Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Duck Blogging!

I think it's about time we did some animal blogging around here--and there's only one natural choice:

This happy mallard followed our boat as we rowed through the Grand Canal at Versailles in France.

The Varieties of Transphobic Experience

Let's wade once again, ducks (good thing you can float!) into the wonderful world of...transphobia.

Let us consider the case of Lily McBeth.*

In 2006, after her transition, she beat back protests and bigotry to keep her job as a substitute teacher in New Jersey. It was widely and rightfully hailed as an important victory for tolerance.

That, of course, was then.

Recently she announced that she was retiring, frustrated at not getting many assignments. There is the appearance of transphobia, although the article cites other possible explanations. Explanations that make perfect sense.

The thing is, they always do. There's always some excuse when a disprivileged person tries to call people out on their privilege.

There was a nice column about the situation by Joseph Wardy that concludes with this uplifting paragraph:
What is the reason for the opposition of transsexuals in the workplace or in society? A person born black has no choice. Neither is a transsexual who was also born that way. The range of bias from rejection to physical violence is punishing these people for their condition and not their behavior. A transsexual is a person equal to the rest of society who happened through no fault of their own to be born in the wrong body. What don't we get about this reality?
Of course, the comments are something else entirely.
I have to tell you, in my 60 plus years, I have never heard a transsexual being bashed. It just never happened in my presence. Is this really a serious societal issue or a one in 100 million type problem? I feel sorry for anyone that is born so far out of the mainstream that it requires surgery, but there is a fix apparently, so why can't we leave it at that?

This stuff makes me want to puke. Transgender is a made up word about nothing. You are a man or a woman. You either have a penis or a vagina. There is NO other option. If you have a penis, then you are a man. If you have a vagina, then you are a women. THAT'S IT. This I am a man, but feel like a women crap is disgusting. What the eff is wrong with these people. My kids are not going anywhere near these perverts. Forget having them be my kid's teacher.

Cutting off your wang voluntarily is just wrong. And no, I don't want that freak teaching my children.
So far, your garden-variety hate. But then there's this:
You have done a great job of differentiating between homosexuality and transsexuality, so now would be a great opportunity to differentiate between classic transsexuality and trangenderism; there is a huge, huge difference.

Most transsexuals abhor the term transgender...

Well, now, whoa there. Most? Is there a survey on that? I personally know a bunch of transsexual women who gladly use the name transgendered.

..When Mara Keisling says:

"A survey her group helped to conduct this year of 6,500 transgendered Americans found 91 percent had faced bias at work."

I don't doubt it, but most transgendered are crossdressers, transvestites, gender queer, and every other conceivable form of gender variance on the planet...transsexuals are simply female, nothing more or less. The vast majority of that group transition, have their surgery, and then blend into the mainstream leading exceedingly normal lives, suffering no more discrimination than the next person.

Which, you know, can be quite a bit: that's why there's such things as feminism, the civil rights movement, gay pride...
The truth of the matter is that though there have been some attacks on gender variant people under the scenario you allude to, history has revealed that is an extremely small percentage of them. A review of the Transgender Day of Remembrance stie, which tracks deaths of anyone transgendered, (you can Google it if interested) shows that most of the attacks are on sex workers and others who put themselves at extreme risk. Most are not transsexual, but transgender. There is no excuse for murder or violence in society, regardless of who it is, where they are, or what the circumstances...nonetheless, it is prudent that one takes responsibility for their own safety and not put themselves in situations in which puts that safety at risk...many on the DOR site didn't heed that warning.
"You see your honor, the bitch was asking for it!"

Now that's a feminist defense! No privilege showing there, nope!

Of course, many people on the DOR website did identify as transsexual, or would have. If they'd only had time. (It's tragic to see so many young faces there.)

I've run into this kind of transsexual separatism around the Net, and it always seems to be about division: I'm not like them, those awful crossdressers/transgenders/folks who don't pass/whatever--I was born differently, I'm intersexed, I'm a classic transsexual, I have Harry Benjamin Syndrome. It's a kind of sandcastling, building yourself up at the cost of others who are more or less like yourself: of stressing division instead of unity, of accomplishing the tasks of the kyriarchy, not resisting it.

Maybe it's because I spent so much time as a crossdresser, but I just don't get it; I've talked to a lot of different trans people in my life, and most of them were gender dysphoric, whether or not they were transsexual. And I'm not really convinced how pushing some people under the bus is going to help anyone--HRC did that to trans people in general (yeah, including you classic transsexuals) last year in the ENDA debacle, and look how well that worked out.

Plus it seems to me that the transsexual separatists seem perfectly content to let the umbrella-definition (i.e., transgender includes transsexuals, crossdressers, genderqueers, people who transition socially but not surgically, etc.) trangender people go out and do a lot of the activism, win rights for trans people (almost invariably favoring transsexuals, at least at first) without doing much activism of their own. (There are some exceptions.) And I think that's ultimately what I don't get about them: it's this need to retrench privilege, rather than letting it go, to come through the crucible of transition and only want to build kyriachies-in-miniature.

But there's one thing I know: separating yourself from people on the basis of accidents of birth has never really done a damn thing to help make people free.

