Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tell the IAAF to stay out of Caster's pants!

From the great world of Twitter and the amazing minds and hearts of the National Sexuality Resource Center comes this wonderful and timely petition asking the International Association of Athletic Federations to stop their invasive and ultimately meaningless testing of Caster Semenya's identity.

Dear Friend,

Have you heard the news about Caster Semenya, the champion South African runner?

She’s got the world’s attention, but it’s not about her athletic ability – it’s about who she is, and who gets to decide her gender.

XX – why?! Why does Caster have to endure invasive tests just because she looks different? Why does the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) get to decide who she is?

I’m outraged. Are you? Then tell the IAAF to stay out of Caster Semenya’s pants:

Sign the National Sexuality Resource Center's XX-Why? petition now.

Now, if you want some uplifting news about Caster - South Africa's President Zuma has reminded her to "walk tall" in this Sports Illustrated news story (of all the places...).

Briefly - and this should be given the space it deserves - as much as this uproar over her identity is clearly misogynistic and transphoic, I have yet to see someone point out the inherent racism in the charge. Black women are at a particularly difficult spectrum of femininity where racialized gender policing informs that too feminine gives in to the stereotype of the Jezebel/Welfare Queen/Tragic Mullatta and too little femininity brings us to the point of not recognizing multiple identities and beginning to believe Moynihan Report fantasies about masculine Black women taking over the world.

There is an inherent fear in not being able to correctly gender a stranger, and there is an even larger fear in being a white person who can not correctly gender a Black woman.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Latex Ball TONIGHT in NYC

Just came back from an amazing time at the Audre Lorde Project's annual picnic! I didn't remember to post about the picnic but if you check this in time you can still attend the Latex Ball tonight!

239 WEST 52nd STREET

The Latex Ball is held by GMHC and co-sponsored by many many organizations - most of whom focus on issues prevalent in communities of color and LGBTQ youth such as the Ali Forney Center, Audre Lorde Project, APICHA, and many other New York City queer organizations. The Latex Ball is also presented by Ballroom CARES!, a partnership between the House and Ball Communities and service providers. It's a wonderful partnership that has as little judgement as is possible and promotes health and well-being. Ballroom CARES! program provides leadership trainings, empowerment workshops, and community events and activities, to support community networking, community mobilization, and to promote a healthy community.

I can say from my interactions trying to provide healthier and safer spaces to LGBTQ youth that having a sense of community drastically affects your sense of self and your ability to participate in a community. If you know that a core group of people who represent your values and experiences are caring about your health then you're going to be less likely to see incredibly risky behavior as worthwhile. Which is why Ballroom and House Communities have lasted so long - since at least the 1920s if not before! They give folks who have been kicked out of their homes, been kicked out of emplyment spaces, welfare offices, public parks, families, etc a space where they can be in all their fabulosity, tears, and strength. If you want to get involved you should email Luna Legacy at lunao at gmhc.org or Dominique Prodigy at dominiquec at gmhc.org

Submit! Gender Outlaw 2

Gender Outlaw 2: Call for Submissions

Call For Submissions

Kate Bornstein & S Bear Bergman, eds

Deadline: 1 September 2009

In the fifteen years since the release of Gender Outlaw, transgender narratives have made their way into cultural locations from the margins to the mainstream and back again. Today’s trannies and other sex/gender radicals are writing a radically new world into being. GENDER OUTLAWS: THE NEXT GENERATION (Seal Press) will collect and contextualize the work of this generation’s most forward-thinking trans/genderqueer voices—new voices from the stage, on the streets, in the workplace, in the bedroom, and on the pages and websites of the world’s most respected mainstream news sources. Edited by that ol’ original Gender Outlaw herself, Kate Bornstein and writer, raconteur, and theater artist S. Bear Bergman, GENDER OUTLAWS: THE NEXT GENERATION will include essays, commentary, comic art and conversation from a diverse a group of trans-spectrum people who live and believe in barrier-breaking lives.

*What we’re looking for*

GENDER OUTLAWS: THE NEXT GENERATION wants to collect work that represents a quantum leap forward in thinking and talking about gender and the gender binary, in the same way Gender Outlaw did almost twenty years ago. So blow us away. Bring the smart, bring the sexy, blind us with science, break the gender barrier, shine a bright light (or a disco ball) on the whole gender situation. Tell us about your future, what you imagine, how you want things to go and what you (and your friends) intend to do about it. Think big.

We’ll look at whatever you have for us – essays, graphic art, interviews/conversations, haiku, rants – as long as you’re thinking smart and fresh about sex and gender (and being an outlaw, of course). We will feel especially keen about your work if it adds to or advances the conversation about gender (as distinct from simply reflecting it, or lamenting it).

People of any identity are encouraged to submit work. This means you – yes, you!

We intend to privilege non-normatively gendered/sexed voices in the book but will include all the good stuff we can, regardless of current identifiers of the author.

*The Details*

Deadline: Sept 1 (early submissions are encouraged). Submissions should be unpublished; query if you have a reprint that you think we’ll swoon for. While we hesitate to list a maximum, please query first for pieces over 4,000 words. If you have an idea and need help writing it out, contact us to discuss an interview-style piece or other accommodations.

Submit as a Word document or black/white JPEG (no files over 2MB). Please include a cover letter with a brief bio and full contact information (mailing address, phone number, pseudonym if appropriate) when you submit. Submissions without complete contact information will be deleted unread. Payment will be $50 and 2 copies of the book upon publication in Fall 2010. Contributors retain the rights to their pieces. Send your submission as an attachment to genderoutlawsnextgeneration@gmail.com.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Helen Boyd: gender and love

A few nights ago Helen Boyd, author of She's Not the Man I Married, and My Husband Betty as well as author of the blog (en)gender, spoke at the 5th installment of "Transgender Voices & Visibility" at the Long Island GLBT Community Center. Back when i was working there as the Transgender Services Coordinator I created this symposium as a way to spotlight the voices and experiences of transgender people...and those who fall under our ever-expanding umbrella! [photo: Helen Boyd and myself at the LI GLBT Center. We are standing against a yellow wall, Helen is on the left in a black tank leaning against a green chair. I am on her right smiling goofily and wearing a green V-neck.]

Helen Boyd has long held a wonderful fascination for me as she embodies a somewhat elusive combination of literary accessibility and academic rigor. Her talk embodied several intense concepts focusing on love and gender which are generally glossed-over in the more published realm of trans studies. Yes we discuss family acceptance, how gender is separate from sexuality, and how gender fluidity can change our experiences of sex...but professional trans scholars/writers/organizers rarely talk about intimate relationships with any sense of seriousness. Perhaps this comes from an internalized idea that we are naturally unlovable, or perhaps this comes from US culture teaching us that relationships are of no real value compared to our ability to produce results as workers (I want to write more about this soon...). [photo: Helen speaking before an audience at the LI GLBT Center. It is a small room with yellow walls and the beginning of rainbow panels across the back wall. About 8 backs of various listeners are visible and Helen can be seen in the background, sitting in a green armchair and speaking.]

However, I hear relationships discussed as the second most common topic in transgender discussion groups. After hormones and surgeries we tend to bemoan the often abusive relationships we are in and ask if we can be truly loved by people outside the queer communities - and often by people inside the LGBTQ communities too! Helen and Betty's story answers these questions beautifully, and Helen has proven herself more than willing to share her own path and her further evaluation of this path with others.

