Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bromantically Linked

Hello ducks! If you are like me, you watch television. (Actually, if you are like me, you watch too much television--stop it! It's keeping you from doing better things, like read this blog!) And if, like me, you watch too much TV, then you've probably seen commercials for the next great man-child movie, The Hangover.

Of course, it may be difficult to pick out this new film from the constant swirl of frattish comedies--after all, it's Judd Apatow's world now, we just live in it. Never fear, though, ducks! The New York Times, in its ongoing mission of reminding us that all the news fit to print is by, for, and about men, has an article about The Hangover's creator, Todd Phillips.

In fact, the article makes Mr. Phillips out to be some sort of seer to the doucheoisie, a sort of guru of the frat boy picture. (In fact, one of his first movies was called, um, Frat House.) Mr. Phillips, in case you didn't know, is the auteur behind Old School, Road Trip, and Starsky and Hutch. (Disclosure: I actually enjoyed the last one for the chemistry between Stiller and Wilson. I'm not perfect, ducks.) All in all, he has a portfolio that makes him the Apatow-lite, a secondary purveyor of the immature bromance.

Never fear, though: The Times breathlessly reports:
That doesn’t mean “The Hangover” can’t aspire to be the most grown-up work in Mr. Phillips’s unapologetically immature portfolio.
Well, that's a relief--not the least because he doesn't apologize for his movies! No, Todd Phillips is proud of his films! He wants you to squirm while watching--that is, if you are not an immature man-child (or at least aspire to be one.)

But wait! He's not content for simple metaphysical torture--at least, where his actors are concerned:
Mr. Phillips does not always get his way. For a scene in which a police officer tests his stun gun on the guys, the director wanted his actors to be shot with a live Taser. “He goes, ‘Look at these clips on YouTube,’ ” Mr. Galifianakissaid. “ ‘It doesn’t hurt that much.’ And then the Warner Brothers lawyers stepped in, thank God.”
Well, there's always next time--and given advances in technology, perhaps within a few years he'll be able to tase the audience as well! Oh, think of the laughter we'll have! Between the blackouts, that is.

Let's give the last word to Todd, before he uses that darn taser again:
...[W]hen he tries to describe the plots of his films concisely, Mr. Phillips said recently, “the one-liners on my movies sound really retarded.” He chuckled briefly at his own analysis. “The movies, ideally, are better than they sound,” he added.
Speak for yourself, Mr. Phillips.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Two Cheers for Monarchy

Over at Shakesville there's a heartwarming post about an openly gay student who was elected prom queen. (You can read the original story here.)

I'm certainly glad to know that a high school can be so accepting; the idea of a student being openly gay at my high school was unthinkable, and that was only--well, more than a decade ago. And I'm really happy that Sergio Garcia can be open, and be himself.

All that said, I'm afraid I have to be a bit of a wet blanket about this. Call me a Humorles Tranny™, but I as a trans woman I see a few complications with this whole thing.

First, I have to wonder: would somebody who was openly trans have been elected prom queen? (Maybe; it happened in Fresno.) Then there is the question of why somebody who doesn't identify as female is even running for prom queen. According to the article, "He thought the role [of prom queen] would suit him better than prom king." Yeah--isn't that kind of the point? I mean, if he had been elected prom king, if the student body would have been happy to put him into that bastion of heterosexism, then you might have something to really talk about.

According to the article, his campaign began as a stunt "but ended up spurring discussion on the campus about gender roles and popularity." Which is really wonderful--we need to have these discussions, especially in high school--but I can't help feeling that it remained something of a stunt til the end.

For example, the article repeatedly makes it clear that despite running for prom queen, Sergio is all man.
"[I'm] not your typical prom queen candidate. There's more to me than meets
the eye."
"He also promised that he would be wearing a suit on prom night, but 'don't
be fooled: Deep down, I am a queen."
"'I don't wish to be a girl,' he told the Los Angeles Times. 'I just wish to
be myself.'"
Call me oversensitive, but I see a lot of subtle trans- and femmephobia in there. There's the clear implication that if he were to wear a dress, that would be somehow wrong. His "more than meets the eye" clearly echoes trans stereotypes in the media, from porn to movies. And fuckall, how am I supposed to read how he doesn't want to be a girl--yet runs for prom queen--as anything other than the idea that a boy who did want to be a girl and run for prom queen would be weird, as opposed to his decidedly non-weird candidacy?

I'm sorry to be coming down so hard on this kid; truth be told, I'm happy that he won, happy he goes to a school that's so accepting, and happy that the reporting on the story doesn't smirk or treat the whole thing as ridiculous.

But compare this nice, respectful story about a clean-cut gay kid who gets to be prom queen with this (triggery) piece about a nice, respectful trans kid who gets elected prom queen. Thrill to the wondrous transphobia: the refusal to use her preferred name (Crystal), the emphasis on her height in heels (cause, you know, she's totes a dude in drag), and fuckitall, the unconscionable refusal to use her preferred pronoun--even after noting she prefers to be called she. You read that story--picked up without comment on a website whose mission statement is "To encourage a world where globalization is not about homogeneity and exploitation, but rather, about diversity and cooperation"--and, if you are like me, you get pissed off and throw a wet blanket on somebody else's party.

Because seriously, great for you Sergio, but am I really supposed to be happy that a guy took another woman's job, even if that job is stupid and heterosexist to begin with?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fear of a Diverse Planet

Warning: some of the links below may be triggery, as I went to the originals.

The Sotomayor nomination has once again driven the white male protestant establishment--who after all suffer from the greatest discrimination--in an uproar. And as usual a new coded language emerges--Sotomayor is a "bully" for dressing down (male) lawyers, that she got her nomination thanks to affirmative action, and, of course, she's not qualified.

The idea that the white guys might be biased against everybody but white guys is of course ignored.

That is, of course, the gift of privilege--the ability to ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist. White men are "normal" in this country--anybody not a white guy is a "minority" even though white men--and men in general--are the real minority in this country.

One of the things about being trans is that it has the potential to help you visualize your privilege, especially if you were, like me, a white male crossdresser--outside I looked no different than any other guy (well, except for the groomed eyebrows and long fingernails), but I knew that if anyone knew about my inner life, I'd immediately lose my "normal" status.

Not everybody makes use of this opportunity. I've met incredibly chauvanistic crossdressers--and even transsexuals aren't immune; I've encountered many who were so busy sandcastling their privilege that they try to deny the womanhood of other transpeople. (Warning: super-triggery.)

(I'd be on their list for fessing to having identified as a crossdresser.)

Those who do, however, learn an important truth: that "normal" can't live in the abscence of "abnormal"--that there always has to be some shadowy Other who opposes all your basic values. The shock of those people of privilege--like myself--who realize that their transness has made them that Other can often lead them to feel solidarity with all the other Others. (Perhaps this is why trans people still support lesbian and gay rights even after one of the largest gay rights groups threw us cruelly under the bus during the ENDA fiasco last year.)

Privilege is afraid of diversity, because it forces it to confront the Other; privilege hides in the language that underprivileged people use in order to subject them to ridicule; privilege, in short, is nothing else than fear of the Other, of losing that which didn't belong to it in the first place, of having, in other words, "normal" become normal--a world where our various diversities of race, gender, religion, sexuality are no more important than our diversities in favorite sports team or ice cream flavors.

They live in fear, unfounded fear because diversity has never hurt anybody. Except in their minds.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


My friend Viola is a talented ceramacist. Not, I should mention, a potter--she doesn't use a wheel. Her art is unique and organic (not to mention wonderful), but she hasn't thrown a pot in years.

The other day she met a new member of the studio where she makes her art. They got to talking, and he mentioned that he had a dealer and was doing very well. (She later verified that via Google.) Now, like many artists (and bloggers), Viola is ambitious about her art and was immediately intrigued--and interested in how she might be able to network with this guy.

As they talked, he told her that he was putting together a group of artists and wondered if she might want to join? Of course she was interested, but--being a person of fierce integrity--she made sure to show him her work first. They talked for a while and agreed that her work really wouldn't work with the rest of the show--but, the guy asked, could she throw some vessels for him? And it gradually dawned on Viola that all he wanted was her to make a lot of vessels for him to paint.