*Here at TSA we will not mention the birth name of a trans person unless it is of vital interest to the story

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Teen Titans

My inner cynic gets a lot of work. (In fact, I think she's the only one who does get any work done here; at least, she always seems to be in the office.) I have a natural bent towards sarcasm and cynicism, the product of a German Catholic upbringing that my parents leavened with their social activism and wry humor.

So it shocked my inner cynic, bless her tiny, carbonized heart, to open up Google Reader--her favorite task, as it constantly spews out precisely the misguided bile that keeps her chortling with glee--to find a post from The F-Bomb.

And soon we were shoving my inner cynic out of the way, delving into the fabulous posts on this wonderful blog, written for, about, and by--teenagers.

Teenage feminists.

Is that not a delicious bagel of wonderfulness with a schmear of awesomesauce on top?

The place is indescribably cool. Check out this post on a screening of "The Secret," and thrill as Julie calls "classism" about that piece of claptrap. Classism!

At this point, my inner idealist was hogging the mouse, clicking through the pages with an angelic sigh.

If you know a young woman in your life, point her to this site. If you know a young man, point him there as well. It is fantastic, and the only thing I regret is that there wasn't something like this when I was a kid.

And I owe them: because I'm totally stealing the idea to show this interview with Joss Whedon, which is like getting a second bagel of wonderfulness, with awesomesauce and cream cheese. (Because sometimes awesomesauce isn't enough.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Welcome back, ducks. You know, when you're in the blog business, one of the things you do when casting around for a post is to comment on another blog. It's all part of the content-creation racket.

Yesterday I found out that even famous columnists like David Brooks do that:
Every day, I check a blog called Marginal Revolution, which is famous for its erudite authors, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, and its intelligent contributors. Last week, one of those contributors asked a question that is fantastical but thought-provoking: What would happen if a freak solar event sterilized the people on the half of the earth that happened to be facing the sun?
Wow. OK, I've read science fiction, some of the post-apocalyptic variety, and that's a familiar enough scenario. An interesting space of speculation. Let's see what Mr. Brooks comes up with:
If you take an individualistic view of the world, not much would happen immediately. [...] People would still have an incentive to go to work, pay off their bills and educate the children who were already with us. For 20 years, there would still be workers flowing into the labor force. Immigrants from the other side of the earth could eventually surge into the areas losing population. If anything, the mass-sterilization might reduce the environmental strain on the planet. People might focus on living for the moment, valuing the here and now.
Hey, that makes sense! After all, plenty of people don't want kids anyway, so I'm sure that...oh, wait, there's more:
But, of course, we don’t lead individualistic lives.
I sense a sermon coming on...
Material conditions do not drive history.
Unless you're a Marxist! Or, you know, poor.
People live in a compact between the dead, the living and the unborn, and the value of the thought experiment is that it reminds us of the power posterity holds over our lives. If, say, the Western Hemisphere were sterilized, there would soon be a cataclysmic spiritual crisis. Both Judaism and Christianity are promise-centered faiths. They are based on narratives that lead from Genesis through progressive revelation to a glorious culmination.
Of course, both those religions believe in a culmination where people won't have kids anymore, but that seems to be besides the point! The point is, uh...crypto-racism?
Some people might try to perpetuate their society by recruiting people from the fertile half of the earth. But that wouldn’t work. Immigration is the painful process of leaving behind one culture and way of living so that your children and children’s children can enjoy a different future. No one would be willing to undertake that traumatic process in order to move from a society that was reproducing to a society that was fading. There wouldn’t be the generations required to assimilate immigrants. A sterile culture could not thrive and, thus, could not inspire assimilation.
This makes sense because...because...because America isn't a nation founded on immigration! No, wait. Because there wouldn't be any bountiful and fertile white people around to assimilate people! Or something. I have no idea; I thought the beauty of America was that it was supposed to be an idea each generation reinvents for itself--that the ideals of the American republic were supposed to be available for all humankind. But maybe it's like baseball, you can't really get it unless you were born here.

Or Taiwan.

Now, the thing is, I know something about posterity and sterilization. Because, you see, I'll never reproduce.

I didn't say, I'll never have children, because I don't know that; maybe someday I might adopt, or become a parent in one of the many ways that don't involve my own DNA. But the traditional way is closed to me, as part of my GRS.

Some trans women freeze their sperm before they have the surgery, but I wasn't one of them. Even when I was married, I was extremely ambivalent about having children, and since I'm primarily attracted to men these days, it didn't seem all that important to have my own genetic material lying around. So I didn't bother, and it mostly doesn't bother me now.

There was a point, not long after I got back from Thailand, when I did feel a twinge of regret over not being able to let my genes carry on after me; I like my genes, I think they're a good mix, and it did seem a bit of a shame to not be able to do so. But that passed, and I've not felt that twinge since.

And you know what? I carry on just fine, even knowing that no part of me (except this blog, of course) will carry on after I'm gone. I still plan for the future, still make my plans, still am excited and engaged by life. And while yes, I have a niece who is related to me, I think I'd feel the same whether or not she existed or whether or not she was adopted; if I have a compact with the future, it is with the future of humanity as a whole, not my own personal bloodline.