At several points in her recent talk she asked for audience participation in order to discuss our own interactions with gender and love. A particularly interesting conversation was had about couples who experience a shift in gender roles. Helen discussed how early on her wife Betty desired to fully live her femininity by participating only in traditionally "female" household chores, to which Helen responded "just because you're now a woman doesn't make me a man!". Which I think is a wonderful summation of the pressure spouses feel when one part of the couple shifts in their gender identity and gendered expression. My partner and I have often discussed this as well, particularly my fascination with carrying out masculine tasks despite my smaller size and lack of muscles in comparison to her.

Because I am worried about my genderqueer presentation I often seek masculine tasks that affirm my male sex. I often carry too many groceries causing my fast-walking girlfriend to stop and wait for me as I shift bags on our walk home, I often feel very upset at my lack of handle on money issues and household affairs, and I pride myself on remembering "gentlemanly" actions. All of this, to a certain extent, irritates my partner who thinks it would be perfectly fine for us to carry groceries equal to our abilities and for us to carry out household chores equal to our abilities. And she's right. That would be just, sensible, and economical. But I can't let go of these sexed activities as seemingly easily as she does, and neither could Helen or Betty. There has to be a whole discussion: "just because I'm mowing the lawn does not negate my identity as female" or "I enjoy cooking your favorite meals and am happy to do so, none of which negates my masculine gender identity."

These troublesome discussions about coupledom and domesticity bring us full-circle back to feminism and the negation of our multiple backgrounds. After all, not all of us come from a two-parent heterosexual white middle-class family in suburbia...but our schooling, advertisers, and national news media sure want us to think that we do! So that anything that falls away from that created "normativity" brings about intense feelings of shame and self doubt. So, as always, we need to return to our roots and our communities who have been struggling with these issues for generations and learn from our Elders and next-door neighbors. We need to realize that gender non-conformity within couples is all around us and we need to open the discussion and shed light in on how fabulous it is!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Using our Anger

My partner is now in a similar position to the one I as formally in. For part of her job she has to stay up-to-date on all the queer, gay, and msm/wsw outputs on our issues. This makes me extraordinarily jealous because even though my ob should require me to stay in constant contact with queer news I often find myself failing behind. However, I recently had some extra time to catch up on blog reading and I found a (very very old) post over at Questioning Transphobia.

Now, I'm not part of the bilerico community although I have certainly used their news items and comments to find more and fascinating news and people. And I have great admiration for bil's activism around Taysia Elzy's awful murder. I have also seen his site used as a way to showcase an amazing group of queer activists, writers, and community members talking about their identities. So in writing this blog I'm not debating the situation, I just want to focus on one exchange of comments.

"Nick" a bilerico commenter wrote about the "expression of complete frustration, exhausted rage" that was expressed and how that rage "can be an inspiring" tool for social change. "Energizing and comforting". To which many commenters hauled out the old non-violence line about how "true social change" is non-violent. And it can be. The movements of classic non-violent resistance are a wonderful teaching tool on the multiple ways that change can be made. However, for every non-violent movement that was successful (or even unsuccessful) there were other movements happening simultaneously. Movements that worked within stems of oppression, movements that resisted with violence, movements that focused more on artistic expression as resistance...US schools end to teach our history as being succinct, boxed, and compact. But none of these movements for change existed one-dimensionally. The struggle for gender equality (which I see transgender rights as an integral part of) can not be boxed into "this will happen non-violently" as we are coming from too many different places for one rule to unite us.

Nick went on to quote from David Wojnarowicz's Close to the Knives, and I feel that this quote perfectly respects the occasional feelings of so many people I love and respect.

"And I am carrying this rage like a blood filled egg and there's a thin line between the inside and the outside a thin line between thought and action an that line is simply made up of blood and muscle and bone and I'm waking up more and more from daydreams...and all I can feel is the pressure and the need for release".

When I was a junior in college I attended a summer anti-oppression program directly related to environmentalism. We played a game called "the wind is blowing" where everyone stood in a circle and ram to take someone else's spot should the saying be true for them. One man said "The wind is blowing anyone who believes violence can be a form of resistance". And I stood for a second while everyone else ran. I don't think violence is good. And I don't think it creates justice or equality. But I have been in a bathroom and been hit and pushed for my identity, and I have heard too many stories from my friends about their abuse at the hands of authority members to truly rule out violence as an option. So that day, back in the summer of my junior year, I decided that I do support violent actions for change. Because I can not tell anyone else how to survive, and that is ultimately what so many of us are still fighting for - survival.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor and Identity as Experience

A few weekends ago my mother forwarded me a list of 10 reasons why Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was a good choice for the Supreme Court. My lawyer brother responded to each point with a reason why the point was irrelevant, missing the facts, or simply defensive in nature. He clarified at the end of the email that he wasn't saying Judge Sotomayor wasn't qualified - just that the current "messaging" around her focused on saying she was not liberal and she loved white people. One of which is disgusting, and the other of which is a point of alarm (or, actually they are both those things). In short, he ended the email with "where's the change I voted for?". As these things tend to happen, that evening I watched a clip of Rachel Maddow where she echoed this same sentiment. I actually felt incredibly well-informed after watching her coverage!

So it may be true that Sonia is actually not a "liberal activist judge" that the Republicans claim her to be. But I found myself leaping to defend her because of the nature of the attacks against her. Her identity as a Latina from a working-class background, and her clear refusal to negate that identity, has become the sole focus of most attacks. Moreover, the not-so-subtle Othering of her identity - calling her "Maria", tripping over her name, asking "Is she Puerto Rican?" - reinforces the notion that she would not be in this position as Supreme Court nominee if she was not Other. In the clip below, Rachel sums up some of the more egregious "errors".

One of the many things being called into question is her quote about how women, people from low-income backgrounds, and people of color are in a particular position to make judgements. Rachel discusses this more in the clip below:

Again, as it always seems to happen, the next day I read an article in the NYT Magazine that perfectly matched the feelings invoked from such racist and sexist lack of understanding about how the world works and the hierarchy of race and sex in the US. The NYT article was called "The Case for working with your hands" by Matthew B. Crawford. Since reading this, I have heard others comment that it should be titled "the case for workers autonomy" as the freedom the author experiences in his repair shop have a lot to do with education, whiteness, and access to resources. However, this quote still captivates me:

"In the boardrooms of Wall Street and the corridors of Penn. Ave, I don't think you'll see a yellow sign that says 'Think Safety!' as you do on job sites and in many repair shops, no doubt because those who sit at the swivel chairs tend to live remote from the consequences of the decisions they make. Why not encourage gifted students to learn a trade, if only in the summers, so that their fingers will be crushed once or twice before they go on to run the country?"

You can see the elitism of our education system still present in that thought process however the quote contextualizes Judge Sotomayor's removed-from-any-context quote. She has had her fingers crushed and she realizes that people on the margins of the normative middle (those not elected to the Supreme Court) live the effects of her rulings. If the white male judges* that predominate the legal world were to experience the outcomes of their rulings in the intense and real way it may result in some very different decision making.

*Clearly being white and male doesn't hand you privilege on a plate. No essentialism of Identity here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


INCITE! has saved my sense of self and my confidence in social justice more times than any other organization. In 2007 I read Color of Violence: the INCITE anthology on my meal breaks at the restaurant I was managing at the time and after-hours in my never-heated apartment in St. Paul. These essays exposed a system I had suspected and been taught to recognize in my classes. However unlike the texts and discussions of the classroom, these essays exposed the system through intense personal stories that told not only the truth of these systems but the lived affect of these truths.