I find it strangely apt that this--let's be fair--clueless tool would want her to make vessels for him. (Presumably narrow-necked for maximum--never mind.) I won't belabor the obvious: that for centuries women have been seen as nothing but vessels for men--convenient receptacles for them to empty their important, creative work into--a holding pen for their serious ideas to gestate.

You don't have to be a radical feminist to see that the idea of women being the non-creative side of birth as being a bit skewed.

Viola turned him down, for reasons both practical--she's far too out of practice to make pots quickly with the quality she'd want--and personal: the guy was being completely exploitative of her. Because she's quite capable of making her own art, thanks, and has no desire to be this guy's vessel.

But hearing the story from her made me think about art, and my art (if that's what I'm doing here is), and women in art. My favorite painting in the entire world is Manet's Le dejeuner sur l'herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass):

It hangs in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, and I always make a point of visiting it whenever I'm there; the canvas is enormous, and the vibrancy of the light--it never comes through in prints--is astonishing and always makes me smile.

But as much as I love this painting, being who I have become I can't help but notice that it sums up attitudes towards women that sadly weren't abandoned to the 19th century. That is, the only two roles available were the the object of the artist's gaze--the nude woman in the foreground--or supporter, like the woman who is bathing in the background. Both fundamentally passive roles; how few of the works of the great masters show women doing anything other than, perhaps, resisting the rape of an overly amorous Olympian?

Of course, you can go another layer. The nude woman in Le dejeuner sur l'herbe is Manet's longtime model, Victorine Meurent (though in an early example of Photoshopping, that's her head on a more voluptuous model's body.) Meurent was the model for Manet's notorious Olympia, and that painting's shocking subject--it certainly seems to depict a courtesan--led people to conclude, wrongly, that she herself must have been a prostitute.

In fact, she was an artist, and a successful one at that--she exhibited several times at the Salon des Artistes--although only one painting of hers is conclusively known to survive. In later life she was inducted into Societé des Artistes Françaises. She called herself an artist until she died.

I think of Victorine Meurent--the famous half smile, head tilted up in disdain or arch condescension--knowing that the gaze of the Great Man was falling on her and not demuring; bold, passionate yet tempered, willing to fight for her art and even sacrifice her own image in order to get the training she needed. I think of this Object who dared to be her own Subject, a woman born too early, perhaps, and yet still remaining as an enigmatic reminder that history is not always what They tell us it is. I think of her, and Viola, and vessels and painters, models and sculptors. And I write.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Notes From Underprivileged

Greetings Ducks! Many apologies for the lacuna of posts--I had a houseguest for the weekend and one thing pushed out another! Still, while I was away, asshattery was, as ever, on the march, as shown by the following...

Item: Women are unhappy despite liberation, or so argues new NY Times columnist Ross Douthat. Ross, you are to be congratulated! It takes most conservatives years to achieve full-on douchebaggery in the Times--you've taken just a few weeks! I haven't read the study he describes--it's not free--but I wonder: did anyone ask women why they don't feel happy? Or would that be too much bother? Isn't it more fun to speculate on them? Yes, if you write for the Times.

Item: Sonia Sotomayor is mean! This seems to be the first arrow in the coming perfect-storm backlash! On WNYC's Brian Lehrer show, the host asked for comments from people who had appeared in Judge Sotomayor's court. One lawyer (you can listen in at about 35:00 on the link) said that he found that she "made gratuitous comments that were abusive." This apparently was caused by an incident where she told a different--ah, yes, your friend, right--attorney that his brief was the worst she'd read in 20 years and he should rethink his career choice. Because no male Federal judge has ever been that mean! And even if he was, they'd just have a beer after. Which you can't do with Judge Sotomayor--on account of her vagina!

Item: California Supreme Court upholds Proposition 8. No jokes here, just disappointment. My houseguest is a Californian, and we read the story on an iPhone while sitting in a park. Interestingly, all 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place before Prop 8 are still legal. This just in: California Supreme Court rules all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sandcastle Virtues

Once I knew a crossdresser named Monica. This was several years ago, when I was a regular in the transgender demimonde--the curious collection of repurposed-for-a-night bars and "safe" restaurants we frequented on the weekends. Given that most people in this world were closeted, or like me, semi-closeted--I was out to all the important people in my life, but the idea of going out in public during the day was still too frightening--and this was their one chance to "go out" (that's how we said it, too: "I'm going out this weekend" meant going somewhere crossdressed), after a while you got to know the regulars, the ones that were there every week: that girl who always wore pleather fetish outfits; the married couple that dropped in so the husband could dance and flirt with guys while the wife got wrecked at the bar; the very pretty, I-can't-believe-she's-forty crossdresser who had once run her own trans themed party but now was limited to a few nights out a month because she had a young kid.

Over time, Monica and I became close friends; I even saw her male self a few times, and later on she got to see mine when I invited her to my birthday. We both agreed that these "parties" were nothing more than an extension of the closet; we deplored together the awful dance music the hostesses played (not that it would have mattered much: it is a curious fact that most of the white, middle-aged CDs I knew didn't like to dance); we longed for something more than the desultory anomie of these Saturday nights, but neither of us was ready yet to try to do anything more.

Not everyone who came to these parties was a crossdresser. Some wives and girlfriends came, whose expressions ran the gamut from pie-eyed terror to exhilarated joy. We always looked at these women with curiousity, scarcely allowing ourselves to believe that it was possible to find a woman who could deal with--with all this. There were also the trannie chasers. They were a hard crew to figure out--perhaps because most of them were having a hard time figuring out their own attraction. Some wanted to crossdress but couldn't face their own fears; some wanted to suck a dick attached to something feminine, to mitigate their attraction to male genitalia; and a few just seemed to be turned on by trans bodies. The greater part of them were very shy, standing with their backs to the wall or the bar, always looking just slightly uncomfortable.

We all looked down on the chasers.

There was one group that we looked up to, though: the transsexuals. Relatively few ever came out to these nights, which somehow made us respect them more--they had done it, they had transitioned and they didn't need an extended closet to be women in. A few did come by, though, out of nostalgia, or maladjustment to their new lives; out of friendship for other transgendered people who hadn't transitioned, or out of a need for a safe space as they first began their transitions; out of curiosity or empathy or condescension. They fascinated us. These were people that were more than just women for the weekend; they were women period now, and their stories haunted and attracted us.

For a lot of crossdressers, the idea of transition is something that you never really ever let go of. I think this may be because as a transgendered person, you want to be the opposite sex, even if it is only for a little while; so to deny that you would want to transition is to deny that you want to be a woman, which is what you really do want to do. It's all highly confusing, and I think that was one of the reasons we sought out transsexuals: to find our boundaries, to compare stories and see where they were different, to listen to the struggles they had undergone in order to transition and silently do a secret accounting of our own lives and wonder if the price we'd pay would actually be worth it in the end.

But we were told--or at least we had heard--that there were real differences between crossdressers and transsexuals; that crossdressers never transitioned, that transsexuals were in such pain from their gender inconsonance that they had no other choice but to transition. And we believed those stories, crossdressers and transsexuals alike; we crossdressers told our wives and girlfriends that we weren't destined to transition, and transsexuals told the world that they weren't just men who liked to wear women's clothing.

There was one transsexual who was a regular. I didn't really know why Ingrid kept coming (and after a while, she just didn't), but I guess she fit into the category of people who were starting transition and needed a place to get their bearings. We were friendly, and used to talk politics and Japanese martial arts and the American songbook--she had a lovely voice and sometimes would sing a few bars of Cole Porter.

One thing about Ingrid did bother me, though: she didn't like Monica. Or rather, she thought she was a mess, directionless, and misguided. Now, truth be told, Monica's hairstyle was out of the Marilyn Quayle school of immobility, her clothing choices were pretty drab and uninspired, and her shoes--well, it's best not to talk about them. I had myself recently graduated from my evening-wear phase, when I would wear gowns and formal dresses out to bars and had started to dress in a fashion that I thought a woman of my age might dress. So that gave me license to be a bit of a snob, and I am ashamed to say that sometimes I snarked right along with Ingrid.

