Thursday, September 25, 2008

Support the Memoirs of Homeless Queer Youth

My good friend, and soon-to-be published author Sassafras Lowrey is on a mission to bring the lives of homeless queer youth into the spotlight! As a former homeless youth hirself, Sass is very personally tied to this mission and committed to presenting the lives of queer youth in as an authentic voice as ze can. To that end Sass has compiled an anthology called Kicked Out that features stories written by youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer.

As much as I would like to think that people are lining up to buy his book I know that in many ways it will be a hard sell. Despite the fact that homeless queer youth make up 40% of the homeless population, members of the LGBTQ communities show hardly any concern about them. So it will be difficult to convince non-LBTQ folks, and folks who don't have a history in homelessness to become interested. Therefore, Sass is embarking on a huge publicity campaign beginning with Public Services Announcements made by either former or current LGBTQ homeless youth or allies to these youth. I'm scheduled to make one myself, where I'll talk about being an ally and how I stayed in the closet until I could more-or-less support myself on my own for fear of my family and school's actions.

All PSAs will be subtitled into English and Spanish, and ze welcomes videos in any language. You can find out how to make your own PSA by going to hir website Kicked Out Anthology. Please consider doing this, Sass's book is going to shed a lot of light on an overlooked subject that affects many of my peers - it'll only take a few moments and it could do so much good! Below is a video of Sass explaining the project and one of the PSAs.

[In this video we see the author from the waist up. Sass is a white genderqueer
fat high femme who talks directly to the camera. Ze is surrounded by bookshelves
and dressed in a black tank top.]

[In this video Tauret Manu, a rider with Soulforce sits in a white T-shirt next
to a white wall talking directly to the camera about why she is an ally. Tauret
identifies as a Black queer fat femme. ]

Monday, September 22, 2008

Scholarship for women with Disabilities & Call for LGBT Workshops

From Loreen Arbus and the New York Women in Film & Television comes this scholarship focused on women filmakers with disabilities:

Through the generosity of Loreen Arbus, New York Women in Film & Television is offering a $2,500 scholarship for a woman with a physical disability who is studying film, television or communications in the Tri-State area. Students enrolled in an established technical program, community college, college or university are eligible. Students enrolled in graduate programs are also eligible.

The funds may be used for tuition and fees or for production costs for a student film or video project. The deadline for application is Friday, October 17, 2008.

To apply for the scholarship, send a resume and a written 2-4-page description of your current work and goals as a filmmaker. If funds will be used for a film or video project, and a work-in-progress is available, a DVD should be included.

Applications should be sent to:

New York Women in Film & Television
Loreen Arbus Scholarship
6 East 39th Street, Suite 1200
New York, NY 10016

The deadline for application is Friday, October 17, 2008. If you have any questions, please call Sue Marcoux at 212-679-0870, ext. 25.

...and from the National Gay & Lesbian TaskForce comes this call for workshops for the 2009 Creating Change conference. The proposal is very long, so I'm only going to link to it - but he deadline is September 30th and the benefits of presenting are amazing. Creating Change is the short-hand for "The 21st National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change". The conference is a political, leadership and skills-building site for the LGBT movement. It's been going on for over 20 years and has been the place where "thousands of committed and passionate people have developed and honed their skills, celebrated victories, built community, and been inspired by visionaries of our and other movements for justice and equality." Sounds pretty hot, huh?

Restoring Value, Meaning, and Accessibility to Language

I have been extremely mindful in this blog about the power of language, and a lot of my posts are focused on how language has the power to inform and shape opinion and understanding, and likewise has the ability to keep people out and aggravate situations. I recall, very vividly, one of the first times the power of language was shown to me. In college I was an intern and volunteer with NARAL – the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. During that time rumblings began about the possibility that President Bush would sign the “partial birth abortion act”, which was publicly described as being an act banning at-birth abortions. However, those of us who were immersed in the issue knew that the title of the bill and the public description of it were akin to Orwellian New Speak – labeling something the exact opposite of what it is. At-birth abortions were already illegal, and the bill had multiple add-ons that would severely limit access to reproductive rights medical care, and abortion access specifically. When I realized the amazing lack of actual truth in the language and descriptions given the public concerning this bill I was shocked – how many other bills did I know so little about, and how many other policies or legal issues were I taking at name value without thoroughly investigating them?

After overcoming that initial shock I became incredibly invested in being precise and purposeful in language use. As numerous incredible women of color feminists have written, people who experience precise oppressions can often not explain their experience until certain terms are discovered. Most recently for me, I read Cherrie Moraga’s Loving in the War Years where she describes the relief she feels when she is able to name the specifics of her experiences: “All along I had felt the difference, but not until I had put the words “class” and “race” to the experience did my feelings make any sense.” I imagine this is akin to me learning the term “genderqueer”. Hearing the term for the first time was like feeling a warm heat fill my body – I knew I had tapped into something distinctive that would illuminate my on feelings of difference.