Moreover, these stories gave me strategies and examples, testimonials and history lessons that taught me all about the methods of anti-violence that addressed all of our multiple needs. I learned about Sista II Sista/Hermana a Hermana, Transjustice of the Audre Lorde Project, CARA, and other amazing people and movements that have managed to address issues of race, class, immigration, identity, sexuality, and state violence without going under or being forced out of organizing. Color of Violence was my introduction to INCITE!, and after that I was sent a gorgeous poster that read "Stop Police Violence Against Women of Color & Trans People of Color" featuring wonderful art by Christy C. Road - this of course has traveled with me from job to job. (To the left: Copy of poster "Stop Police Violence Against Women of Color & Trans People of Color". It is bright orange with lots of text, a group of younger people stand in assertive poses facing the viewer. One individual has her hand out in the universal "stop" pose.)

Finally though, I read the book The Revolution Will Not be Funded: beyond the non-profit industrial complex which I put off reading for nine months as I could not bear to learn the truth of the organizations I was/am working for nor the truth of the career path I have placed myself on. I, like so many Liberal Arts students, am geared and trained professionally towards non-profit work...and it is precisely that work that is tearing apart our communities and keeping us oppressed.

And I knew this. I felt this in my gut and in the ever-rising anger and irritation at the constants placed around me and my community "for our benefit" - but I didn't want to face it. Because facing the truth about the irrationality, capitalism, and bureaucracy of the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC) would mean I'd be obligated to address it and change my interactions with the NPIC. This is akin to a recent incident I had with a co-worker who ranked above me hierarchically. After I told him that his inaction towards trans-inclusion was unacceptable he began to yell at me about an unrelated event. Not ready to face his own gender normativity and transphobia he attacked me for bringing it to his attention - forcing him to become aware before he was ready.

At any rate, I was finally ready to learn more and become accountable in March. And I'm glad that I did because the book is astounding. Each essay tells another story about how to survive in a world that is supposed to nurture and empower your community, but ultimately fails at some fundamental level to truly empower the actual community. For instance, a community-based non-profit might be doing amazing work revitalizing he community but if all the money comes from a foundation of people who have never been anywhere near your community then how dependent have we become relying on the very system we're fighting against to fund our fight against them? Or, alternatively, an organization is set up to create comprehensive systems of care for Indigenous populations living with HIV/AIDS, but despite the desire from within the community to see this work done the entire organization is staffed by people with degrees in non-profit work non of whom are either Indigenous or living with HIV/AIDS. So where is the community empowerment? how do we learn from each other in a communal sense and grow stronger together if the people making change come from the same privileged backgrounds they always do? This is something of incredible interest to me as I blogged about previously. I want to create change and it's difficult for me to find a venue for that change.

The most important thing I took away from the book was creating systems of accountability. Constantly checking in with the direct community to see how they feel about you and your work. Are you addressing their/your needs? Are you active in other community organizations and/or events? Is there transparency in every thing you do - can community members voice their opinions and make suggestions or give alternatives? For more and better suggestions you can also go to the INCITE! web page dedicated to Resources Beyond the NPIC and you can learn strategies your own non-profit can follow, or strategies you as an individual looking to make change can follow.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

TransMentors Program

A few weeks ago I heard about the new TransMentors Program from Kate Bornstein (yes, I'm name dropping! I follow hir on Twitter so it's almost like we're friends). To my mind, this sounds like an awesome idea...although likewise the background checks and formality of it also make me nervous. I'm not one for too much interference into my life.

TransMentors mission is:
to provides aid, support and assistance to Trans-identified individuals...We dedicate ourselves to providing an array of information services, educational materials, advocacy training, as well as assistance with housing, health, faith, and employment needs. We pledge compassionate support and passionate advocacy on behalf of Trans-identified persons in their journeys toward health of body and mind and in their pursuit of personal freedom, including the freedom to alter their bodies and change their gender roles.

All of which sounds awesome to me - specifically because they focus on mentoring! Mentoring is a huge issue for me as my experience in doing Transgender Support/Discussion Groups is that participants come for three reasons. One reason is that often the groups are the only place that an individual feels safe to discuss their real concerns - hardships, joys, moments of desperation and depression...feelings in general. And the group provides a safe space to say things like "I don't know if I can do this" without anyone standing in judgement that the phrase might take away their right to be transgender. If you were to tell a therapist the same thing they might decide you aren't "serious" as opposed to the idea that you might have had a rough couple of days. The second reason that I usually see is that transgender people often feel extraordinarily alone. The groups offer a sense of community. Even in smaller five-people groups there is still such intense diversity that you can easily see the many ways to be transgender.

Finally, the third reason people tell me they attend is to find examples of the kind of person you want to be. In other words, finding mentors. Usually I see that within a group meeting a newer individual latches on to what one person says and they quickly form a strong bond. Sometimes this happens because the two are on their way to a strong friendship based on equal interests, at other times this connection is based on one person's ability to guide the other in finding resources and ways of being. Once again...a mentor. I once had a very brief discussion with a transgender leader about why she continues to attend Transgender Discussion/Support Groups. Namely, that her happy and successful transition can assist others to see that being transgender isn't necessarily synonymous with depression, violence, or loneliness. That it is possible to be happy and be transgender identified.

For all these reasons, I think the TransMentors program is excellent! Too many transpeople rely on the advice of cisgender specialists to guide them - therapists, doctors, psychiatrists all operating from various different interpretations of a transphobic text. Assisting each other to transition keeps our communities more united - and ensures at least the majority of advice is correct.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Surveys for FTM folks and their partners!

In case you haven't yet heard the news from Twitter...here are two surveys that are going to offer some awesome vital resources for FTM folks and those who love them.

The surveys are being done by Jamison Green, author of “Becoming a Visible Man” and former President of FTMInternational. According to the survey "He is interested in the sexual health and satisfaction of all transmen, whether or not they have had hormones or surgery, and in the experiences of their partners. He will use the data as raw material for a book, tentatively entitled "The FTM Guide to SEX," plus academic presentations and journal articles to educate medical and therapeutic service providers about trans lives. Collaborating is urologist and surgeon Dr. Miroslav Djordjevic of Serbia. Dr. Djordjevic is interested in post-operative quality of life for all transmen who have had genital reconstruction. Dr. Djordjevic and Mr. Green plan to make professional conference presentations together and to co-author a journal article using the data collected here." If folks have questions about who Jamison is: http://www.jamisongreen.com/

The surveys are designed for FTM or trans men and their partners. Partners do not have to be in a current relationship, and if a FTM person or trans man has been partnered to another FTM person or trans man they may of course take both surveys. In order to take the surveys you must be 18 or older. For these surveys the proctors are using the following definition for FTM or trans man: “a person who was born with a female body--and assigned female or intersex at birth--and who plans to initiate, has initiated, or has completed medical treatment to masculinize his body”, some examples of identities may include FTM, trans man, genderqueer, or intersex man.

Here is the survey for partners of FTM folks and trans men. It takes between 20-40 minutes based upon your life experience. Partners

And here is the survey for FTM folks and trans men. Again, takes between 20-40 minutes based upon your own life experiences: FTM folks

If folks have any questions about the surveys you can direct the questions to Jamison! (jamisong at earthlink.net.)


As a linguistic note from me personally, I always hated the term "FTM" but hearing it described by Jamison, and by folks such as the Vancouver Coastal Health Transgender Health Project, I'm beginning to develop a new appreciation for it!

From VCH THP's Hormones: a guide for FTMs:

We use “FTM” as shorthand for a spectrum that includes not just transsexuals, but anyone who was assigned “female” at birth and who identifies as male, masculine, or a man some or all of the time. Some non-transsexuals in the FTM spectrum (androgynous people, butches, drag kings, bi-gender and multi-gender people, etc.) may also want hormone therapy, and may not identify or live as men. For this reason we use the term FTM instead of “trans men”.