Maybe that makes me odd. I don't know; but of my four closest female friends, only one of them wants children, and I've met a bunch of other people who are childless by choice in my travels. And somehow they go on living life just fine.

Maybe mass sterilization would change how I and the others feel; I don't really know, though it's interesting to speculate about it. But somehow I don't think it would mean the end of the world or even the end of America, given the number of people I've met who've adopted children from other parts of the world.
Within weeks, in other words, everything would break down and society would be unrecognizable. The scenario is unrelievedly grim. An individual who does not have children still contributes fully to the future of society. But when a society doesn’t reproduce there is nothing left to contribute to.
Except, you know, the future. Even if it doesn't look exactly like you.

ETA: The comments on the Times' site are fascinating. Some folks seem to feel that Brooks is writing about the declining white birthrate in the U.S.; others call him out for not seeing (or purposely ignoring) the displacement of the American First Nations by the European invaders; others call him out on his weird take on Christianity; and many just think he's being ludicrous.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Letter to a Young Commentor, Part II

Greetings, Ducks! Sorry I fell off the face of the earth for a bit. But while I was away, reader Tamogochi was kind enough to respond to my reply to his previous comments.

I would like to answer you on why I'm not outraged.

That is because I see mistreatment as universal problem in our world: it happens in families, at workplaces, due to gender, race, social status, religious differences and ultimately between nations. It begins when one side expresses some kind of want/need towards the other. For example some people of the white race wanted to have free labor and had enforced slavery on another race. Similarly some men had been oppressing towards individual or all women. For them it didn't seem like a problem at all because they felt entitled to that (I think your term "privilege" might fit here). The other side wanted quite a different thing - not to be oppressed and equal rights. That seemed quite reasonable and fair to them but presented a real problem to the oppressors. And thus a conflict was born.

How can it be resolved? The easiest and the most popular way throughout the history has been by the use of force. The predator eats the prey and the strong enforces the weak. Men had been doing it for ages and they enjoyed the privilege they granted themselves even if they did not admit to having it. But there's also another and a much better way - cooperation/symbiosis. It happens when parties peacefully agree: you provide us what we want and we provide you what you want. That way rights and responsibilities are born.
So far, I'm with you. I myself tend to believe that a more communalist society would probably work better than our current system that places so much emphasis on the individual, and specifically tends to value people by how much dominance they have acheived; it's often quite subtle, but it's a nearly-universal part of our society. Take, for example, how people who are highly talented and skilled at some kind of operation--programming computers, analyzing budgets, designing ad campaigns--are pressured to enter management (tellingly, to have people under them), where they will direct other people to do the things that they do instead of doing them themselves; and if they don't go into management, they ultimately lack the respect and/or compensation of people who do go into management. Dominance, not necessarily talent, it what commands respect; the recent fiscal crisis has exposed just how little talent some of these people had.
And now we come to the issues of feminism. The way that I understand it is this: it's an organization that focuses on the problems of women and tries to solve them. Whether actively standing for women rights when necessary or trying to encourage them to reach more and to realize their full potential. And here I see a fundamental problem: if you focus your attention only on one side of the conflict you become subjective and might start to mistreat others. Then it's very easy to slip into a mode: you give us (women) what we want (rights, respect, power) and we don't care about your (men) problems. And they can get away with it because now they have a real power of an organization at their side that no single man can oppose. The way of enforcement of privileges in other words and the very thing feminism swore to fight.

I'd not call feminism an organization. (It reminds me of Will Rogers' famous line: "I don't belong to an organized party; I'm a Democrat.") Feminism is (or ought to be) a movement, but as part of that movement there will be many organizations, and many different points of view.

I think you are building a strawfeminist here. Somehow we are to suppose that by advocating for the rights of a specific oppressed majority (sorry, here in the US women are 51% of the population), you must ignore or even oppress another group: as if equality was a zero-sum game where you can only win if everybody loses.

I don't believe that; I think that equality and freedom are things that can be shared with all people, and that taking away a privilege is not the same as oppressing people.

I also have a few issues with how you frame this paragraph. First, you have women asking to be given rights. Which isn't the case at all, at least how I see it: women are demanding that their rights be respected. That is, the rights already belong to us; they can't be given--only respected.

Second, isn't telling that in a discussion of women's rights you immediately start talking about how this affects men? I mean, for real? It's so frustrating to time and time again bring up the troubles of an oppressed group, troubles that get ignored because the dominant group marginalizes all issues that don't directly affect themselves, and then have the dominant group show up to make it all about themselves! (In the feminist blogosphere, this argument is called but what about teh menz?)
"But we don't oppress men and only want to have certain rights and responsibilities for women" you might say. Is it too much to ask after all we do for them? We want to cooperate but men sometimes are not willing to participate and we have no other option than to fight.

There must have been a less sexist way to phrase that, don't you think? Again: women aren't asking for rights because we serve some social role well; we demand the rights that belong to us as human beings.
Let's look at an example of what's really happening: a problem of verbal abuse at the workplace. The conflict is obvious: men want to use certain sexually loaded words towards the other gender and women don't want that happening (or to be more specific they want respect and equality for themselves). And the solution for it? Feminist movement gathers enough political strength and a law is passed that prohibits that kind of discrimination. A great victory for the human race. But is it really?