Around the same time, I also became annoyed at the lack of accessibility most writings are to the public. When I came home and had to debate my feminisms or my anti-white supremacy feelings with friend who were not reading the same texts I found the words and terms I was quoting clumsy and uninformative. I wanted to be able to break down my thoughts while still keeping the new ideas I was having – and few of the books I was reading were preparing me to disseminate information in that way. While my blog is certainly not an easy read, I think writers go down the wrong path when they confuse ease of reading with accessibility. The idea of “dumbing down” writing goes about the act of translating language accessibly in the wrong way. Language can be made more accessible without diluting the thoughts or ideas that are being expressed, or treating the reader in a patronizing way. In such a way complex thoughts are still kept in their entirety. When I use a term that might be confusing, I explain it and I flush out my conclusions so that my train of thought can be easily traced. It’s very difficult, and I certainly haven’t mastered it but I have wonderful teachers before me, most specifically bell hooks who first came up with the idea of “translating” language.
“I was conscious of the desire not to ‘talk down’ to the audience in any way. I wanted to keep the same intellectual level I would have in the college-classroom lecture. With this in mind, I began to think in terms of translating – giving the same message, using a different style, simpler sentence structures, etc…A feminist essay with revolutionary ideas written in a complicated, abstract manner using the jargon of a specific discipline will not have the impact it should have on the consciousness of women and men because it will probably be read by only a small group of people.” **
If we follow hooks completely, some theorists who have had a tremendous impact on the way Western Culture views race or gender would be considered un-feminist in their approach. The race theorists Michael Omi and Howard Winant and the gender theorist Judith Butler use incredibly convoluted language and write in a very abstract manner, yet their writings are considered cornerstones for 20th century understandings of race and gender. Yet their work is incredibly important. The answer of how to fit the specific abstract ideas they discuss into a feminist framework was explained to me by Scott Morgensen, my outstanding Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies professor. He explained that even in Butler’s difficult prose explanations and examples were given to all of her writing. The difficulty was that professors assigned too much text so that students couldn’t bask in the writing, reading slowly and purposefully is often considered being lazy, and then, like me explaining my new consciousness to my friends back home, students find they don’t have the explanatory language – ust the catchphrases.

I’m writing this as a prelude to some thoughts I’m having concerning phrases or euphemisms that I find incredibly offensive: terms like “small town” that are used euphemistically to refer to certain classist white supremacist values systems without specifically naming them, despite the fact that small towns are often paragons of diversity and democratic values. Other terms I am concerned about include “Holocaust” and “rape” that are used to describe almost anything. This dilutes the power of actually discussing the Holocaust or an actual rape (trigger alert). Which, when you consider that one on every four women (and that statistic doesn’t include transgender people or men) will experience rape in her lifetime is incredibly terrifying. How does a survivor describe her, his, or hir experience when the word “rape” has no meaning? When, in many instances, it is used as the punchline to a joke? Finally, the term "retard' has been on my line. I don't think I could write anything more in-depth than this, so I am linking here to an excellent essay that addresses how we use the term.

*Moraga, Cherrie. “La G├╝era”. Loving in the War Years. South End Press: Massachusetts, 2000. p.46

** hooks, bell. “Educating Women: a feminist agenda”. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. South End Press: Massachusetts, 2000. p.112-113

Monday, September 15, 2008

Transender Survey from NCTE & NGLTF

The National Gay & Lesbian Taskforce (where my boo now works as a Vaid Fellow!!) just released their survey for transgender and gender non-conforming folks. Now the Taskforce does amazing work, and whenever I have a question such as “can I be denied equal access to housing in Tennessee because I’m transgender?” I go straight to the Taskforce, where the answer is always easily accessed. (Answer: depends where you live, and if you want to argue the "sex stereotypes" issue or the transgender issue.) The Taskforce has a wonderful history of using their research for inclusive and diverse purposes, since the early 1990s they have never been inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming folk and for as long as I’ve been aware of the TaskForce issues of age, race, immigrant status, and gender identity have been included in all of their efforts.

The end result of this survey will be a report that offers up definitive statistics concerning the discrimination and abuse transgender people may face in terms of housing, employment, medical care, public accommodations, and education. This survey also marks the first time violence against transgender people will be looked at through a lens that it solely interested in the ways that we, as a very diverse group, experience violence.