In the trans community, people tend to be judged on a scale that I will call--borrowing it from the world of drag--realness. This isn't surprising, given that the very drive that defines us as transgendered is to be the opposite sex. Realness is a troubling term, though. It's not that it's inaccurate--it very accurately describes the attitudes I usually encountered. But we made "realness" mean the same thing as "authenticity"--we based our perceptions of you as a person on how close you were to this ideal of "womanhood." Thus, people who wore everyday clothes were superior to people who wear fetishistic clothes; people who lived as women were better than people who only crossdressed on the weekend; people who had had the surgery were better than people who hadn't, or didn't want to.

Wearing pants was even somehow better than wearing a skirt--because real women didn't wear skirts all the time. (Neither do crossdressers in their everyday lives, but making that point hardly helped their case.) In fact, it was a bitter joke amongst us that if you started to show up wearing pants, it meant you were bound to eventually transition.

If I would sometimes put Monica down, I also defended her; I would point out that she was one of the sweetest, kindest people I knew, and that went a lot further with me than her fashion sense; and in any case, the more she came out, the better she looked. But no matter; Ingrid thought she was a hopeless case, and Ingrid was a woman of firmly-held convictions.

Besides, Monica and I were both crossdressers, and so clearly didn't know what we were talking about.

It's been a long time since I was a regular in that world, and I've learned quite a bit since then. One thing that I learned is that I wanted to transition, that the bright lines I had drawn were a lie; crossdressers really did transition. That led me to question other things, to wonder if being a transsexual actually made you more real; or was it that, crossdressers were perfectly real crossdressers? And that somehow, that wasn't wrong or something to put people down about? On one of my last trips out to one of these parties, I was sitting at the bar, silently smirking at this or that poorly-done outfit, when an elderly crossdresser came in. Her dress looked terrible on her, her lipstick was as crooked as a Vermont dirt road, and her wig was haphazardly clinging to the top of her head. But when I looked more closely, I could see the pure joy in her eyes, the incredible relief at being able to finally express this part of herself. And my smirk died a cold death on my face and I--I in my careful makeup and fashionable clothes--I was ashamed.

Since then I've learned much more about feminism and power structures; I see now that what we saw as realness was nothing else than judging people on their looks; that people have the right to define their own gender/personality/womanhood however they want to, and that makes it as real as anyone else's. I learned, too, how often it is in underprivileged communities that heirarchies arise, tiny parodies of the larger, oppressive order. I learned that trans people were hardly alone in equating realness with authenticity; everywhere I looked among the various underprivileged communities I encountered--female, feminist, people of color--I saw the same pattern of holding other members of your group up to your own personal ideal, and then calling them out on how far they fell short of it. People complained about it; long and bitter struggles took place with each faction trying to prove their authenticity to each other. And yet the patterns persisted, over and over and over again.

I last saw Monica four years ago, on my birthday. She wore a tasteful leather suit, a short wig, and perfect makeup--she looked, in short, the very model of a still-rockin' suburban woman in her 40s. She had begun to play electric guitar--she was a huge Kiss fan--and had even done her own drag act in Las Vegas. She was still one of the sweetest people I have ever met. And she seemed very happy.

I ran into Ingrid about a year later at a Julia Serrano reading. By that point I was well into my own transition; in fact, outside of onsite visits to my clients, I presented as female all the time. Ingrid, on the other hand, seemed to be much as I had last known her; she was presenting as male that day, which surprised me--it had been five years since I'd seen her last, I thought she'd have gone fulltime by then.

I wondered if she still though Monica was a mess. If she, and me, were still wedded to our fantasy heirarchies, our own petite power trips. I still wonder that about myself.

Despite our internecine conflicts, we still manage to gain a victory and then all of us move forward: sissies can get married just the same as the straightest-acting modern Mattachinist; the woman who clutched her pearls until her hands bled got to vote the same as a bloomers-wearing suffragist; and maybe, just maybe, one day crossdressers and transsexuals will both be able to pee in peace.

We are like children on the beach, building little sandcastles, while above us the guns of a real fort threaten our lives. And yet, rather than march together on that fort, we bicker over how grand our sandcastles are, how much better they arethan other people's, how beautiful, how necessary, how safe. And so we will stay until these sandcastle virtues are all swept away.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Second Awakening: A Moral History

"When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, 'I am going to produce a work of art.' I write it because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience."

--George Orwell, "Why I Write"

I want to thank everyone who dropped by in the last day or so--it is a remarkable experience to see your page views jump 9,500%, even if it is humbling to consider how few visits you got beforehand. (Especial thanks, of course, to Sady of Tiger Beatdown who gave this blog a rave review.)

I am still figuring out not only what this blog's subject matter will be but also how to live a feminist life. I've talked before about how I slowly awakened into a feminist consciousness, and then found myself roused a second time as a result of my transition. But I don't think I've conveyed the profoundness of the changes I've experienced in the last--can it be so short?--16 months.

I think I was always some sort of weak-valence feminist. My mother may not have used the term for herself, for some reason, but she definitely believed women should have all the rights of men. She's told me over the years how she prefers the conversation of men of her generation, because she dislikes the domestic subjects most women of her age engage in--perhaps an over broad generalization on her part, but there is no question that she felt she had the right to engage in the traditionally male spheres of politics, religion, social policy, etc. Certainly my father was like-minded; neither of them gave their children any hogwash about "proper" gender roles.

So I grew up about as gender-blind as a boy in the 1970s could be, or at least a boy in the 1970s who was conscious of wanting to be a girl, or at least wearing girls' clothing--I wasn't always sure of the difference, early on. (When I was maybe four or five, I sometimes would run up to the mirror in my bedroom in the morning hoping I'd been changed into a girl overnight. Sometimes--sometimes I would delay getting out of bed, hiding under the covers in order to hold myself in some sort of Schrödingian state of not-maleness, trying to hold on to the desperate possibility of transformation. That there was a way to collapse the waveform without using a mirror never occurred to me; so you can see that the distinction between being a girl and dressing like one wasn't particularly clear to me yet. And that I was a very weird little boy. But you'd probably gathered that already.)

I think by the time I knew what a feminist was I had no problem describing myself as one--at least as far as my understanding of what a "feminist" was anyway; I had heard it meant that you believed in women's rights--I was ignorant of the larger controversies. Perhaps that was a good thing; I was generally incredulous of people who didn't call themselves feminists--it seemed ludicrous to deny that women were people just as good as men, as outdated as racial prejudice, which my parents had strenuously sanitized from our upbringing.

That is not to say that I was some Kwisatz Haderach of gender-studies, the result of some cabalistic breeding program perhaps founded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Dr. Blackwell. Like most men of my position--and I'll call myself that for the purposes of this post, even though there are some issues in applying without qualification the label of "man" for what I was--I was largely unconscious of my privilege, and I picked up the usual assortment of stereotypes, falsities, foolishnesses and outright idiocies. Some were survival tactics--if you walk amidst the world of men without the courage to show your real self, you learn how to camoflouge yourself--some were simple artifacts of my time and gender, and some were just stupid blindspots. I didn't believe in any of the idiocies I sometimes mouthed--the occasional misogynistic/homophobic/even, god help me, racist joke--but neither did I believe particularly strongly in the opposite positions, at least not strongly enough to protest very loud. I had no courage of my convictions; being all-in was terrifying to me; I was, in short, your garden-variety fauxgressive.

I am deeply ashamed of all that today.

The first signs of any changes happened during my marriage, which I know I have not talked about before. My wife and I had suffered through a few years of tearful impasse about my transness--this was back when I still identified as a crossdresser--only to come to a fairly reasonable accomodation. She sometimes would come with me to dinners and social events with other trans people, and in turn I was experimenting with metrosexuality and ways to enjoy my masculinity. During this time I met helen boyd and began to learn about feminism beyond my lukewarm "women's rights" position.

It was the beginning of the 21st century, Bush was in office, political oppression was in the air, and I was reading Backlash and The Beauty Myth and for the first time really waking up to the misogyny all around me. Yet my motivation was complex...part of it was the realization that as a crossdresser, a person who sympathized with women, who saw myself at least in part as a woman, I needed to go beyond the trappings of feminity and learn about the real experiences of women; part of it was meeting bold, feminist women and listening to their stories; and part of it was the progressiveness and liberalism that I found myself taking up now that they were threatened. Even so, while my passion for feminism grew to a white-hot passion, it was still an intellectual passion--at root, I could always take solace in my disconnection from it on an everyday level.