I disliked "FTM" because I felt it focused overtly on my birth sex as female, what with the "F" coming first and all. Not that I'm ashamed of being born female or that I don't embrace those female years (quite the opposite in fact), but it does get confusing when I'm filling in a form and I have to remember that I'm FTM and not MTF as the letter I immediately look for is "M" for male and not "F" for female. Which is why I've preferred the terms "trans masculine" or "trans man". Except, of course, that excludes anyone who is male identified but isn't masculine or identifies with masculine characteristics but doesn't identify as male.

Clearly, what Jamison and Vancouver Coastal Health are trying to achieve is a space where FTM does not stand for "Female To Male' but instead stands only as "FTM" - meaning someone who was identified at birth as female but who doesn't necessarily identify completely with the identity of "female". So I begin to understand that FTM might become more inclusive especially if we stop associating it as being an acronym for "Female To Male" and begin to see it as an identity of itself that does not need to be explained. It's an interesting possibility!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Complications around "PC"

A few months ago I did a community education training where I was asked if “the PC thing to do” was to use gender neutral pronouns for anyone whose gender or sex identity the individual didn’t know.* My answer was complex and long-winded mainly because the student and I were placing different value judgments on the term “politically correct”. The student was using it as synonymous with “respectful” while I associate it with the often dismissive ideas of “tolerance” – actions or language changes due to a cultural trend to do so, not because of actual knowledge or understanding of the pain surrounding certain terms or actions.

For many people, being politically correct means respecting the self-identifying terms and differences that various people use and have. To that end, I agree with the idea that being PC is being respectful. The difficulty I have with the term occurs when we (educators, co-workers, bosses, diversity trainers, etc.) enforce different terms without giving them background or meaning. Perhaps the most poignant example of this would be the term “nigger”. As I wrote about this time last year, the majority of white people in the US know that the term is offensive but the complete history of it – labeling a group of people with out their input and using that label as a means to write difference onto their bodies and humanity, the pervasive history of lynching, Jim Crow laws, institutional racism and segregation – isn’t understood. Nor is it understood how the effects of all those events still affect our lives (all peoples) today. So while most white folks know not to use it, we don’t know why other terms are more correct. For instance, we don’t understand that “Black” and “African American” are two different terms.

Politically Correct should never have meant a sanction on language usage or a bourgeois imposition of what is ""good". This makes political incorrectness look fun, exciting, and American - as in "it is American to speak the truth even if no one wants to hear it"...but here most anti-PC folks are confusing personal opinion or personal truth with fact, or general truth. I just re-read Nick Hornby's Housekeeping Vs. the Dirt, a compilation of his literary essays for the very hipster magazine The Believer, and surprisingly to me found that Hornby included some insights into this. On page 101 he decries an unnamed author's book. A different reviewer said the book was "deliciously politically incorrect" and Hornby writes that perhaps that reviewer is referring to some (and I paraphrase) Golden Age of commentary when we were all more free, a Golden Age he goes on to say that never existed as there’s an extreme difference between “freedom of speech” and prejudiced language. Hornby goes on to describe that this "delightfully politically-incorrect" book includes the narrator saying that women should (trigger alert) learn to lie still and enjoy rape. That’s not something we should be celebrating. We shouldn’t censor such language, but neither should we embrace it as a return to the way things ought to be. My first understanding of "Politically correct" was that we were trying to state "be aware that language carries power and that your speech has real world consequences".

Last year I was asked “Do white people know about Black History Month?” and my response was “I think we know that it exists, I don’t think we know why it exists”. Therefore, BHM gets dismissed as symbolic as opposed to important (and there are arguments for that!) and white folk using phrases like “nigger” is seen as “edgy” as opposed to really fucking racist and ignorant. Which is much like the tension I feel around PC terminology – it seems to make little difference what language we use if we don’t know why we’re using it. Except of course, it does. To be free of hearing words that burn your skin when you walk down your school hallways or sit at the office lunch table or take public transit…to not constantly feel afraid that words that cause a physical reaction in you might advance to physical attacks – to be free of that even if the person no longer using those terms doesn’t understand. Well, that actually is nice.

Take the phrase "fire men". Now, saying "fire fighters" doesn't magically make more non-male fire fighters appear, nor does it make the entrance exams or the general workspace an affirming place for women and gender non-conforming folk. But, it does plant the idea into the mind of a young girl or gender non-conforming child that they too can be fire fighters. It also means that when we do see a female fire fighter we don't overwhelm her with her difference (she probably is already aware). It also shows that you as an individual are aware that men are not the only sex able to put out fires, if nothing else, it shows your awareness. So, when despite the facts before you choose to continue to say "fire men" it doesn’t necessarily say "I don't care about women and gender non-conforming folks"...it just sounds like that's what you're saying.

Being labeled politically-correct is often a defense mechanism that pushes aside the real conversations about the power of language and blames an individual for changing language not because they care about the issues but because they don’t want to offend someone who might hurt their political or occupational standing. It has changed to imply that the individual who makes a language request doesn’t actually have knowledge behind the request. It has become a word game as opposed to a combination of survival technique and the power of self-identifying.

*My answer about the gender neutral pronouns was two-fold. Using gender neutral pronouns is a choice like any other pronoun choice. Therefore, labeling me for instance as “zhe” is incorrect as I use “he” as my pronoun. It doesn’t offend me as I do identify as genderqueer, and in many ways I might be complimented by that acknowledgment of my gender identity. But to label, for instance, Laverne Cox, as “zhe” would be insulting as she is clearly going for female pronouns. In the video Trans Basics for the Gender Identity Project Laverne talks about being incorrectly labeled, and as she holds up her manicured nails by her long hair and feminine clothing she says “I think it’s pretty clear what I’m going for here”. True, someone who looks exactly like Laverne might indeed use gender neutral pronouns – and we can never tell off of our perceived gender expression what a person’s pronouns are. But using gender neutral for someone you know to be transgender or gender non-conforming can be read as insulting. However, gender neutral pronouns shows a base knowledge of the mutability of gender which might que the person to realize that you were being polite, not intentionally rude. Therefore, it is always best to ask first

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New York City Inspires Me

This is a photograph taken of a NYC light pole. Surrounded by other stickers and posters, a bright yellow sticker reads: "OBAMA McCAIN FREE LEONARD PELTIER".

I saw this in early March and had been meaning to post it for a while. This was taken on a week when I had a friend in town from Chicago Showing him the city made me fall in love with it all over again. I promised I'd never become a New York-Essentialist (someone who believes NYC is better than any other place) and I haven't. But I do love New York.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Transgender Voices & Visibility: Naked on the Inside

This Saturday an incredible event will be occurring at my new work site! Transgender Voices & Visibility, a series I began in March with performance artist Sassafras Lowrey will repeat with a screening of the movie Naked on the Inside.

I saw the Manhattan premier of the film at disTHIS! and was amazed at how (surprisingly) non-cheesy it was! A documentary that asks six people to talk about their bodies could easily become overly self-reflective and pedantic. But not this documentary. Naked on the Inside manages to remain elusive of any over-arching theme on unity. We see six people struggling/past struggling to align their bodies with their spirits. An honest conversation begins about why this disconnection exists in the first place and subjects touch on religion, family, geography, race, and media representations. It's nothing new, but it is a different and dignified approach.

So come out to Bay Shore this Saturday!! 7-10pm at the Community Center. We'll have some refreshments and a wonderful Q & A hosted by Lawrence Carter-Long, Director of Advocacy for the Disabilities Network of NYC. I've been trying to upload the pdf but no luck just yet...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Transracial Abduction

In my perpetual search for organizations or individuals who embody the practices I wish to embody I stumbled upon this website, Confluere. Listed are some of the most amazing activists and educators I have ever heard of!