So I encourage all of you who live in the U.S. to fill out the form if you are a transgender or gender non-conforming person, or to forward it on to any friends who consider themselves to be transgender or gender non-conforming. The Taskforce is particularly concerned with documenting the experiences of transgender folks who often are invisible in daily politics such as rural transgender people and transfolk of color. Through bringing issues of invisibility to the forefront the TaskForce will be able to fully address the many ways in which transgender and gender non conforming people experience harassment and discrimination, as well as support and encouragement.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sexism in Politics

[Image Description: This is a photograph with the artist centered on a white canvas wearing a black suit jacket, white shirt, and blue stried tie. The artist's hand is in the foreground of the photo pointing towards a horizion, the artists' face follows the line of the hand and the artist has a visionary look. To the right the words "Yes We Can!" are printed in large blue font following the shape of the artist.]
Barack Obama has been my candidate of choice for quite some time, although I often refrain from discussing politics in public. Inevitably political discussions of national issues are doomed to enter an area that causes emotional disagreement. Most recently, of course, has been the re-emergence of sexism. Issues of sexism and misogyny played a huge role early on in the campaign, and there were multiple times when Senator Obama upset me by choosing words or policies that failed to be as complex as sexism is. Nevertheless, the misogyny of governments and politicians was brought forth only because one of the candidates was female. Should Hilary Clinton not have ran for President issues directly and most primarily affecting women would still have been discussed, but they would have been handled without the delicacy needed when there is a woman debating the issues on the same stage. In other words, no one would have said “feminist” “sexism” or “misogyny” without a female candidate. Which is ridiculous, as sexism still exists when women are not present. Indeed, Clinton’s presence helped to begin these discussions in many ways as women are often made invisible in politics and the ways that policies might affect women differently are rarely discussed.

This latest discussion of sexism, however, has completely baffled me and not because Obama is my candidate. As I said above, Obama has made sexist remarks, but this claim in particular is so depraved and convoluted that it completely baffles me. Obama’s comment is taken completely out of context, and it has been so successfully hidden from that context that it took me around eight hours to find the basic content of his speech (the video is put up by a McCain supporter, I'd avoid the comments section) so that I might judge for myself what the tone of the statement was.

Raised in Indiana, I heard the phrase “lipstick on a pig” used for everything from the difference between democrats and republicans to the very excuses we school-kids had for not finishing our homework. Here in New York, no one seems to know the phrase and I feel that, in part, the colloquialism may be part of the problem. Regardless of the fact that I firmly believe Obama meant the statement as a comparison between Senator McCain’s policies and President Bush’s policies, and that no misogyny was intended, I do believe it illustrates a general lack of awareness when it comes to sexism.

Any claim of sexism from the Republican Party isn’t worth addressing, as it’s clearly spurious and not being made from any space of real concern for women. After all, Senator McCain used this exact phrase to describe Senator Clinton’s health care policies back in October 2007 and May of 2008. Indeed, these very claims of sexism were mocked in a recent Saturday Night Live sketch where Amy Poehler's Hilary Clinton said she was "frankly surprised to hear people suddenly care about," sexism. For Republican pundits, or the Clinton supports who threw "sexism" at everything that moved, the actual acknowledgment of sexsim as a still-relevant concern has never mattered. However, these claims are still important. After all, had there been someone forefront in the campaign with a more feminist consciousness such a gaffe would have never happened. This is especially true if there had been someone who had understood the history of feminist movement in the U.S. and knew about the forms of assault that women aligned with the movement in the 1960-80s faced which were incredibly vicious and verbal, where comparisons such as this were not uncommon. From such a history springs the automatic reaction we’ve seen, a reaction that is very sensitive to deprecatory remarks such as what this comment is supposed to be. I’m not labeling this reaction as un-thoughtful, either. Given the amount of sexist or anti-female comments made since Clinton announced her candidacy it’s clearly possible that a candidate could have made this comparison fully understanding the sexist nature of the phrase.

After listening to the speech in full I began to wonder if any of Obama’s female staffers had reviewed the script, or if any of his male staffers who have a background studying feminism had gotten to see it. Any political speechwriter should have seen the glaring mistake of using the phrase “lipstick on a pig” so close to the Republican female VP candidate’s use of the phrase “pit-bull in lipstick” as a self-descriptor. But of course…are there any female staffers who are interested in feminism? Are there any male or gender non-conforming staffers interested in the dismantling of misogyny and patriarchy? Or, like Obama, would they be ideologically aligned with the big issues but liable to miss the smaller instances of discrimination?