A young trans woman of my acquaintance once asked me about life as a woman. She had been reading my diatribes against transphobia and misogyny on a message board we both belonged to, and wanted to know, was it really so bad? Was she really going to feel constantly oppressed?

No, I said, it wasn't so bad--but the thing is, once I had transitioned, I never had to seek out misogyny again. Before transition, I could ignore it, I needed people to point it out to me--but after transition, I see it constantly. And that changed everything; I was shorn of my detatchment; the political became truly personal, and awoke my outrage.

And that is the essence of the second awakening. I cannot claim to know, to feel what it is like to have been the target of misogyny my whole life; I'm not sure I can even claim to know what it's like to feel transphobia my whole life--it is difficult to make evaluations like that when you're in the closet. I have no doubt that I will make a lot of mistakes in the future as I continue my mission to discover what a feminist life will look like for me. Which is why I am so glad for the women I've found in the feminist blogosphere, for Liss and her Shakers, for Pam and her Blenders, and especially for Sady and her Beatdowns--because it was Sady who gave me the template for the kind of blog I wanted to write, one that was mostly impersonal (I am anonymous, after all) but still came from a deeply personal place of passion and outrage, to create something that wasn't just reportage or even opinion, but my own work of art, a monument to my implacable fury.

I'm still learning. But I'm thankful to have you along for the ride.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

You've Come a Long Way. Maybe.

I'll confess to being a person who watches "24", though if it makes you feel better, I feel dirty inside afterward. The constant nail-biting suspense of the first few seasons has long since been replaced by torture porn--every week the question is how is Jack going to hurt somebody today?

Still I watch it, probably for the fascinating train-wreck of issues it presents more than for any pure entertainment. I'll say this about Kiefer Sutherland, he has made Jack become tighter and tighter wound--he's made Jack become more and more unpleasant to be around, which I hope is his commentary on the right-wingism of the series as a whole. But what about that rightism? Is it truly balanced by presenting black and female presidents, by the way it almost always sides against hawkish characters? By the fact that in the show's mythology, the Nixonian president actually got arrested?

I don't know; but such questions are the spice to the messy massala this show has become.

This season we were treated to another first in the mythology: having anticipated by eight years the first black president (and who knows? maybe helped that along), we have the first female president, played by the marvelous Cherry Jones. (I saw her in the original production of "Doubt" and she was awesome.) Her President Allison Taylor is the rare example of the show supporting a hawkish foreign-policy choice--she consistently overrules her cabinet and generals to push for an invasion of the mythical African country of "Sangala," a sort of Senegal-meets-Côte d'Ivroie-with-some-Liberia-sauce. Of course, her hawkishness is of a different kind: she's motivated by a humanitarian (dare I say liberal) desire to overthrow a vile dictatorship.

I won't get into the ridiculous plot of the season--it's filled with the usual multiple McGuffins, twists, turns, and absurdities (an attack on the White House? Really?) Instead, I want to point out how a show with a female president still ends up in Sexistville.

First, there's Jack's daughter Kim. She's long been a target for the show's critics, and once again she doesn't disappoint here: her main purpose in the plot is to serve as a way of controlling Jack by stalking and threatening her. And yeah, she gets a token moment where she rescues a valuable laptop, but this isn't the most empowered character even for this show.

Then there is Olivia Taylor, the President's daughter. A savvy political operative, she forces out her mother's chief of staff and organizes a hit on the man who conspired to kill her brother. (Of course, doing that results in a major freakout on her part and sends her crying to the man who arranged the details of the hit.) Not bad, I guess--empowered to do evil is still empowerment.

But wait, there's more. The kick in the teeth for Olivia also manages to catch our first female president--who has hung tough the whole show, ordering attacks on foreign countries, authorizing black ops against terrorists, reaming out subordinates for their failures. When Olivia's role in the assassination is discovered, President Taylor decides to prosecute her. Cause, you know, that's what you're supposed to do when you're sworn to protect the constitution. (President Obama--I know you're reading this--take note!) The First Gentleman (gotta love that, actually) then comes down hard on Madame President--noting that the job has now cost them both their children (not to mention his own shooting) and just lays a complete guilt trip on her that has her practically weeping in the arms of her restored chief of staff--her marriage destroyed, one child dead, another soon to be a felon.

Thanks, guys. But to be fair, the message that a woman who pursues power will lose all human contact (most certainly because she is perverting her natural role as a nurturer, provider, and handservant) isn't something you hear all the time; I must have seen only, oh, ten or twelve examples of it. Today. Before noon.

Finally, there's one nice little bid of absurdist misogyny: when Tony Almeida, the rogue former government agent and colleague of Jack's, confronts the slimy leader of the cabal that (unbelievably) has authored almost all the mayhem of the show's seven seasons, he tells him the reason he is going to kill him: it's not just because this guy arranged the death of Tony's wife--it's because she was pregnant! With his son! (At which point he begins screaming, "you killed my son!") 'Cause, you know, it's kinda gay to be that worked up just over a woman, even if she was the love of your life and helped you escape from the shadow world of counter-terrorism. But an unborn son! Now that's a manly reason for revenge!

So there you have it: torture works, women should rise no higher than the vice-presidency, and only a Y-chromosome can justify a four-year revenge trip. Actually, that last one might be true.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Me and My Vagina: Part I of an Infinitely Reductive Series

In the first place, it's not so easy even to find your vagina. Women go weeks, months, sometimes years without looking at it.

--Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues
I suppose that makes me a bit different, because I see my vagina at least three times a day, and usually six, and can look forward to a long future of regularly saying hi to my down there.

My vagina is a bit different than other women's, as a consequence of my not having been born with one.

One of the things you learn about, if you are transsexual and if you are thinking about having The Surgery (italicization was really unnecessary, wasn't it? I mean, if I mention surgery I know where your head is going to go) is about the D-Word--dilation. It's one of the aftercare things they don't tell you about back when you first realize that you want to be female, not that you'd have told anyone, at least, not if you were me.

The commonplace that nature abhors a vacuum works on my neo-vagina as well: left to its own devices, my body would fill it in gradually, like silt in a canal. (Ick.) So everyday, three times a day right now, I have to--well, dilate it: put something inside to hold the shape and gradually convince my body that it's supposed to be there.

There's probably all sorts of ways to accomplish this--my surgeon's instructions on the subject note that sexual intercourse is the equivalent of "only one dilation"--but the standard equipment is a series of four graduated lucite rods, rounded on one end, about seven inches long each. You start with the relatively small #1, about the diameter of a carrot, and eventually work your way up to the squat #4, which is wider than the handle of the flashlight I keep on my desk. Right now I use the #2 and #3 when I dilate, warming up for ten minutes on the first, and then a half an hour on the second. With time out for changing them, this lasts about as long as an hour-long television drama if you fast-forward through the commercials, so I tend to time-shift shows on my DVR to have something to do while dilating.

Because you can't do much while dilating; as the dilation isn't just about girth, but much more about preserving depth, you have to keep a constant pressure up with one hand. So typing is out, and even reading a book can be cumbersome. So, you watch tv, or maybe surf the internet one-handed.

When I first heard about dilation, naturally I feared that it would hurt, that every day I'd have to put myself through some sort of agony. It turns out that dilation doesn't hurt, isn't even all that uncomfortable: just a boring, repetitive chore. (You do have to stock up on lubricant, though.) On days when I am visiting a client, the first thing I do when I get home--before even making dinner--is to dilate, because I am overdue, and even then I have to do it again in a few hours. In time I'll be able to do it less--most of the women I know who are several years out from their surgery dilate about once a week--but for now it's an onerous duty. I am handmaid to my vagina.

But I do get to see it everyday. This might sound wonderful except of course that familiarity breeds--indifference. I no longer examine myself except to check that nothing looks inflamed, and to make sure I get the dilator in the right place. Maybe there are women who don't need to use a mirror, but when I try I usually end up bumping something else instead, like my clitoris.