Of note, is Kim So Yung, the founder of Transracial Abductees a group that organizes around identities as abducted children from families that are not white. Now, most people would refer to this as adoption but So Yung seeks to call out the unequal power structures and the inherent colonialism & racism present in the adoption process by re-labeling it "abduction".

Reading her website I immediately remembered Jane Jeung Trenka's award-winning The Language of Blood that I read last year. In it I experienced the first adoption story that felt authentic and real - her story is complicated, and she expresses her story with amazing fairness and honesty. Jeung Trenka's writing illuminated for me the horrifying paradox of transracial adoption, that it is clearly a direct result of Western imperialism and to an extent the aide that the West gives to "allies" such as Japan, Saudi Arabia, etc.

Jeung Trenka's book - like So Yung's website - addresses issues of multiple oppression. An incredibly documented account of stalking can be seen within the constructed identities of being an adopted Korean woman in the Midwest, as well as the more "traditional" SingleWhiteFemale narrative that is often given to stalking narratives. So Yung dissects the religious persecution, ableism, and sexual discrimination of the adoption/abduction process as well.

This book and website are especially illuminating for me as far too many couples who are unable to conceive biologically or unwilling to wait longer/pay more for a racially appropriate child turn to Latin America, Asia, and now Africa for their nuclear families. Within white LGB couples this is a specific and pervasive problem. Even at my Community Center there is a sickening group called "You Gotta Believe" teaching parents how to manipulate the foster care system to gain access to children from drastically differ net racial and/or national backgrounds and the checks that come with them. On our website smiling Black and Brown toddlers smile between their white mommies or daddies...but we never see these families as the children age. True, many things may result in these families not returning to the Center, but I believe the Whiteness of this Center and our affiliation with their inappropriate abduction/adoption could be a strong reason why the children show no interest in returning.

While I'm criticizing the squadrons of white LGB couples who adopt outside their ethnicity and race I should acknowledge that adoption is a persistent issue in my life as well. Should my partner and I ever decide that we're mature enough and stable enough to have children (which I don't foresee happening) my partner and I would have to look outside the automatically assumed means of having children. I have no statement about what we might pursue, but adoption has been on the table of options in the past. Which is probably what separates us in general: we have options.

Writing all of this, I must add that I know of friends who were adopted into families that were aware of the power inequality and made their child aware of their differences and identities by including adults of similar backgrounds in their lives, reading complex accounts of adoption/abduction and not trying to patronize a child's real experiences with difference. I have close friends who have spoken of the deep love between themselves and their families and I have come to recognize this as the direct result of dialogue around power structures and identity. But when a child is taught that they are no different from their parents then instances of racism and colonialism are inexplicable and surprising to a child who is never taught that their perceived differences are indeed real.

Turning again to So Yung's website she addresses this disparity in a section on adoption/abduction books. At the very end of the section she explores "Animal Stories" the tales of the chipmunk family that raises a baby bear only to have the bear search for her bear family. Of course when baby bear tries to live with the bears she finds out she doesn't fit in so she happily returns to her chipmunk family. However, as So Yung notes, in real life these books do not make a child happy to be different from his/her/hir guardians:
"I read books like this when I was little. I guess they were supposed to make me feel like the "chipmunks" were my real family who loved and accepted me even though I was a freakish "bear," instead they made me feel like I didn't belong anyplace at all."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Accessing NYC

For some reason this weekend seems to be my weekend to notice and be affected by accessibility differences. This started out by encountering a wheelchair-using man calling 311 to complain about an inaccessible building on 14th street. As I walked by I heard him say "I can't even reach the buzzer to let them know they're jack asses". The idea that a place is so inaccessible that one can't even complain that it's inaccessible was a fairly ridiculous concept to me. It makes it impossible for those who are disenfranchised to make their disenfranchisement visible through traditional (ie the system) means.

Yesterday my partner and I went to a gallery showing Philip Lorca-Dicorcia's work. 1,000 Polaroids were organized on shelves hitting about 5 feet off the ground. As we finished touring the photos I turned to look at the gallery to take in all 1,000 at once and notices a person using crutches who had to constantly stop and reposition herself in front of each Polaroid in order to see it. I'm not sure what else the gallery could have done - perhaps arrange them on some kind of swiveling shelf? The five-foot marker wasn't accessible to most viewers - my partner and I both left the gallery rubbing our necks from hunching over the photos for such a long period. I'm not decrying the gallery as inaccessible, nor am I trying to speak for the woman I saw - after all I didn't even bother to ask if she was comfortable or not viewing the photos on her crutches. But I imagine stopping 1,000 times in order to see a gallery exhibit and I wonder if there was a way that could be avoided - a way to become more aware.

Leaving the gallery I noticed an ad for a TV show on the History Channel called Ax Men. The ad prominently featured the prosthetic arm of a logger working alongside the arms of other unseen men, all with their biological arms. Immediately images of danger, hardship, masculinity came into play in my mind. The ad was culturally coded disability, subtly giving blue-collar workers with disabilities an exceptional identity (to borrow from Ruth Garland-Thomas).

The entire weekend experience was capped off by a final event. As I transferred this morning at Suthphin Boulevard to the LIRR I noticed two people with disabilities crossing a busy and inaccessible street in Queens. The two people, a female little person and a wheelchair using man, gave each other a brief little head-bob and wave as they crossed paths. My morning commute was filled with thoughts on this. They may have known each other from any various disability movement or social group (should they be a part of one, not all folks with disabilities are!), or they might be friends or co-workers...maybe even ex-lovers. But what I thought was the most exciting possibility was that they could be two people who have never met before but they saw each other and acknowledged each others existence. They took time out of whatever else was on their mind or in their schedules to simply say "I see you". I see you in a way that the majority of people refuse to see you - as a vital, important, and meaningful contributor to the city. Given the three other examples of disability awareness I saw this weekend I am prone to supporting this conclusion. It gives me hope.

Another thing that gives me hope is the disTHIS! film series. And tonight they will be screening Naked on the Inside an amazing movie about people's relationships to their bodies. The film will start at 7pm but doors open at 6:30 suggested donation of $5.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gather: lesbian community under one roof

This Sunday I had a surprise treat when I was asked to sit in on a panel about The L Word. The panel is part of an event called "Gather" which happens every few months. I specifically talked about gender identity - and the event was awesome! Below is the amazing poster for the event - look for more posts about Gather in the future and check out the founder's blog, also named Gather.

All in all, I think a major conclusion about The L Word was that it brought queer folks together physically (in bars, one person's home, viewing parties) in a new way, and it meant we never had awkward pauses when meeting new people. Asking about The L Word was an easy way to begin any conversation!

Monday, March 23, 2009

LSATs and Class

I recently took a free Kaplan LSAT test where I was promised that my score could improve tremendously if I took their course that costs between $1299 and $1499. Now I was already indulging in a free service and I am thankful for the opportunity to test my skills, but the means to acheive a "competitive score" infuriates me. A 166-180 is considered competitive and the LSAT is not a test one can study for in the traditional sense. If a student has the time to spend taking classes and to pay $1299 or more they are guaranteed to improve. If a student is working full time, low income, supporting family, etc they have to find other ways to improve - like studying an outdated library book between jobs or when the baby is asleep. To summarize: having expendable money and time guarantees success. This means that law school applicants at top colleges will continue to be privileged at least in terms of class. All of us know that class is directly tied to multiple other gender identities so that a very particular type of lawyer is consistently produced.

Moreover, the cost of law school is such that students invested in working for public interest, governmental, or non-profit ventures won't be able to do so and live a comfortable life-style (more abut my idea of comfort here).* After ranking up debt in the 100s of thousands it's hard to remind yourself that a job that pays $40,000 defending immigrant rights is the moral choice over the $160,000 a year job defending folks like Bernie Madoff.