What most tend to overlook is that it has really solved the problem only for one side of the conflict. Men did not have a problem of verbal abuse from women so the law solves nothing for them. And did anyone care to listen to what they really wanted? What has caused them to be sexually abusive in the first place? Nobody was interested in that. It was much easier to put a label "animals", "primates" and not to care at all. What took place afterwards is that men pushed their unsolved problems deeper and it has resulted in a more sophisticated and undetectable ways to discriminate women. The women once again retaliated. And now I, as a man, am viewed as a potential abuser everywhere I go - like I am responsible for what others of my gender had done in the past. I constantly hear things "men are pigs, aggressive, insensitive, uncaring, unemotional, bloodthirsty" and so on. This passive form of discrimination hurts me and makes me feel like a second rate human even if I've never done an abusive thing towards women. Come to think of it I too might easily become outraged because of this. I might even go as far as join a movement of masculinists who fight feminists. But what another senseless war would ever accomplish?
There really must have been a less sexist way to put that. Sigh. Let's start from the beginning.

I'd love to have some real sympathy for how you feel. And in fact, I do: I don't like it when anyone is called names, or anyone has assumptions made about them because of how they look. But. In the specific case you cite--give me a break. If you think it's hard to be called a predator, try actually being the prey. You forget, perhaps, who you are talking to. I am a trans woman. I've walked down dark streets as a man, as a cross-dresser, and as a woman. I've been called a faggot, whistled at, had lewd suggestions made to me on the street. I'm a double target: first for being a woman, and then for being trans; for many women like me, rape is only the starting point.

You clearly don't understand that. I won't say can't, because I think you can--I think anyone with a conscience and the willingness to listen to other peoples' stories can gain an understanding of what it is like to feel constantly targeted.

And I have to ask the question: why are you angry at me, at feminists, at women for demanding that predatory behavior--even things as seemingly trivial as being called names--be punished? Why are you angry at us, instead of them--the predatory guys, the jerks, the ones who benefit from the threat of violence and violation that constantly surrounds women in this society? Don't act like you don't have a stake in this fight; you've already shown that you do, because you're complaining about the results.

I mean, why be angry about the last century of slow, very incremental female empowerment and not pissed off about the hundreds of centuries of female oppression? Why not take on the assholes who are ruining it for the rest of you?

I don't think it's fair that people are calling you names and making unfounded accusations. I also don't think it's fair that you're comparing what's happening to you to the kind of toxic environments that harrassing speech such as the kind that is prohibited by law, because that can be much, much worse. I don't think it's fair to compare the "outrage" you might feel about your treatment to the outrageous way that women continue to be treated throughout the world. As if because you don't get outraged over name-calling, I shouldn't be outraged over how one in four women in South Africa is raped before she even turns 16.

I don't get outraged because of name-calling; I get outraged about hate speech that damages men by making them think that it's okay to denigrate women, that it's okay to look upon women as things or objects, that it's okay to continue the fundamental inequality of the human race.
It could have been a much different outcome if both sides listened - men and women cooperated towards solving their shared problems. Maybe what was best in
the situation was not to punish the abusers but to provide them help in dealing with their emotional problems? Maybe what needs to be done is to change how women treat men (in removing that passive discrimination I spoke about) and how are they up-brought by their mothers by teaching them a value of empathy and compassion? If we really thought about it we would have probably came to even better ideas than that.
How was what happened not cooperation? I mean, the last time I checked, there's not a legislative body anywhere in the United States that isn't majority male, so somebody cooperated to write the laws. And why shouldn't we punish people for breaking the law? You won't get an argument from me that many laws (drug violations, for example) might benefit from alternatives to incarceration, but people don't generally go to jail for sexual harrassment. Instead, the company and individuals have to pay a person for causing her damage; it's a matter of civil, not criminal law.

I think you're the first person I've encountered who feels that girls aren't brought up to feel empathy. I mean, isn't that the stereotype? Guys aren't allowed to have feelings, but girls are supposed to be so good at them?

And again, seriously: if these are shared problems (they are), then why do so few dudes care about them?
That's why I feel being outraged is not good - it hinders our ability to listen and see the situation clearly and invites us to mistreat other people just as we have been mistreated ourselves. I don't consider myself feminist or masculinist - I would rather be humanist.

Well, I disagree--I think the natural response to seeing people being oppressed should be outrage, and that my outrage helps me, inspires me, keeps me working on helping people.

And I'm a humanist as well; I don't think there's a need to be either a feminist or a humanist. My advocacy for one part of the human race doesn't diminish my advocacy for the rest of it; it just shows where my main interest lies.

Thank you again for responding--I know English isn't your first language. I do hope you continue to think about these things.

Very best,

C.L. Minou

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Letter to a Young Commentor

Greetings, ducks! In today's edition, I answer comments, specifically this comment from new reader Tamogochi! Hello, Tamo--let's hear what you have to say:
I've followed to your blog from INFJ forum. It seems that feminism is quite a big portion of your life and the article you cited is indeed stupid.

You are correct on both counts--I congratulate you on your perspicacity!
My comment is more on the general topic.
Uh-oh. Nothing good ever follows a lead-in like that.
What I don't get about that whole feminist attitude is why are you so infuriated (as it's in a subtitle of your site)? The aggressive feminism worked a 100 years ago, but now is quite outdated.
Why am I so mad?