I do remember the first few times I saw it though--red, raw, inflamed, supperating in places and with ugly black sutures running inside it, Frankensteinian. But after the first few times of worrying about the discomfort of dilating, and the shock of this wound I had created, it became something else, a part of me, a long-sought for piece of the life I had always wanted and never had; my beautiful, glistening, gaping self; my other me made corporeal; my genitals, my wish, my pussy, my peace.

The last day I spent in Thailand, as I was getting dressed to go, I looked at myself in the mirror--lessened but made whole, no longer reminded by my reflection of where I had come from but only of where I had arrived. I smiled and happy tears welled up.

Then I lay on the bed and laughed, laughed, laughed.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Show Us Your Hooves

In honor of Rachel Alexandra, the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness Stakes, some stories from the world of sports:

New Woman's Soccer League: After the WUSA discovered that Mia Hamm and the 1999 World Cup weren't enough to sustain insane management mistakes, it looked like there wasn't room for a woman's professional soccer league (and given the generally parlous state of the WNBA, women's professional sports in general are threatened.) Today, though, the New York Daily News had an article about the WPS, a new women's soccer league.

Teams travel on commercial airlines, in coach seats; they take buses for shorter trips. They carry their own bags, and stay in reasonably priced hotels. And at every stop, the players completely embrace their core fans - the legions of pony-tailed, soccer-playing girls whose clubs and leagues WPS officials are relentlessly courting.

"I think we have to be very smart in making these connections to the community," says Chastain, whose FC Gold Pride visited New Jersey recently, tying Sky Blue, 1-1. "Not in a lip-service way, but in a very tangible, very hands-on way."

Starting up a new sports league is an investment idea of comparable wisdom to hiring Bernie Madoff to do your books, but I hope they succeed, and they seem to have some modest goals.

Besides, you just want them to succeed, if for no other reason than because of this:

When Yael Averbuch was a fifth-grader at Hillside Elementary in Montclair, her teacher went around the class one day and asked each child what he or she wanted to be when they grew up. When it was her turn, Yael stood up at her desk. She didn't have to stop and think.

"I want to be a professional soccer player," she said. The teacher looked back at her, with some exasperation.

"No, you need to pick a real profession," the teacher said.

Rock on, Yael.

Of course, it can't all be good:

Let us introduce you to the New York Majesty of the Lingerie Football League!

"Let's be honest, sex sells," quarterback and captain Krystal Gray said. We couldn't have said it any better.

The League will kick off this fall, with the Majesty playing its home games at Nassau Coliseum. Last week in Freeport, a band of lovelys stripped down to their bare necessities for a chance to make the team, each sprinting, primping and strutting their way to the top. The Majesty will play seven-on-seven, tackle football wearing sports bras and volleyball shorts -in addition to helmets, shoulder pads and knee pads.

Way to move the goalposts, ladies. Wait....

Friday, May 15, 2009


From Sady of the incredible Tiger Beatdown:

Tiger Beatdown: Who Takes Responsibility for the Responsibility-Takers? Hint: Not Linda Hirshman

Because feminists - whether or not they have been victims of crimes - are engaged in continual acts of strength. To be a feminist is to be, on one level or another, an activist: actively engaged in confronting the problems of the world and seeking to change them. They confront injustices. They speak up. They refuse to shut up. They cause trouble. They take responsibility, not just for their own happiness, but for the betterment of the world around them. They also (especially if they are lady feminists) continually make the point that they are not weak, they are not passive, and they are not incapable of independence or self-determination. They are, in short, about as far from being victims as possible.
That will work as the mission statement of this blog.

And this has been another episode of What Sady Said.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Bit of a Slice of Life

Sorry for the lacuna, ducks--things got busy, there was the Lost season finale, and I've been working on a long piece that is taking a while in editing.

I suppose some of you reading here--if there is anyone reading here--might well wonder, "C. L., you've been nicely theoretical and wonderfully outraged, but can you give us a real sense of what it is like to be a trans woman? Is there any easy anecdote that can sum up your life in a neat, immediately understandable package? Am I wrong to want this?"

Ah! Well, my ducks, answering the last question first: Yes. Yes you are. But that doesn't mean I won't answer! Because while in real life doing Trans 101 can be a nasty chore, this blog isn't real life! That's why I'm writing it.

So, yes, ducks--and by the way, call me Cat, everyone does--as it turns out I do have a fresh-off-the-streets anecdote that can give you insight into what it means to be me! Even though I've chosen anonymity here! Life is wonderful that way, yes?

Yesterday after I got home from work I had to go to the post office to pick up a registered letter, something that always fills me with dread, or at least has every since that day two years ago when I got a registered letter threatening to sue me. Which did not happen! So it turned out okay, but I still get a twinge in my stomach.

I set out to walk down to the post office, first feeding Schwa and the Gray Mouser and changing out of the dress and suit jacket I had worn to the office today. That may be important. You see, as I was walking up the steps to my building, just a few minutes before, a man walking behind me had said, just loud enough for me to hear him, "Good night, pretty lady."

Compliments like that always give me mixed feelings. Like any woman, I really don't care to have my looks publicly commented upon all the time by random men on street corners. But on the other hand, he said it nicely, the sentiment was nice, and--well, let's face facts; I went through a lot of things to be considered a pretty lady. So while I wasn't happy that he felt like he had the absolute right to say such a thing...I did smile a little when I heard it. Just not at him.

So I changed into a tee and a jeans skirt; I only wore the skirt instead of jeans because I had just gotten it a few weeks ago, after looking for a long time for a jeans skirt. Now you know more about my wardrobe than is probably comfortable for either of us, but I will persist.

As I was crossing the street, a car came tearing around the corner, and I heard a guy in the car call out, in what can only be described as a fratboy-douchebaggy tone, "You look like a dude!" As you can guess, that wasn't fun.

But here's the thing, and the reason why this is supposed to be an exemplar in response to your question, ducks: he said, "like." Like a dude.

In other words, he saw me as a mannish woman. Not a man.

It took me 35 years to get that like. But it was exactly what I needed.

And that's what it

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

We've Moved!

Welcome, ducks, to the blog relaunch! For those of you who followed this blog while it was (briefly) Cherchez La Chatte, what do you think of the new digs?

I decided to change the title of the blog because, while I adore French puns, the old name didn't really speak much about the subject of this blog. (Feminism and transness, and where they intersect, ducks.)

I spent the weekend wracking my brain for a new title--for a while, I thought about finding something that punned on "Cat on a hot tin roof" (since my nickname is Cat), but ultimately decided I liked neither that play nor Tennessee Williams in general enough to go with that name. (Plus, using a Tennessee Williams play for a blog about feminism? Um, no.)

That's when I got to thinking about The Awakening, Kate Chopin's 1899 proto-feminist novel. And while it's not everything I want--I mean, Edna ends up killing herself after her attempts to break society's constraints--it still captures something important for me.

Like Edna, I had a middle-of-life revelation about who I am and what I want; and if my feminist conversion in the days before my transition was my first awakening, then this is my Second--my transformation from gender ally to gender guerrilla.

I've woken up again.

Eager, this time, for the fight.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

At least there's one day a year we're supposed to commemorate how wonderful the first woman in our lives are! Happy Mother's Day to the woman who is my inspiration, counselor, friend, and support: have the happiest of days, Mom!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Preggers and Old Uns: Hit the Bricks!

Mustachio'd libertarian mouthpiece John Stossel showed up on The View today. (Yes, ducks, I was watching--I overslept today.)

I've long held that libertarianism is a luxury only the privileged can afford; if you're a victim of institutionalized prejudice, you tend not to be so sanguine about the idea of folks just doing what they want to do--like, say, issue literacy tests before you can vote, or decide that a penis was the most important instrument in a symphony orchestra.

Among the views Iron John elucidated:

There should be no laws to protect pregnant women in the workplace, because of the "unintended consequences." You might not hire a woman! Because of the Babies! Even Elizabeth Hasselbeck--Elizabeth Hasselbeck!--had a problem with that. "If you don't protect these women, aren't they more at risk?" she asked. Whoopi asked why the laws should be chucked instead of "tweaked." "Because tweaking never works," huffed John. I could swear I saw him twirling the ends of his mustache, but that might just have been me being blinded by outrage.

