after the last Gay Pride celebration in Lincoln.  She stated that tow intruders tied her down, slurs cut into her skin, spray painted hateful statements on her basement wall, and attempted to burn her house down.   After a thorough investigation involving the CIA as well as local resources, the Lincoln police issued an arrest warrant for Mr Rogers.  She was charged with filing a false report because they have evidence that says the attack was staged

Look at the headline for the story though: "Lesbian who reported 'hate crime' attack staged incident, Nebraska police say".  Would we do the same if the person being charged was Jewish?  What about if they were bald?  Are these descriptors our identities?  I think the modern news machine and I don't see eye to eye on this.  I say no.  

As a litmus test, I scrolled through the rest of the headlines on the main page of CNN.  I wanted to see if there was anything that was given the same treatment.  Of all the article titles I skimmed, there were only two that I felt were about on par with Rainbow Jane's treatment; "SEAL to write book about Bin Laden" and "Paralyzed man dies after suicide plea".  Everything else seemed devoid of those descriptors for identity.  Yet it seems that we're not afraid to use them to set those with sexual identities other than straight apart.

I get that we're creatures who need to categorize.  We put stuff into neat little boxes so we can identify it later with our own kind of shorthand.  It's difficult, if not impossible, to overcome our very nature; a mechanism meant to keep us alive before we came down from the trees.  But, every now and then, somebody pokes their head out of the foliage, and realizes that maybe we outta go about things a little differently.  I think that the way we're doing it now, we're unconsciously reinforcing a sort of barrier between groups of people.  Wouldn't it have said just as much if we'd have said "Woman alleging Hate Crime attack arrested for filing a false police report"?  You could bring up the fact that she is a lesbian in the story.  I guess to me, her sexuality isn't exactly the hook, it's the false report.  Come on journalism.  It hasn't been that long since I was in J-school.  Let's take down the barriers and present this in a neutral way.  Isn't that what we're supposed to do?

4 comments:

  1. I wonder if she would have been identified thusly if the story hadn't gained as much attention. It was the cause du jour there for a bit. It was all part of the story that she was attacked for being a lesbian. I guess if it's okay one way it should be okay the other is all I'm saying.


    Spear

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  2. No, I agree with you. I guess I wasn't able to make this point very well. It's not just Rainbow Jane that's getting the same treatment though. It was the same with Sugar Lee Hooper too. I used her as an example because she was a Dutch entertainer, and yet we felt the need to identify her by her sexuality in all of the very sparse news stories about her I could find. Not just most. All. It's as if that's all that mattered about her. It's not just one person. If you're of a non-straight sexuality, you run the risk of that becoming your identity. Does that make sense?

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  3. Yes, it does. Does it stem from people going out of their way to identify one way over another?

    Spear

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  4. I'm not entirely sure. I just noticed it as a pattern tonight. I had a friend and fellow Samurai mention Sally Ride as an example of this phenomenon as well. After she passed away, what was it that everybody focused on? The fact that she was a lesbian (and her partner can't collect death benefits). Why is the gender she's attracted to more important and newsworthy and a tribute to what she did with her life?

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