Well, first, am I all that mad? I don't think I come across as indiscriminately angry. No. I choose my words (or try to) with great care, and there's a reason I chose infuriated. For me, my fury is a low-grade, constant resentment of how messed up the world remains, of how we continue to play primate dominance games imported out of our misty prehistory, of how our culture plays lip service to the ideas of equality, justice, and change while trying to keep everything the same.

That is the source of my fury, as I documented previously, here and here, and it is why I am an implacable foe of unearned privilege.

Also, we live in a world where an ESPN reporter is filmed changing inside her hotel room and it gets thrown all around the internet (and the coverage never fails to note that But She's Totes Hot and Playboyz Luvz Her so she kinda was asking for it, right?) and you're telling me that my fury is out of date? That I shouldn't be outraged a lot? That given the racist, sexist, classist imagery spoon-fed to us every day on television and radio and the internet that I shouldn't be--I dunno, upset?

Perhaps this will clear a few things up:

That aggressiveness is the very thing that turns men away instead of trying to help women with their problems. It actually acts as an excuse. And a lame one.
Oh, Tamo.

It's amazing what you managed to do there--pack so much privilege into a few short sentences. You are to be commended!

OK. First. Women aren't asking men to "help them with their problems," as if feminist concerns are issues that apply only to women. Feminism is not the "Sanitary Aids" aisle at the supermarket; it--or at least, the feminism I believe in--is a movement that must by its very nature try to bring true freedom and equality to all humanity, male and female. Feminist women need the help of feminist men, sure--we need everyone to realize they are trapped in a system that is forever geared towards generating inequality and systemic discrimination. But feminists are not begging for help, not wheedling like a 50s sitcom character trying to get her husband to buy her a new dress. Feminists are standing up as proud activists trying to realize their dream.

Second--seriously, dude, weak is just as good a four-letter word, conveys the same sense, and doesn't offend anybody. Using lame is pretty weak.

(See how easy that was?)
How can you ever achieve anything genuinely positive if you just fight for one side and treat the other as disposable objects? That seems so wrong to me because feminists repeat the same old mistakes of patriarchalism. The only thing different is that roles are reversed now.
And how are we supposed to achieve anything genuinely positive if we hide our anger, stay meek and demure, and never demand anything? How the hell are we supposed to become equal if we stay subservient?

As for repeating the mistakes of patriarchalism--speak for yourself. That's not the kind of feminism I support and advocate for, and it never has been on the short history of this blog. I firmly believe we have to tear down the entire privilege system and find something better--and soon, before the human race lurches into its final chapter.

And seriously, roles reversed? Are you saying women are more powerful than men? Cause that might actually make me mad.

Given the horrors our mad world continues to lurch through--the endemic poverty, the billions who are hunger, the millions who are starving, given how the First World continues to support itself on the slavery of the Third, given how even here in the Wonderful West we are plagued with massive amounts of sexism, racism, religious bigotry, looksism, and countless other oppressions, I think the question isn't: why am I outraged?

It really should be, why aren't you?

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities

I've been thinking about privilege lately. Not exactly a surprise, there.

One thing I've been pondering is this idea: that privilege is rights without responsibilities.

That's not completely accurate: another important definition of privilege--at least , you know, the oppressive kind--is that it is unearned. But they both point to important features of privilege.

That is, to accept something as given without any responsibility to pay for it is a privilege.

You can see this in action in one of the more pervasive defences of white privilege: "I'm not a racist, I never owned slaves, I didn't vote for Jim Crow laws, so why should I have to accept affirmative action/learn about African-American culture/give up one iota of what I have?"

The answer is, because you were robbed.

You were robbed, because your ancestors stole from other people and passed the bill along to you. You were robbed, because they got to have something without paying for it, and now the bill is come due. And you'll keep getting robbed, as long as people like Pat Buchanan still insist that great American experiment involved only hard-working, superior white folks--as if the very temple of democracy in this country itself, the U.S. Capitol, wasn't built with slave labor.

My post today at Shakesville has me thinking about another side of this question: when does a person have the right to claim membership in a group? Or more specifically, just who's a woman, anyway?

For me, the answer is simple: if you claim to be a woman, I'll respect that claim. It's not because I believe in some mystical gender essentialism and can recognize a "spiritual sister" because of my super-special TrannyvisionTM. I believe that there are about 6.75 billion genders in the world: that is, each of us has a gender unique to ourselves. That doesn't mean there aren't classifications that can be made, anymore than believing in human individuality means there aren't Buddhists or Frenchpeople or...women.

Rather, my feeling is that if someone wants to claim the title of "woman," I'm perfectly happy to agree. But then it is my feeling that I will apply to them the same standards I apply to other women (and myself.) Is she a feminist? Does she help break down oppression, or support it? Does she support other women, does she support sexist stereotypes, is she, in short, helping?

Just as I would never question the gender of a woman whose politics and personality I loathe--say, Sarah Palin--I wouldn't question the gender of a trans person. (That is, I wouldn't use bad woman to mean bad at being a woman. Heck, I wouldn't use bad woman at all, I think.) Or to put it another way, judge my claim for a right on how well I live up to its responsibilities: look at what I do and what I believe, what I fight against and what I stand for. And I'll do the same.