We protect seniors waaay too much because we spend 6-1 on the elders versus the young. Oh, and Ponzi scheme! Medicaid-paid for Viagra! The elderly have a higher net worth than the rest of the population! (Well, yeah, John, and if Bill Gates and I are in the same room together, our average net worth is higher than yours; most seniors I know are very worried about making ends meet nowadays.) Joy asked if he would income test Social Security at this point; when John said he would, she told him he was taking a very "liberal" position. "I'm a classical liberal," he smirked.

Sherri then wondered "If the government isn't taking care of seniors, then who is?" John's reply was that we should take care of ourselves, by saving. Let me tell you, ducks: my parents worked very hard in their lifetime; they each had made a major change in vocation in their thirties, and so had to make up a lot of time. In addition to the full-time jobs they both held, they taught college part-time, and for years had their own test prep side business. Because of that, when they retired they had a tidy little sum to carry them through their old age--my dad was even able to retire early.

Of course, the two Bush stock market crashes caused their net worth to drop pretty precipitously each time; both of them now work part-time. And they're the kind of success story Stossel wants everyone to have! Oh and Free Markets! Yeah!

Poverty is the natural state of all human beings. This came towards the end of the segment; the discussion of social security naturally blended into general social policy. Stossel gave the classic libertarian answer as to the purpose of government: it should do what only it can do: keep us safe, keep people from stealing things. (I've noticed that American libertarians always make national defense a priority, even though it would seem to be a logical inconsistency: shouldn't we all be able to defend ourselves? Certainly the Founding Fathers thought a standing army was the greatest instrument of tyranny known. Oh well.) In any case, Joy wondered about the Great Depression, and asked John about that, leading to the quote above, plus: "free markets!" (Ah, history blindness is another great privilege of the privileged; a lot of people at the time of the Depression saw it as proof of the failure of capitalism--and it certainly wasn't free markets that lifted us out of it, but massive government spending, first from the New Deal, then from World War II.) Oh, and private charities. (Whoopi: "are there no workhouses? are there no orphanages?")

Professional atheletes should be allowed to use steroids, oh and by the way the link to heart disease and cancer hasn't been proven. Right. Whatever.

The way to save endangered species is to eat them, since there's no shortage of chicken, and by the way when we allowed people to raise bison for food, didn't that bring them back from extinction? Of course, the great cause of extinction nowadays is habitat destruction--I wonder how you're supposed to build a rainforest to keep your valuable, edible frog herds alive?

I first encountered Stossel way back when I was in high school. I think I thought he made sense, until he did a piece on why giving to charity was counter-productive. (He told Ted Turner, who has given millions to the UN, this theory in an interview, and Turner nearly decked him; I'm aware that it doesn't take much to do that, but still.) He's been dishing out his libertarianism-light for years now, and getting praised for being a maverick and "telling uncomfortable truths." And yet, there's not a similar position from somebody on the far left: 20/20 doesn't have any segments where a socialist talks about the evils of government non-intervention. But I'm assured that the media has a liberal bias.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Won't Somebody Think Of The Menz!

My goodness, duckies! President Obama might nominate another woman to the Supreme Court, and the media gasbags are all in a dither that he might not pick the most qualified candidate because of that! Since, obviously, the most qualified candidate by definition could not be a woman, queer, or a person of color.

I guess I can understand that: I mean, if he appoints another woman, the Supreme Court will tie its previous high for number of women on the Court. With two.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards and the Faux Double-Bind

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of John Edwards (ex-senator from NC, ex-Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, ex-Presidential candidate), has a new book out. Edwards, in case you've forgotten, suffered a terminal relapse of breast and bone cancer during her husband's campaign.

Also, it turns out, during the time he was cheating on her with a "videographer" that he paid over $100,000 to. And had a kid with.

In her book, Resilience, she says that her husband should not have run, and that she tried to talk him into dropping out after he admitted to the affair. It also turns out that he was less than honest with her: he told her it had been a one-time dalliance, even while he had his mistress stashed away, and his staff scrambling desperately to cover up evidence of the affair.

So, for those of you playing at home, here's the scorecard: second bout of cancer turns out to be terminal; husband cheating on her; husband lying about cheating on her; husband still delusional enough to think he can be President.

All in all, that's pretty terrible, and I have a lot of sympathy for Ms. Edwards, who seems to have gotten the shortest of short ends of the stick. But what makes this story of interest to this blog is the backlash I saw today.

First, Michael Goodwin weighs in for the New York Daily News:

...the temptation is to shout, "Leave the poor woman alone."

That's easier said than done. After all, Elizabeth Edwards helped to perpetrate a fraud on voters, namely, that her husband was fit to be President.

She knew better and now says she told him to drop out because of the affair. He didn't and she tried to get him elected, raising money and stumping with and for him. She excoriated the media for giving "the Cliffs Notes" of the truth about candidates.

If only we had known the truth she was hiding.

Ah. Way to empathize. Let me ponder, what, exactly her choices were once John refused to drop out. Leaving the campaign trail would have been--no doubt about it--a major distraction. The question would have been why, after not stopping campaigning despite being diagnosed with breast cancer, had she suddenly vanished. It would have been a staggering blow to an already staggering campaign. And, if as seems to be the case, she didn't realize the extent of the affair, then maybe--maybe--she really did think he was qualified to be President. After all, many Democrats still think fondly of Bill Clinton, and he was a serial womanizer as well. (In fact, weren't many of us wringing our hands about how a person's personal life didn't have to reflect on his ability to do the job at the time?)

Goodwin winds up with:

"Her illness has put a halo over her head and it doesn't belong there," another reader posted. "If she were not sick, there would be far more criticism of her for hiding this kind of news . . . By participating in his charade, Elizabeth is mighty guilty herself."

Me? I second both emotions.

Which leads nicely into Maureen Dowd's column in the Grey Lady:

But now Saint Elizabeth has dragged him back into the public square for a flogging on “Oprah” and in Time and at bookstores near you. The book is billed as helping people “facing life’s adversities” and offering an “inspirational meditation on the gifts we can find among life’s biggest challenges.”

But it’s just a gratuitous peek into their lives, and one that exposes her kids, by peddling more dregs about their personal family life in a book, and exposes the ex-girlfriend who’s now trying to raise the baby girl, a dead ringer for John Edwards, in South Orange, N.J.
So, to update your scorecard:

Bill Clinton, serial adulterer, perjurer, and not as liberal as you think--the greatest President since World War II, at least according to Al Franken.

John Edwards, serial adulterer, class hypocrite, not as liberal as you think but unable to even be Vice President: lying cad.

Elizabeth Edwards, cancer survivor, adultery survivor, cancer victim, way smarter than her husband: whiner who is needlessly exposing her family to ridicule for unknown reasons.

What I'm getting at is that this is a completely fake double-bind, and I call sexism. Bill Clinton wrote an enormous autobiography, which talks about his affair, but because he's a Serious Politician (and Has A Penis), that's statemanlike. Elizabeth Edwards, who, as Dowd says, "would have made a wonderful candidate herself. But she poured everything into John[...]" writes a book about the most wrenching time of her life, and she's accused of dragging herself shamelessly back into the spotlight, not to mention her family, and O Won't Somebody Think Of The Children, and after all, she doesn't have a penis.

If she did, maybe she'd get more respect. Though if she did, her husband couldn't have run for President.

Hell, he'd not even be her husband.

Except in Massachusetts, Vermont, Iowa, and (yay!) Maine, that is.

This Week on Seth Rogen Watch

The amazing Sady of Tiger Beatdown, whose work I absolutely adore, has an article about the vile "date rape is hy-larious" comedy Observe and Report on the Guardian's Comment Is Free website.

Go read it. Then like I did, go and read the entire archives of Tiger Beatdown. It's worth it, even if it does! make you! use lots of! exclamation marks! Also: colons.

Sady is a one of a kind wonder, and her posts always make my day a bit brighter.

Your RDA of Morning Show Outrage

Today, on Morning Joe, they're talking about Bernie Madoff. Apparently, his 17th floor headquarters were "inviolable," leading Joe Scarborough to make this pithy observation:

"I was expecting there to be these financial wizards, but it was just a bunch of young, naive, women."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Shut Up, Nasty Sports Lady! Alex Is My Bro!