Therefore, it is very difficult to produce lawyers who are going to relate any kind of class background difference or any kind of specific interest in legal work as it pertains to social justice and not money-profiteering. As I write this, though, I have to acknowledge that both of my brothers are lawyers - and while we were not always low income, we did emerge from a low income family. So of course working class people become lawyers everyday. It happens - but it's not an equal process, and for every lawyer interested in defending those on Death Row there are 100 interested in increasing the profits of the Prison Industrial Complex.

This isn't an issue specific to lawyers. Doctors, environmental advocates, non-profit executives...many jobs are held by those who had the time and monetary means to achieve their positions and due to debt and the process of normalized ethics that occurs in any academic institution, they often lose any radical vision. That said, the lawyer-specific point is particularly irksome to me not only because I have decided to go into the law but because I decided to go into the law for the ability to assist those historically under served (screwed over) in the justice process. I want to focus on gender identity law and work for an organization such as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project which puts people of color and low-income people first. It irritates me that the law - something I find potentially radical and exciting - could be used as the means to become greedy and rich. We all know this - the majority of us grew up with lawyer jokes - but for me this becomes a very personal message.

Through my work in various non-profits I've decided that the lack of understanding of the law and a fear of such legal processes is what directly influences many people to not act out for their liberation. Which is why I find the law exciting. We can use it to create radical social change when we become lawyers and educators, and our own advocates. But tests and expenses like those above deliberately reduce the possibility that advocates for radical social change access these services. Which is why I study every day on my subway and train ride - I want to make sure that there will be at least one law student who wants to see justice for all people. So despite my inability to pay $1499 and to spend my weekends in a classroom near the NYU campus, I am still determined to do well and attend in order to create radical social change.

*In addition to what I previously wrote about "comfort" being considered bourgeois...I volunteered with a woman recently who is self-employed in NYC doing odd jobs and she was talking about how so many people "say no to money" but she wants "to say yes to money" - which the majority of people who have lived in working class conditions not by choice would agree with. The majority of us who have experienced hardships are aware of how difficult it can be to climb out of a non-chosen poverty.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Angie Zapata: ensuring forms of justice!

This email comes from the amazing staff of the Colorado Anti-Violence Project. I'm reproducing parts of it here so that folks can help ensure that an accurate and loving memory of Angie Zapata is preserved. Justice is clearly a tricky issue (how often do prison sentences actually correspond to a recreation of a less-violent more understanding self?) but Angie's memory and her family's right to respectful media coverage and supportive community can not be overlooked. Moreover, while I do have concerns for whether Andrade will ever understand his crime - I am more concerned about whether communities in Colorado and around the world will understand that our lives are beautiful and have value, and that our communities are powerful.

I worked with the staff of CAVP directly after Angie's horrific murder, and I'd like to talk more about that experience when I'm able. For now, however, here are tips on how to let the Zapata family know that Angie is in all of our hearts. What I love about these is that they work at every level. No matter where you are in the world, what your financial situation is, you can find an action that will help preserve her memory and is do-able in your current situation. Really, there are no excuses:
  • Respond to Media Coverage of the Trial
    • Join the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's (GLAAD)
      Rapid Response Team. A Media Essentials training will be scheduled soon for the last full week of March. GLAAD's regional representative will send out more information soon. Contact CAVP if you'd like to be notified. E-mail CAVP
    • Write letters to editor of local and national papers during trial coverage.
  • Offer carpool rides from Denver to Greeley Courthouse during the trial
    • The eight day trial of Andrade will begin on April 14, 2009 and takes place in Courtroom 11 of the Weld County Courts at 901 9th Ave in Greeley. We would like to provide as much community support to Angie Zapata's family and friends as possible by packing the courthouse during those days.
    • If you are need a ride or would like to offer a ride to Greeley from the Denver-Metro area, please contact Kate Bowman at 303-202-6466 (work), 303-798-0790 (cell) or by e-mail.
  • Donate and/or prepare healthy snacks, food and drinks for community members attending the trial
    • Contact Andy Stoll at the Lambda Community Center 970-221-3247 or by e-mail if you would like to make a donation.
  • Join the Colorado Anti-Violence Program for evenings of discussion, meditation and dinner
    • In an effort to support our community members in maintaining a positive and healthy emotional and mental space around the trial, CAVP will be hosting two evenings of discussion, meditation and dinner. Discussion will be facilitated by CAVP staff and meditation by Marti Engelmann.
    • March 18th from 6-8:30 pm
      April 7th from 6-8:30 pm
      • Dinner provided March 18th.
      • April 7th, please bring a potluck dish if you plan to attend
    • For more info or to RSVP contact Crystal Middlestadt at 303-839-5204 or by e-mail.
    • We encourage you to participate if you are even slightly considering attending any trial dates, you would like to find other ways to support people going to the trial or you have an interest in participating in creating this type of space regardless of your involvement with this case.

      Make a Financial Contribution

      Mail a check to:
      Colorado Anti-Violence Program
      P.O. Box 181085
      Denver, CO 80218

      Give online through the Colorado Non-Profit Development Center
      Donate now!
      Please be sure to designate the donation to "CAVP".

      • $25 provides one hour of court accompaniment for a survivor of domestic violence.
      • $100 provides one night of safe shelter and food for a victim of partner abuse.
      • $250 provides for a daylong training on hate crimes against the LGBT community for service providers.
      • $500 provides training for 150 students and faculty to makes schools safer for youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
      • $1000 keeps the statewide crisis hotline available to victims of hate violence, sexual assault, random violence and partner abuse for 3 months.

      2009 Volunteer Training Schedule

      Currently, CAVP is looking for new volunteers to become a valuable part of the organization. There are many ways you can get involved, including completing administrative tasks, community outreach, building referral databases, and staffing the 24-hour crisis hotline.

      General Orientation
      The general orientation will provide you with all of the tools you'll need to be an amazing volunteer with CAVP. This is also a great way to see if the CAVP crisis hotline is right for you.

      The next general orientations will take place in July & October.
      July training:
      Two weeknights, July 13 and 15 from 6-9pm. You must attend both of these dates.
      October training:
      One full-day training, October 3 from 8:30am-5pm.

      Crisis Hotline Training
      Because the crisis hotline training is about 30 hours long, you will be making a considerable time-commitment to both the training and to the hotline itself. Hotline shifts are a half week long, and you will carry a pager for 24-hours a day. When people call the hotline, they will leave a message and the pager will then go off. You must have access to returning that phone call within 20 minutes of the call. If you have any questions about how the hotline can fit into your schedule, please let us know.

      The next crisis hotline training will take place in October. For additional information about the Colorado Anti-Violence Program or to sign up for the volunteer training, please contact Kelly Costello bye-mail or 303-839-5204. Feel free to pass on this message on to anyone you think might be interested in volunteering.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Refried Musings on safer spaces

In between recent bouts of studying for the LSATs I have been reading Trans/Forming Feminisms edited by Kristen Scott-Dixon. The essays within are exactly the kind of stimulating debates that I feel are left out of my new preocuppying battles against assimilation and normalization in LGBT progressive movements. The essays don't agree with each other, in fact they are often contradictory - but they disagree in a respectful way. The section that affected my advocacy ideas the most was a selection of essays from scholars, lawyers, and advocates around transgender issues at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (MWMF) and the case of Kimberly Nixon vs. Rape Relief.

The debates over MWMF are debates I am interested in and concerned about - however I have heard so many different arguments from so many different people that I have yet to form a consistent and definitive opinion on any specific course of action. I'm not entirely worried however, as I am confidant that my opinion as a man - albeit a genderqueer transsexual man - is not the voice missing from these debates. The essays, however, have re-sparked my interest, mostly because one essay in particular reminded me of the tribulations that faced the Queer Union at Macalester.