Here I don’t mean to point out a lack of intricate understanding as a definitive short falling. Obama has shown his dedication to many different issues that effect women and many issues that effect men and women. No one person is supposed to specialize in every single issue, it defeats the purpose of specialization, and presidents aren’t supposed to be solely informed on every issue, hence the importance of a cabinet. Moreover, strong women surround Obama at home, and I wouldn’t take his remarks or previous comments as coming from a place of misogyny. Rather, I think they come from a lack of complete focus on feminism due to a focus on other areas.

What the incident illustrates to me is that sexism still isn’t a central concern for Democratic or liberal candidates. This doesn’t make Obama’s campaign anti-female nor does it make him a sexist person. It does, however, bring Obama-supporting democrats down to a certain level where we realize that yes, even with Obama we will need to be vigilant. He has shown a lack of understanding on the intricate levels of feminism, and I hope he proves his commitment to women and feminism by appointing cabinet members who have focused more specifically on women’s issues. By doing this he will be acknowledging his lack and acknowledging the importance of centering issues of sexism in political discussions.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

All Around the Blogosphere

It’s the shame of every blogger, but the reality for so many of us, is that staying on top of blog rolls is incredibly difficult. I have about 40 blogs linked on the side here, and there are about 10 more that I know should be linked but keep forgetting to update – not to mention my attempts at reading multiple papers, magazines, and books. It becomes incredibly difficult for me to stay up to date on blogs. As much as I dislike these posts on other people’s blogs I’m going to point readers to a few posts by friends of mine that really spoke to me recently. Most of you, being far better people that I, will have already read these. But here they are:

I haven’t written about Tropic Thunder specifically because I haven’t seen the movie. I often choose not to see movies, buy books, etc because I’ve already decided I won’t enjoy them, and that’s as it should be! I read reviews or see trailers and am able to discern for myself if it’s worth my money. However, I won’t make everyone else listen to my uneducated opinions of media I haven’t seen/read/listened to. Which is why I’m linking to an essay by Lawrence Carter-Long posted to Disaboom on the treatment of the Tropic Thunder protests, and what media professionals and bloggers are missing in the discussion.

MissCripChick also wrote about the Tropic Thunder protests. Here she discusses why parallels to Civil Rights activism are not right and actually a divisive move. I have a friend who recently started compiling a list of articles that compare or include a quote comparing gay liberation to Civil Rights movement – he’s calling it “Gay is not Black”. What MissCripChick wrote hit a lot of things for me – both because I agree with what she’s saying and because I also agree that the realm of developmental or mental disability is still incredibly unknown to many people who consider themselves “progressive”. It’s very thoughtful.

Also from Ms. Crip Chick I found a link to a Blog Carnival around women of color and beauty. I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, but it sounds amazing. There are about 13 blog posts connected here, which range from discussions of hair beauty to issues of hair touching. Bloggers comment on colorism and dating inside, outside, and around the color line. I can’t wait until I have a moment to really read these.

On Black Looks this stunning post by Mia Nikasimo discusses being a transgender lesbian of Nigerian descent. She touches on the exclusion of transfolks within LGB communities, the exclusion of folks from the African diaspora in LGBT communities, and her pride in who she is. She challenges people to educae themselves and start dialogues on challenging subects.

In two related posts, bfp and Jess H. of Feministe and make/shift touch on organizing feminist movement. Jess H., who is posting her final guest blogger post, discusses her encounter with “unfolding feminism” online, and hones in on surface discusses of intersectionality. This is a very intense post with lots of outside links…I’m still working my way through it but already I’m getting excited by what she’s laying out here. bfp discusses how organizing intersects with capitalism, and the need to be accountable as feminists to a feminist movement: we need to believe in it. There’s a really fascinating analysis of Oprah’s investment in her girls school in South Africa here. She ends her blog with a list or organizations that are accountable (thank you!). Of note, one of these groups is INCITE! Which has also put out this press release on collecting funds for survivors of Hurricane Gustav. INCITE! is an amazing organization, all of their books have inspired me and provided me with insight I previously didn’t have. They do work that I believe in, and I would give to them now if I could.