Lately I've been watching the morning news shows more, something I haven't done in over a decade--this is because I have to take care of dilation after breakfast, and I like to watch TV during that time, and an hour long episode of any show I've recorded on my DVR will only cover the dilation period, not breakfast, and aren't you sorry you started reading this paragraph? (Yes.)

Anyway, this morning there was an interview with Selena Roberts, the author of a new book that accuses Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez of using steroids for much longer than he's previously admitted. (He came clean this year that he used after joining the Yankees; the book alleges he'd been using since high school.)

The interview took basically this form:

Interviewer: Nasty sports lady, you're mean to my friend Alex!

Roberts: Um. You see, if you read my book...

Interviewer-Tool: How do you know he could only lift 100 pounds as a sophmore? He might have been modest.

Roberts: Um--I have interviewed people on the record...

Tool: You don't even like him. You hate my bro!

Roberts: Um. What the hell?

...which doesn't even capture the nastiness and hostility of the interviewer. He was practically cross-examining her.

Now, I understand that a book about A-Rod is going to catch flack because of his popularity--the interviewer was a New Yorker, and the Yankees are practically a cult there--but I have to wonder: would he have been so hostile had the book been written by a guy? Would he have challenged her objectivity and reporting techniques had she possessed her own, um, bat? Fer eff's sake, he got after her for reporting that Alex was vain, asking his trainers if his "pecs looked good." (Rodriguez's vanity is something consistently reported in all accounts by people who played with him.) He (the interviewer) actually said,

"Is that vanity, or is that professionalism perhaps?"

OMG. What a sentence to unpack. I mean, there's thesubtext of homosexuality--only ladies like to look good! You're saying he's like a lady! That means he's gay!--as well as casual misogyny, i.e. if a guy works on his appearance, it's professionalism. If a woman works on her appearance--which costs more, is more time-intensive, and frankly is far more expected of her than it is of men--she's still vain.

The interview finishes up with him asking Roberts about the picture on the back cover (Rodriguez lighting a cigar and looking pretty arrogant.) He asks Roberts if she chose the photo; she didn't--authors have surprisingly little say in the covers of their books, but that doesn't keep him from attacking her about it, and then attacking her professionalism again: did you interview A-Rod about these things?

No, Roberts calmly explains, we made that request and it was turned down. And then she talks about one of the interviews she did make with him, where A-Rod talked about how he's calmer now than he was when he played in Seattle, much less worried about being perfect all the time. Which is really the heart of the matter; like Barry Bonds, A-Rod's story is largely about a great player wanting to push the envelope past mere greatness, and willing to cheat to do that. It's a very American story of overreach, and when you look at the Masters of Greed on Wall Street, you see the same kind of arrogance.

And then the interviewer accuses her again of not liking A-Rod. Cause, you know, she's a lady, and can't possibly understand how dudes give each other a free ride, cause they're like, you know, dudes! Bros! And they're all on the same team, really.

Good morning, misogyny: how are you going to fuck up people's lives today?

Your RDA of Outrage

It seems that you can add "gadgets" to your Blogger Bloggerific Blog. I added Ze Blogroll to your right--updates coming, but enjoy their home cooking!

So I searched for "women" in the Gadget Registry. Back returned the Great Gadgetzoo--one hundred and fifty hits! Excited, I leafed through them:

"Hot Babes"

"The Hottest Women of Sports"

"SI Swimsuit Model of the Day"

"Sexy Women of Playboy"

I then did a search for "feminism."

There were nine hits.

One was for the "Love and Marriage Quote of the Day."

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Possession is Clutter; or, Why I Am Not Allowed To Buy More Books (With A Nod To Dick)

I have too many books. In fact, I have too many unread books. In fact, I have so many unread books that I can't find several unread books that I know I bought recently (including two Atwood novels and an Olivia Butler novel.)

Like a lot of Metropolitans of a literary bent, my apartment is not so much Where I Live, but Where I Keep My Books. I have, at present, two full-length (height?) Ikea bookshelves, and two columns of built-in bookshelves of roughly the same capacity. And I still have books overflowing off the shelves! And this was after I got rid of at least a third of my books when my ex and I moved in together!

I have a theory as to why people keep books, that breaks them down into three classes:

I. Useful Books

These are books you keep for reference purposes or utility. This would be, in my case, my collection of computer reference books (I like "cookbooks" which don't purport to teach you how to program all over again, just tell you how to handle individual problems); my history books, language books (I collect languages and am generally in the process of trying to learn one; right now I'm teaching myself Hindi), and dictionaries/thesauruses (thesaurusi?), my rhyming dictionary, and even that big book of literary criticism that I keep around just in case I need to deconstruct something in a hurry. Also included in this category is my vast collection of genre books that I re-read whenever I'm too tired to engage more challenging stuff.

II. Books of Sentimental Value

We all have those: the book of poems that you don't even like anymore, but they reminded you of what you felt like when you were young and in love. (Or not in love, as the case may be--woe is me!) The novels that used to be in Category I but have dropped into here because you won't reread them, but they remind you of who you were when you were just learning how to read. The inspirational book that led you into a religious fad for several years. They have only limited utility, but you keep them anyway because of their associations.

III. Books That Make You Look Smart

Maybe it's a Metropolitan thing, but a lot of people have books on their shelves for the sole reason of letting people know that they are the Kind of Person who would read that Kind of Book. For example, I have a copy of Ulysses on my shelf. I read it on my own while in my junior year at college, without notes, and comprehended maybe 10% of it--which I thought was a decent batting average, all things considered. (I chased it with Paradise Lost to clear out the Joycean syntax--my god, the things I could do when I was young!) Now, I'm never going to read Ulysses again (heck, I may never read Gravity's Rainbow again, and that was a book I enjoyed infinitely more than Ulysses.) Even if I wanted to, I couldn't with the copy on my shelf--it's missing several pages in the "catechism" section towards the end of the book. But--and this is the key--I want people to know that I've read Ulysses, that I'm that kind of grand master reader of capital-L Literature. And so I keep Ulysses and Don Quixote and my Faulkner novels on my shelf.

The thing is, you're justified in keeping everything from Category I; most of the stuff from Category II (it shouldn't be all that big, anyway); but why in the hell should you keep anything from Category III? Sure, you'll end up with a bookshelf of detective and sci-fi novels, plus a few computer books, but that shouldn't matter, right?

Of course, there are problems with this schema. For example: my three-volume copy of Shelby Foote's The Civil War. Category I? I have re-read it at least three times. Or maybe Category II--I read it during the heyday of my bout of Civil War, an affliction that remains in remission but still plagues me with periodic outbreaks. And what about the rest of my military history collection? And am I even interested in this stuff anymore, when I could be reading Judith Butler or Julia Serrano?

Philip K. Dick, in his remarkable Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep (much weirder and more visionary than Blade Runner), talks about "kipple":

Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday's homeopape. When nobody's around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you to go bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up there is twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.

No one can win against kipple, except temporarily and maybe in one spot.

Now, this is actually an observation about entropy, and how the universe will eventually end up in a state of thermodynamic equilibrium called the heat-death of the universe. It also shows that Tom Pynchon wasn't the only smart-ass virtuosic writer in the 70s to make a career out of writing about entropy--just the one reviewed in the New York Times.

In any case, it's clear that books are my kipple. I occasionally find a book I had forgotten purchasing, lying clean, pristine, and unread: in a perfect state of literary thermal equilibrium.

In other words, I need to stop buying books until I've reduced the kipple in the apartment.

But, you say, O gentle reader, what on earth does this have to do with your blog? We thought this was going to be a place to hear about feminism, and specifically trans feminism, and so far your last two posts have been about what shows you like to watch, and how messy your apartment is? What gives?

Fear not: for part of my process tonight was to cull out several books that I haven't read (or need to re-read), all of a feminist bent. Which I am going to read over the next X weeks and report back to you on. Which should be interesting; I was, after all Professionally Trained in interpreting literature. Which is why I design databases today. Life is rarely neat.

Southland: I love LA

So based on some good reviews, I've been watching Southland, NBC's new policier. (I usually record it on my DVR and watch it while dilating in the morning. Is that gross? You're right!) I had some reservations, because it stars that guy from The O.C., one of the more amiably idiotic recent shows, and also because the previews made it look like it would concentrate mostly on beat cops, and I wasn't sure there was enough of a show there.