My senior year a proposal was made to allow the Info Shop - a project of the student group Macalester Peace & Justice Coalition (MPJC) - to reside inside the on-campus room assigned to the student group Queer Union. Three student groups on campus had been given access to private rooms: Feminists In Action (FIA) and Students Together Against Rape And Sexual Assault (STARSA) got together to create the Womens' and Gender Resource Center across the hall from the Queer Union Lounge, which was managed by Queer Union. Notably, no other groups had private or safe spaces to meet although semi-public spaces such as the Multicultural Resource Center and the Cultural House were available for the majority of groups.

The debate centered around the issue that queer students at Macalester had petitioned for usage of the space and received it based on the merit of their need for safer and confidential access to information that was not widely available in other Macalester locations. While it may seem that an organization dedicated to peace and justice would be dedicated to queer liberation enough of us had faced transphobia, homophobia, and heteronormativity in peace-based organizations to know that the two tracks didn't necessarily correlate. Moreover Queen Union was dedicated to consciousness-raising and members were concerned that MPJC might not be truly dedicated to eradicating heteronormativity and gender binaries. After all, no MPJC members regularly attended QU meetings except self-identified queer members - there was no MPJC ally visibility.

While QU members were not opposed to the idea, there were some reservations that MPJC's presence might make the Queer Union Lounge no longer safe. To counter this, however, it was raised that safe is a relevant term and that no member of QU felt safe at every moment of every meeting. After all, the QU/MPJC members were on a more revolutionary model of progressive liberation and their views were often held as contemptible by the LGBT Democrats present, and the few Republican members. Students of color often encountered racial profiling about their sexuality, open minded attitude, or even the legitimacy of maintaining multiple identities. The voices of women and gender variant people were often silenced or unheard from. These same members pointed out that we needed to differentiate between what is a challenging feeling, and what is an unsafe feeling (I feel this is analogous to a person who exercises distinguishing between the discomfort of stretching new muscles and the pain of hurting a muscle).

QU members supportive of the proposal also brought up that MPJC members were often of more diverse socio-economic backgrounds than QU members and the group was often strongly persecuted. The President of the college and multiple Professors wrote statements against their actions, and during the year in question their budget was sliced in half. In particular funding for the alternative zine The Hegemon was lost completely as was any additional funding for the Info Shop after student government decried the buying of a book about dildos.

In the end, Queer Union gave the Info Shop permission to share the space and gave MPJC permission to hold meetings. However, Queer Union also decided that no MPJC activities could take place during QU time periods – i.e. MPJC members couldn’t access the Info Shop during a QU meeting of any type, unless they were present for the QU meeting. The secondary decision came from a clear desire to mark the space as predominantly queer, although that ultimately failed as MPJC members used, decorated, and partied in the space much more than any QU members.

This walk down memory lane isn’t just for fun, as I read from so many authors about the idea of “safe space” in the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival I became very aware that the greatest debate about safe space that I publicly participated in was one where the more obvious issue of safety (that of queer students) wasn’t necessarily the population that needed to be in a safer space. With a college administration that was terrified of the radical acts of MPJC the MPJC students, of all sexualities, were more persecuted than queer students even though queer students were not respected either. This flip-flopping of ideas about oppression took a long time to make sense for the majority of QU members, as did the idea that just being queer didn’t mean we had each other’s backs. The amount of fighting, flippantly thought of as “drama” was assumed to be normative and it wasn’t until the MPJC/QU student pointed out how un-safe the space was that many of us were aware that the “drama” wasn’t a precondition – that we had the power to address it and treat the issues as serious.

I have never been to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival – nor do I want to ever go. I have no interest in an event that practices such blatant discrimination. But my partner tells me that when she went many years ago she noticed it was a highly divided space and she spent the majority of her time in the Womyn of Color tent. Likewise, there is an S&M area and other identity-divided spaces. Which makes one ask how much of a community is really present? Like Queer Union, if MWMF is already divided by identity than how safe is the space? And how much is it about “women” anyway? Or is it more about hanging out with a very specific group of people within a narrowly defined definition of women? How do you build community in that way?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gender and the NYT

So, this is clearly very late in being written, but I think the topic is still relevant - especially after the most current issue of Bitch has more than a few pages on this subject...

This article from way back when in the New York Times was forwarded to me by my friend Sass a few weeks ago. Sass, our friend Sarah, and myself engaged in a long email-conversation about the visibility of gender non-conforming women versus the agonizing disgust that such poor coverage brings.

Upon reading the very first pages I thought that the author had some incredibly valid points around the majority of assimilatory gay men and their lack of concern for non-cute male issues, i.e. women's rights, queer woman's liberation etc. It's so rare to see any real insight into queer culture in mainstream press, that I was genuinely surprised to see an actual truth as opposed to a truth that journalists come to after watching back to back episodes of The L Word.

Specifically, this thought came after a weekend of volunteering for The Vagina Monologues where I argued at length with cisgender male youth volunteers who refused to watch the show. I tried talking to them about solidarity - so many of them have straight female friends who care about gay rights, isn't it only a matter of respect to care about issues pertaining to women too? No avail. I argued with them on an ego level: what if they have a male partner who transitions to female, or if they fall for a trans man? What if, even though they identify as gay now, they fall for a woman later in life? No avail. On a basic knowledge is power level...aren't you at least interested in learning how more than half the world experiences sexism and misogyny?

What most appalled me was trying to justify a play that I truly dislike. I have seen so many versions of The Vagina Monologues and while I see an respect the empowerment so many women with vaginas might feel from the play...I have to agree with articles like this one and this one and this one that the play reifies many identity markers that so many women of various identities are fighting against. Yet for these young men, I knew seeing the play could still have the impact I felt when i first heard them so many years ago.

Anyway, to return to Rachel Maddow...I initially thought a conversation about lesbian invisibility was long overdue, and to focus on one of the smartest, savviest and apparently kindest lesbians known internationally was an awesome way to broach the subject! She's not sugarcoated, but Maddow is indeed accessible to many.

But then I read on and saw that apparently lesbians come in two gender identities: butch and femme.

Well. thank goodness, and here I thought that femmes were suffering from invisibility and butches from heterosexism. After all, butch ladies seem to be receiving the same internalized-patriarchal push back these days that they endured in the 80s, and femmes are organizing across the US into amazing collectives around visibility - despite the popular (mis)conception that a certain Showtime show has pushed femme identity into an approved normality. Ask any actual femme, and she'll let you know how femme the cast of that show is. Moreover, its good to know that The New York Times has sanctioned butch-femme and thereby made invisible all other gender identities and possible partnerships (heaven forbid we have a butch butch couple!). I know that queer female identities will never be given a fair day in the pages of the Grey Lady - and I'm not even sure they should have an equal exposure as an exposed culture loses a lot of its meaning and nuance.

So I am lost thinking how amazing to have an honest discussion of gender, and then the repulsion that the article was not well executed. I feel like this constantly with the NYT... they tackle these complicated, relevant subjects: marriage legality in post-transition, the relationships between transmen and lesbians, and gender identity and invisibility in lesbian circles. But...good god! Do it well please! Don't just interview Sally Herschberg and don't draw your lesbian "facts" from pop TV. Where was Joan Nestle in this article? Or the Lesbian Herstory Archives? or Sarah Schulman? Or all the famous lesbians living in NYC who could talk about invisibility and media representation of gender identities!