As I read the INCITE! press release I thought back to Hurricane Katrina, and remembered how I failed at being aware of and understanding what was happening in Louisiana and surrounding areas. During that fall I was incredibly depressed – I dropped out of two courses at my college and I was fired from two jobs because I couldn’t get out of my bed. So I agreed with commentators who examined the racism and classism of the way Hurricane Katrina was handled and covered – but I didn’t know why I was agreeing. I simply went along with these analyses out of a sense that everything was already racist, so why not Hurricane Katrina, too. I failed to understand that simply saying “that’s racist” doesn’t address the actual issues of racism nor does it pinpoint the institutional ways in which racist systems function to create the situation we’re in. I didn’t have any facts or analysis of Katrina, just a general notion that it must be classist and racist, too. I didn’t even begin to have an understanding of the ways in which Hurricane Katrina affected people with disabilities or criminalized immigrant families, either. I’m just beginning to catch up on my understanding of everything that happened, and is now happening in the exact same area. I want to ensure that I don’t repeat my mistake of repeating without comprehending.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Genderbending with Strangers

I always thought that the most important part of my transition, now that I live full-time as male, would be keeping my male identity fully recognized at all times. Gradually, though, I’ve found that enforcing a male pronoun comes second to being treated with respect. That might sound maudlin, but I had equated respect with recognition of my male identity. Over time however I’ve learned to appreciate the way that people pay special attention to my partner and I when they read us as a female couple.* In the back of my head I equate this behavior with an attempt to show off how non-sexist or gay-friendly a person or establishment is, but I wouldn’t want to get snarky about the treatment. After all, if folks are going out of their way to be polite to female couples, that illustrates a knowledge that acceptance of female couples is rare – and the individual wants to be seen as accepting. The person my partner and I order burritos from goes out of his way to remember our names and order, and the lady I collect my laundry from clearly thinks my partner and I are the only lesbian couple in our neighborhood. If I wanted to create a close, long-lasting bond with either of these folks I would correct their perception, or perhaps they would correct mine. Being that we exist in a service-provider relationship, I really don’t care what they think and am simply pleased that despite the fact that both have seen us holding hands and kissing, and both refer to me as being female, they treat us incredibly well.

Now, to be clear, I never agree that I’m female. If someone calls me “ma’am” in person I give the individual an amused but baffled look, and my partner will use male pronouns despite the female pronouns of the server. However, neither of us takes the time to explain the situation, as we really don’t need to advocate for male pronouns when being male shouldn’t figure into how I am treated. The decision to stay in a genderqueer area when it comes to people who I don’t run into on a daily basis, correcting their perceptions only when it becomes an issue (i.e. bathroom use) was challenged recently when I went on one of my first trips to the beach as male. On my first trip in July my greatest fear was being read as female – and I went to great lengths to ensure that I was looking as masculine as possible despite the need to be covering my chest. I asked several friends – transgender and cisgender – about their feelings towards men who wore shirts on the beach, and all told me it was a fairly routine occurrence.

Except, of course, on gay beaches. I realized quickly that keeping a binder and a tank top on only made me look like a butch woman, as all the men on the beach had their shirts off. Moreover, almost all the women were topless due to an amazing 1992 New York City law that lets women go topless wherever men can go topless. As I walked along the beach on my first visit I scanned for other folks wearing shirts, coming upon masculine women again and again. Now, some of those women could have been transmen like myself, or even transwomen early on in their transitions. Regardless of how my partner or my friends saw me on this gay beach, I would be read as female by every stranger.

As we waited by the bus stop on the way to the beach recently two young women of color whom we had observed kissing and cuddling on the train earlier came up to my partner and I to ask for directions to the beach. Of all the people standing at the stop they approached us – and I think it’s both because my partner and the young women clearly shared a similar racial background, but also because they also saw us as a female couple. I’m male identified - there’s no question in my mind that if I genderbend I bend away from my primary identity as male. I realize as well that I choose to leave female spaces because of the way I felt, and that I have immense responsibilities in continuing feminist practices. I’m glad, though, that I was read as female by those young women because it did remind me of the possibilities of queer identity that used to excite me in college. Regardless of how these young ladies read me, or what they thought my relationship to my partner was, I’m glad that in certain circles my appearance can bend itself to fit many circumstances

After thinking about this for about a week I decided that if everyone on the beach was going to see me as female anyway, then why was I causing myself to be unhappy by covering up my body? I went through a long and hard fight to accept that I’m male. I also went through a long and hard fight to accept that I’m a man who doesn’t need extensive surgery or 100% assimilation in order to be male. If the people I come to the beach with – my partner, my friends, and myself – accept that I’m male then no anatomy is going to change that. If a stranger thinks I’m female, well so what. Strangers think many things about me and I can’t control or respond to every inaccuracy.

So these days I lay on the beach wearing my blue men’s board shorts but without a shirt. The many masculine women at the beach give me mini head-nods as they pass, and I always nod back. For strangers I’m temporarily back at that awkward space that’s neither male nor female, and I enjoy it. After all, I lived in that space for many years as a masculine woman, and am now living in it in a different way as an effeminate man.

* In contrast, when I am treated as female on my own, it only serves to remind me of why I am a feminist, and why there is still so much work to be done to address sexism.