Happily, I'm wrong; Southland is the best new police show in years. And it also tells the stories of the detectives in the squadroom.

I have a weakness for two different kinds of crime-based programming: police procedurals, and amiable con-artists with a heart of gold. Thus: Law & Order, and The Rockford Files are both favorites of mine.

Southland is a both a primo policier (it takes a very gritty view of police work) as well as a character-driven drama. It portrays squadroom life as messy, complicated, and confusing--in fact, I'm still sorting out all the characters, because the same group does not appear in each episode. In trying to show a realistic view of the sometimes larger-than-life characters who inhabit the police station, it's easily the best show of its type since Homicide--a drama that while great in its own way, never lived up to the promise of its initial episodes. Southland holds out promise of not falling into the trap of falling in love with its own characters--all though we are gradually seeing them get fleshed out, they are still grounded in the everyday struggles of police work.

But that's not enough to earn a mention on this blog.

What I've liked so far is that there are signs that there will be several strong female characters, led by Regina King's Detective Lydia Adams. It was her character who solved the show's very first case, and in this week's episode, she fights to solve a case that normally falls through the cracks--the murder of an African-American prostitute--and vents her exasperation that LA has over 3,000 rape kits backlogged in their lab.

I like Detective Adams.

On the officer's side, in addition to Ben McKenzie's really not as annoying as I'd have thought Ben Sherman and Michael Cudlitz's amusingly no-nonsense Tom Cooper, we have Arija Bareikis as "Chickie" Brown, a single mother who wants to become the first female SWAT trooper.

I like this show.

Southland has three episodes left in this season; NBC has renewed it for next year. I may even like NBC now.

On Why the Cat Is Mad

For most of my life I've been folded safely in the arms of privilege.

I grew up in the suburbs of a Great American Metropolis. My parents were both college-educated professionals. I'm white, and at the time I was male. In America, it doesn't really get too much better than that--we were the norm you were supposed to aspire to you. (Even people whose income put them in the upper classes describe themselves as "middle class.")

In my case, though, there was one flaw in the picture: I was trans. As early as three or four I knew I wanted to be a girl, though it took a long time for me to put that plan into action. So much of my mental energy went into managing that problem, especially once I started to crossdress in secret during junior high. I got good at lying, dissembling, concealing; my social life was a disaster; I probably hated myself.

Nothing special there, though--any number of trans people could tell that story.

No, what I want to get to is that despite my transness and its conflicts and encumbrances, I still could retreat into the safety of my white, (apparently) cis, (apparently) straight, middle class privilege. Even after I moved to Metropolis and became a regular in the trans subculture, I still had the refuge of putting myself out to the world as a white man.

Now, even before I began to transition, I was becoming aware of my privilege. I encountered the work of helen boyd, who challenged me to become a feminist. In the summer of 2005, the last happy year of my marriage, I embarked on a reading binge that changed my personal feminist convictions from lukewarm to white-hot.

That didn't change through the early days of my transition. As I became essentially fulltime, my convictions were nothing if not reinforced. How could they not be? Misogyny began to be something I had to deal with at street level.

All that said, there was still a--detachment, call it--from these things. After all, I still had plenty of privilege stockpiled--still white, still (apparently) cis, still (apparently) straight. The Great American Metropolis has liberal attitudes, and misogyny was something no longer overt. I could still blithely glide over things, if I chose.

Being able to ignore things is the essential definition of privilege.

What changed, was: I had surgery. And since then, my feminist convictions have changed from an intellectual pursuit to something I feel in my gut; they have become a viewpoint, the criterion I use to make sense of the world.

And you know what? It sucks that it took my surgery to do that. It sucks that even living and identifying as a woman I was still able to traipse lightly over inconvenient truths. I'm not proud of the fact that I needed the surgery to reach this point.

But I did. The major change I've noticed since the operation is that I no longer have reservations or doubts about being a woman. Not that I wasn't before: my womanhood is not transactional, and can't be limited or reduced.

Before, though, that was an intellectual conviction; today, it's something I feel in my soul.

And now, when I see misogyny, when I see stupid shit directed at women simply because they are women, I get pissed: "Hey! They're talking about me!" Again, it completely sucks that I took so long to reach this place. I am humbled by the women I know and admire who had to endure this from birth.

That didn't, couldn't happen to me. And maybe that's why I've become so engaged: that having seen, firsthand, how privilege can invisibly change your life, it's left me a bitter foe of it in all its manifestations. Not so much to lift my boat--this isn't an attempt for me to reclaim my lost male privilege. You can stuff male privilege.

No, it's more this: having had privilege, lost privilege, gained others (many would privilege me over other trans people because I am transsexual, have had the surgery, look female, etc.), I no longer want privilege to exist at all.

Maybe that's a radical position. Call me a Marxist, a bomb-thrower, a lunatic. Tell me that I only feel this way because I hurt so much and regret losing my former advantages.

I won't care. Because it doesn't matter how I got here; what matters is that I'm here now, and ready to start to pitch in.

And thus I dedicate this blog: to be a record of my implacable, boundless outrage; my mouthpiece to the world; my voice crying in the wilderness, adding itself to the chorus of other women everywhere.

I wasn't born to the fight; but I'll fight now forever.

Triple Threats

The News From WOUTR, all Outrage, all the Time:

I have Saturday Night Live on. This is mostly nostalgia, though I'm not quite sure what for; I started watching the show during the Dana Carvey/Phil Hartmann/Jon Lovitz years, which were not exactly a great epoch in the history of television comedy. If I have nostalgia, it is from watching the "Best of" shows that Nick at Nite showed in the very early years of its existence, which were culled from the work of the original cast.

But in any case, I'm home on a Saturday (outrage intereferes with your social life, and my boyfriend is located in a different timezone anyway) and awake in the early morning, so I have SNL on.

Not that long ago, "Weekend Update" had Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and was a bright spot on the show; now both have moved on to greener pastures, and we're left with Seth Myers' minor-league douchebaggery, which isn't particularly outrage-inducing--or rather, it seems to be hard to pick out against the normal background noise of douchebaggery on television.

The guest this week is Tracy Morgan, returning to his old haunts. I was never a particular fan of his, so perhaps it's odd that I'm dedicating the first real post of the blog to him.

Right in a row, there were three separate sketches:

  • A parody of "Big Love," the show about traditionalist Mormons. Morgan played what looked to be a trans prostitute, picked up by the clueless paterfamilias to be the newest wife. (The character, played by morgan in a horridly bad blond wig, is seen shaving with an electric razor; which is so stupid--I mean, everybody knows you can't get a close shave with one of those things! The Mach 3 is the pre-electro transpeeps' best friend.) The closing credits for the spoof: "Yeah. It's a dude."
  • A fake commercial for a pill that would keep men from getting sexually aroused in inappropriate situations, like picking up your high-school aged niece and her cheerleader friends. I'm...not sure what to say, except, gross--the other example is a Santa worried about a stray erection costing him his job.
  • A short film where two guys go to a party and make disparaging comments about the people there--but here's the catch!--their comments are shown to be literally true; so "look at those Jokers" cuts to three guys dressed as the Joker. You get the idea. One of the guys is described as a serial rapist; the cut is to a guy busily humping a box of cereal. Hy-larious! (To be totally fair, the bit ends with one of the guys saying, "look at those two douchebags" and the image is the two of them looking into a mirror.)
So: trans-shaming; a reminder that men! always get boners! whenever they look at anything female!; and a nice little dollop of rape humor. All right!

Yes, this is pretty much how this blog is going to go.

Introit; or, Why I Am Bothering To Blog

It is a truth universally acknowledged that people with nothing better to say will start with a Jane Austen allusion.

Now that's out of the way, we can begin.

I've chosen anonymity here for reasons both good and bad. I am a woman. I am also trans, recently post-op. I am a feminist. I am (or was) both a writer and a blogger.

The crucible of my transition has left me...well, transformed, yes, obviously; but profoundly shaken. I have emerged from it more committed than ever to feminism, more implacably opposed to privilege in all its forms (including my own) than ever, and filled with an insane amount of free-floating outrage.

So I'll take it out on you, Dear Reader. Why? Because I'm on the internet, silly.