Well. At least this helps broaden the discussion a bit...I hate feeling "thankful" for bad stories though, as in "i should feel thankful that you cared enough about my community to report on us..." The fact that there wasn't enough concern to do a good job overrules so many feelings of "thankfulness". Like so many ally issues, the NYT can drop lesbians and gender non-conformity in a hot second if they feel like it - there's no survival understood in the coverage. Unlike so many if us, this story can represent an interesting fad, and not a real and consuming aspect of how we understand ourselves.

Realizing Medical Bodily Difference

It took me a long time to realize that the constant headaches and migraines i feel are not a constant part of everyone else's lives. About three years ago i became aware that on a monthly if not weekly basis I would begin to get extraordinarily painful headache that would leave me curled up in a nauseous ball for hours. Left un-medicated they would last for the entire day - after 4 Excedrin they would generally clear up in a few hours. It took me longer than most to understand that the experiences were unusual and even longer to realize that they were probably related to eating, visual, and exercise habits.

Like most able bodied youth (and perhaps like most youth with disabilities, I don't know) I didn't pay attention to in health classes. As an adult I now see my behavior reproduced in the youth I work with - youth who are unable to make connections between lethargy, constant physical pain, and their daily habits. Perhaps it is because for many of the youth - living in neighborhoods/communities where disability is at an increase due to poorly managed work environments and increased environmental risk - disability is normative and associated with age.

I don't wish to suggest that disability is to be avoided or that a disability is a negative identity, but I do believe that all of our identities should be understood fully. I mean to say, for example a wonderful life can be lived if you are HIV positive - indeed being HIV positive can open up a whole new cultural identity and knowledge about sexuality, touch can become even more erotic as can sexual stimulus of non-genital areas. However, despite the joys that can come HIV positive status increased economic cost, physical illness, and discrimination also accompany the identity.

What I'm trying to come to here is that for whatever reason bodies are often not treated as visceral and important, some able bodied people often don't realize the impact of what we need to do to our bodies. All of which is to say that I only recently realized that my migraines were not normative and that I might be able to control my body in a more affirming way. Prior to my identity as a queer feminist anti-ableist activist I dismissed the body as an unimportant shell to the soul (yeah, I was raised Catholic). Now I see my body as a bearer of extensive importance: race, sexuality, size, gender, ability...all are marked on the body and give me access in a world where access equals privilege. Yes. This is old hat. But sometimes it is important to return to old hat.

I recently spoke to a small group of Gay Straight Alliance Students about allying with and becoming inclusive of transgender students and identities. In our discussion of allying techniques every student in the room discussed their abhorrence of gym classes and how humiliated they felt during gym. I understand and remember these same feelings - specifically the year-long teasing I received about my small chest and hairy legs. The daily teasing took away any joy I had at exercising my body - a task I do enjoy these days when I am practicing yoga (I need to write about that), running, or swimming.

It pained me immensely to see mini versions of myself with the same stories of pain and humiliation. As someone who believes in the importance of the body and that care for the body is how we are able to honor ourselves and continue our revolutionary legacies I'd like to see these students be given more affirming spaces to explore their identities. I find that our bodies are crucial for our identities and I'd like to see our LGBT and gender non-conforming youth know that their bodies have value. However this isn't going to occur in public high school gym classes, and I so I understand their desire to skip.

For many of us, living outside of our bodies is the way we find ourselves. But that comes at the expense of our bodies, something my friends in the disability rights community have taught me to value in many ways. I don't wish to value any identity or bodily ability over any other. What I want to emphasise is education. If I choose to have headaches, or if these youth were consensually choosing not to exercise this would be an entirely different conversation. Instead we came to these (lack of) activities because we were told our bodies - and thereby our identities - were not important.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Who plays us in the movies?

GayNZ.com, has put together a list of all the LGBT roles that were ever nominated for an Oscar. Now, we all know the Oscar's are...well, what they are. They are political (art is political) and not necessarily reflective of actual achievement. Anyway. It's interesting.

There are only two people on the list who I know to be out, both of whom are out gay men. Jaye Davidson (for his role as Dil in The Crying Game) and Ian McKellan (for his role in Gods and Monsters), and Jay was portraying a transwoman and not a gay man. So there seems to be a growing trend of non-LGBT identified actors playing LGBT roles (hmm, not so much B or T actually) and being nominated for their acting.

This is compounded with The L Word from two weeks ago (oh, don't even get me started!) where the character of Nikki Stevens said that playing "an ugly lesbian...or a retard" gets you an Oscar. The character proceeded to name Charlize Theron in Monster Sean Penn in I am Sam and Hillary Swank in Boys Don't Cry (where, in case the title didn't give it away...she plays a transman...not a lesbian).

But, despite the nastiness of her comment, it does ring true. Is it that to see a conventionally attractive actor whom we know to be straight go against grounds of cultural beauty and play a LGBT character we become convinced that the actor is really doing a good job as the transformation must be difficult? That they degraded themselves so deeply that we have to recognize it? Playing a character we know to be culturally different: being gay, being transgender, having a mental or cognitive disability seems to impress people - perhaps because non-LGBT/ally folks and able-bodied/minded people don't often see the intricacies of our lives and how normative they seem to us, contrasted with the imagined difficulty of outsiders.

This weekend, I read in the New York Times magazine a quote from Rupert Everett where he says (specifically in regards to MILK): "The paranoid moneymakers know that when the star goes to the first night with his wife, the public sees that. They’ll accept someone playing gay because they know he’s really straight."

On the flipside it seems that transgender actors have to play transgender roles (if they get a role at all). I haven't yet seen or known of a transgender person who played a man or a woman who didn't have a transgender history. I don't have a particular thought on this...I was just noticing the bombardment of discussion of LGBT representation recently.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ten years of Dykes Do Drag!

The amazing Minnesota group Dykes Do Drag is celebrating 10 years of fabulous gender-bending performance art. As a former troupe member (Mik Danger of the TransFormers) who really got his feet wet at the Dykes Do Drag arena, this ten year show is hugely important to me. I wish I could fly out just to see this triumph! I've written before about the importance of drag in my development, and I can't emphasize that enough. Dykes Do Drag practiced an amazing form of drag that I refer to as post-drag drag. It has gone beyond the hyperbole of feminization or masculinization to address real issues of class, race, accessibility, and queerness in all of our communities. In short, being a transmale drag performer was seen as the same kind of ever day experience as the cissexual drag performers or the folks who came in without pronouns or gender identities. It was a really safe space for exploring our genders in US society.

But more than that, it was also a fabulously creative space for putting our explorations into amazing performances. Which weren't all serious. In fact, they rarely ever were. Everything from marionettes to powerpoints were used to play with our perceptions of art and identity in a freeing way that inevitably left us laughing.

I can safely say that my consistent character of a punk gay man allowed me to play with the hyper-masculine qualities I was told over and over again i should possess. By playing with them on stage, and using them to manipulate audience laughs and reactions, I was able to safely put my hyper-masculine longings to rest and settle into my own genderqueer transboi identity.

So I really urge folks to make the trip. It's amazing and fabulous. And they've been around for ten years. That's ten years of consistently progressive commentary and consistently hilarious performances!

The show will be

Thursday Feb 19th @ 10pm
Friday Feb 20th @ 10pm
Saturday Feb 21st @ 7pm and 10pm

Tickets always sell out early so please order in advance by calling the Bryant Lake Bowl Box Office 612-825-8949 or going online at www.bryantlakebowl.com

Due to the amazing historical impact of the show (and yes I DO mean that in all seriousness) tickets are a bit steep. But oh-so-worth it!
$14 in advance/$18 at the door
241 tickets with student id on Thursday
$20 VIP tickets will be available through BLB box office (will include the best seats in the house, snacks upon arrival, a free BLB or DDD t-shirt, and possible seat decoration)