It's the only human thing to do.

I Get Around, Again

Greetings, Ducks! We hope to have another installment for you soon--meantime, I have a post up on Shakesville for your edification and amusement.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Headesk Is A Verb

Greetings, ducks! Sorry about the delay since yesterday's post, but I had to call a carpenter in--it seems my (quirky, writerly, rolltop) desk had developed a mysterious dent ever since I started using Google Reader to search for stories with the keyword "feminism." Oddly enough, the dent seemed to fit my forehead perfectly, and got deeper after each one of the mysterious headaches I seem to be suffering from--strange.

However, in any case, I now have a nice shiny new desktop, and it's time to take a look at what Google brought me today--oh. Oh, dear. Something titled "Hating Feminism."

Well, let's not be hasty; maybe it's a feminist response to people who hate feminists! My heart leaps! See, it starts well:
I know to a degree where she’s coming from. A lot of the feminist-bashing is nothing more than people taking their personal problems and putting a political spin on it. But, of course, NOW is not responsible if you can’t get sex or can’t get your wife to respect you.
Well, not great, but not bad.

We’ve all seen those people. All their stories are about someone taking advantage of them. But even before the stories started, we knew just by looking at them that we are about to deal with a loser.

But that doesn’t negate that feminism has become a cancer. Many of the complaints against the feminists are the same as against Civil Rights warriors.

Oh dear.
Women will acknowledge that a big, tall man who’s in great shape is stronger than they are. What they don’t realize is that a 5-foot-3 110 pound high school boy is still vastly stronger than any woman who’s not taking steroids (aka male hormones).
Riiight...I forgot, that high school kid can whup Laila Ali one hand behind his back--because he's stronger than every woman in the world.

Women get into an aggressive pose if you ever say that they can’t do something as well. But of course you can’t do some things as well, and you can’t do anything on an exceptional level (historic inventions, Nobel prizes).

Even when you look at things that women do much more than men (write poetry, cook, design clothes), almost all the great ones are male.

Right, because of ten millenia of denying women access to education, devaluing all work they do, and institutional sexism wherever people (read: men) do work for money that women traditionally have done for free, that in no way invalidates your argument. It's all about the biology, right? I can take comfort in that, scientifically proven....wait a second.

I'm not exactly all about the biology, you know.
The worst outrage (other than the claim by feminists in Sweden that men should be forced by law to sit on toilets like women rather than stand) is the feminist demand that all men’s room become unisex while the women’s bathrooms remain for females only. The logic is that women always have to wait in line and men don’t, so that’s just unfair.
Okay, seriously? Do not take a trans person on about the bathroom.
No society treated women as well as the West. White men didn’t put you in wooden shoes to make your feet unnaturally small, didn’t cut off your clitoris, didn’t “Honor Kill” women for being rape victims. Whether a white woman chose to be a nun or a prostitute or anything in between, she was treated with at least some level of respect.
I'm going to laugh here. Because this has to be satire, right? Because we all know how well prostitutes are treated in our society, right? I mean, they have respect, which is why so many upper-class women have traditionally turned to prostitution; you know, Victorian gentlemen went on the Grand Tour, Victorian ladies went On the Job.

Is there any way you could make your satire richer?
(Update after this was already written: I was originally thinking of writing “whore” instead of “prostitute”, but decided not to because I thought people would react to it negatively. Upon re-reading this, I realized that this in and of itself made my point – Westerners do not accept gratuitous degradation of even the lowest class women.)
I think...I think you need to, I don't know--I was going to say "take a women's studies course" but I think I'll start with, "meet a woman."

I'll just...just read a little more...I'm feeling woozy...
Just as blacks have a very special way of looking at things (black-dominated NBA is good, but white-dominated swimming is an outrage), so too do the feminists. That they dominate the Angry Bitch Studies and departments like Sociology is just taken for granted, but all hell breaks loose every time feminazis find out that engineering or physics departments are mostly male.


Wow, look at that--there's already a new dent in my desk.

I think I better keep that carpenter on speed-dial.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bastille Day

1. At the Porte Saint-Antoine, 14 July 1789

Independence Day celebrates a revolution--however important its future would prove--that was inaugurated to protect the rights of the entitled. I prefer Bastille Day, the start of the French Revolution, the first struggle to try to break the shackles of the Agricultural Revolution, to radically reshape the human destiny. It is the French, not the American, Revolution that haunts the Western consciousness, a bloody ghost shrieking of ways not taken and tyrannies unfought.

The starving and enraged sans-coulottes who gathered near the Porte St. Antoine that hot July afternoon knew nothing of the finer points of either revolution or democracy. They knew not whether they were Rousseau's ennobled primitives or Hobbes' mindless mob. Nor did they care. They gave not a sou for the National Assembly's parliamentary debate on the proper techniques to constitutionally cage a monarch: they knew only that they were oppressed, and sick of it, and incapable of letting it stand any longer.

Behind the walls of the ancient fortress were only seven prisoners--but they were the symbols of an entire regime. Never extensively used as a prison, the Bastille remained nonetheless the notorious symbol of absolute monarchy, the place those who dared speak against the Crown were warehoused. It was against this symbol, more than anything else, that the mob struck; but they had a more immediate goal. The Bastille was also a gigantic gunpowder depot.

By 5:30 in the afternoon, after four hours of fighting, it was all over. The commander of the garrison--mostly disabled veterans and a small contingent of Swiss mercenaries--had surrendered, and then intentionally provoked his own lynching, apparently unable to live with the dishonor. The powder was seized, muskets were charged, and the Royal Army abandoned Paris to the sans-coulottes. In time, those muskets would carry the Revolution (and more, the Revolutionary spirit) across the Rhine and into the rest of Europe. Nor would the vintage laid down that day ever completely fail, even after the force of revolution was channeled into a new tyranny and the blood of patriots was wastefully spent in defence of Empire. As much as Bonaparte and his successors might try, the power unleashed that July afternoon could never fully serve autocrats.

I wonder, though: what did the garrison see that day, as the mob burst into the outer courtyard of the fort, as the air grew opaque with gunpowder smoke--what flashed accross the sky for them that day? Portents of the ceaseless wars France would plunge into? Of the civil unrest and the great Terror to come? Or a presentiment that the world would never again be the same, that from now on the voice of the oppressed would never be stilled, try as they might to suppress it?

Today I choose to make my witness.

2. The Patriarchy Is Not Enough

For feminists, for people who struggle against sexist oppression, that set of privileges and oppressions we call patriarchy looms like the Bastille over the landscape of our lives. The comparison is apt: because patriarchy is both more and less than it seems.

Patriarchy is claimed as the father of all oppressions, the most common prejudice, the heaviest burden, the source of all tyrannies. Patriarchy must be nearly transhistorical--it certainly must go back as least as far as the Agricultural Revolution--and like a dark star, it bends all other forms of oppression towards it, warping them into its own mold. But like the Bastille, its symbolic presence is greater than its actual oppression, vast as that may be.

This is not to minimize the pervasive and insidious force it exerts: nothing I say could alter that, because it is an inescapable fact of every society extant on the earth. But. Patriarchy is only one of the oppressions. Others exist, and still would exist even without it.

Imagine, if you will, that we could wake up tomorrow in a world where sexism had finally been eliminated and true equality of the sexes reigned. Certainly many other oppressions would be greatly mitigated, because in eradicating sexism, fundamental inequalities of privilege and access would have to be extirpated.

But would the world change all that much? Would not the great mass of people on the planet still be mired in poverty, disease, starvation, and near-slavery? Is it really patriarchy that keeps women and children bent over the clothing mills of Indonesia and Vietnam to satiate the developed world's lust for cheap clothing? Or is it not still the case that colonialism, racism, imperialism, classism, militarism and a host of other oppressions would stalk the earth even without sexism, their staunchest ally?

I think that they would.

This is not to diminish the importance of the struggle against sexism; as bell hooks says:
Sexist oppression is of primary importance not because it is the basis of all other oppression, but because it is the practice of domination most people experience, whether their role be that of the discriminator or discriminated against, exploiter or exploited. It is the practice of domination most people are socialized to accept before they even know that other forms of group oppression exist. This does not mean that eradicating sexist oppression would eliminate other forms of oppression. Since all forms of oppression are linked in our society because they are all supported by similar institutional and social structures, one system cannot be eradicated while the others remain intact. Challenging sexist oppression is a crucial step in the struggle to eliminate all forms of oppression. (Feminist Theory, pp. 36-7)
The struggle against patriarchy will necessarily be a struggle against other forms of oppression. But that does not mean that it is sufficient in of itself to struggle only against patriarchy, or that all forms of oppression can be reduced to questions of sexism. Oppression is not something that has a simple binary, top-down nature; oppression takes many forms and has many axes of attack. To force all analysis of privilege to that of patriarchy is to engage in a privileged behavior: the privilege to ignore the effects of other oppressions. It is not accidental that much work in this vein has been done by people who are white, Western, and middle-classed, for that very reason.

The struggle against sexism is a vital step in liberating the human race; but it is not the only one or even always the most important one. The patriarchy is not enough.

3. A Wrinkle In Privilege

I use the term kyriarchy somewhat differently than most people.

Kyriarchy--"a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for "lord" or "master" (kyrios) and "to rule or dominate" (archein)"--is usually defined like this, (courtesy of Sudy at A Woman's Ecdysis ):

When people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a complex conversation about the shifting circles of privilege, power, and domination -- they're talking about kyriarchy. When you talk about power assertion of a White woman over a Brown man, that's kyriarchy. When you talk about a Black man dominating a Brown womyn, that's kyriarchy. It's about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid. At it best heights, studying kyriarchy displays that it's more than just rich, white Christian men at the tip top and, personally, they're not the ones I find most dangerous. There's a helluva lot more people a few levels down the pyramid who are more interested in keeping their place in the structure than to turning the pyramid upside down.

Most people tend to visualize this as intersecting pyramids of power, which certainly follows the meaning of the word. But I tend to think of a different geometric form: the tesseract or hypercube, a four-dimensional cube.

Take a line in space; that's one dimension. Draw a square; now you have two dimensions. Now make it a cube; that's three dimensions. Add another dimension, and you have a tesseract:

Even though it is a difficult image to grasp, I like to use it--not the least because it is a difficult image, and our privileges often are just a difficult to analyze. I like it too because it exists, like we do, in four-dimensional space--and forgetting about our fourth dimension, time, often leads to mistakes in analyses of privilege. And maybe most of all, I like it because it is impossible to accurately visualize in three-dimensional space--and I think the same about privilege.

That is, it is possible to draw a tesseract or even make a three-dimensional model of it--but that will only be one way of looking at it. Likewise, we can analyze a person's relative oppression in terms of all sorts of axes: racism, sexism, religous bigotry, etc. But that will only be one way of looking at it, one way of rotating the tesseract; for another person, in another time, it will look completely different. All forms of oppression are linked.

And that is the essence of kyriarchy: we are all emeshed in it, all trapped not only by our oppressions but our privileges as well. If oppression is the negative force, pushing us down, privilege is the positive force, raising us up; both of them keep us tied to the system itself. The only escape is to break free of it all: to fight oppression and to abjure privilege. To break the fierce equilibrium and experiment for the first time in radical freedom.

Some feel that the way to do this is homogeneity: to end sexism by abolishing gender, to end religious bigotry by abolishing religion, etc. I disagree. I think that diversity is an essential element not only in the biological success of all species, but an important component of human creativity. I think the world is heightened by distinctions--as Hopkins says:
All things counter, original spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim...
What I want is a world where those differences are as about important as the music you prefer to listen to: something you might get passionate about, something that might inspire you or help you find other like-minded people to form a community with, but never something that you would kill or die for, or use to oppress other people.

I'm not sure that a human society truly free of hierarchy is possible or even desirable (even I think there is a place for some kind of privilege, just not unearned privilege.) But my fervent hope for the human species is a radical restructuring of how we organize ourselves, and soon too: because we've gone so far to destroy ourselves and now our planet with us.

4. Bastille Day

Two hundred twenty years ago, after the spasm of violence, order improbably returned. The National Assembly resumed its deliberations, and wisely stood by while the people of Paris dismantled the fallen prison, stone by stone and brick by brick, until nothing remained except a few foundation stones that lay buried for more than a hundred years.

Reached at Versailles a few days later, the King reacted to the news with a start. "Is it a revolt?" he asked.

"No, Sire," was the response. "It is a revolution."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Adventures in Transition: Everybody Cut Footloose Edition

Greetings, ducks! Yesterday I decided to drag myself out of the cave also known as my apartment and force myself to have some of that dreaded "social interaction" people are always on about--specifically, I decided to jerk myself around to a syncopated rhythm while obeying patriarchal orders and occasionally crashing into people.

Yes, I went dancing.

Here in the Metropolis, there is a series of Sunday dances down on a pier during the summer. I used to go to these things long ago, long before my transition--hell, long before my brief metrosexual days. I enjoyed going--I had been one of those people who never thought she could dance, until my then-girlfriend convinced me to take some lessons, and I discovered I could do it, after a fashion. And that I liked to do it.

This time, however, would be different.

This time I was going to be there as a woman.

I managed to miss the free lesson they give before the dance, which was a shame, because not only was I rusty, I haven't danced that much swing as the follower, and I had to sort out which leg went where. That was one worry.

The other worry was whether or not anyone would actually want to dance with me.

As I've mentioned before, I tend to get anxious around highly gendered spaces--and you don't get more highly gendered than a partnered dance. (To be fair, I did see some women dancing together, but I have no idea if they were queer or just straight people without partners; I know for a fact I didn't see any men dancing with each other.) So I had my usual uncomfortable thoughts: what if people read me? am I too tall for anyone to want to dance with? am I not pretty enough for people to want to dance with me? will I suck? (that last one wasn't all that gendered, but an anxiety is an anxiety.)

Fortunately for me, plenty of people did end up dancing with me, some good, some bad. It was interesting to see the various styles of leading--having been a leader, I know how hard it can be to do well. One guy I danced with was maybe the best lead I've ever danced with--I always knew exactly what he wanted me to do--but the experience left me a little cold because I felt like I never got to do anything creative; I like to do some of my own moves when in open position, for example.

It was an interesting counterpoint to when I had first started to go out to dances as a man, and had to overcome decades of painful shyness and ask people to dance with me. I'm not sure which is easier, to be honest, to ask or wait to be asked.

I also ran into my ex-wife and her fiance. Which was a little weird; we're on good terms, but it was definitely an odd interaction. Even weirder is that we met at this very same dance all those years ago (we met movie-cute.) I suppose I cold have upped the ante and danced with her, but I think we both felt that would have pushed the awkwardness skyward.

My anxieties then were mostly for naught. More than that: at one point I stood watching the sunset behind the bandstand, listening to the music and feeling the breezes blow on me, and I was just so damn happy--because this is how I wanted it to go, to finally feel at peace with myself and my body and who I wanted to be, to bask in the same beautiful weather I had enjoyed all those years ago when I went to my first dance, except this time it was so much better, so much deeper, so much more right.

Friday, July 10, 2009

O Brave New World, That Has Such....No Men In It

Greetings, Ducks! As many of you may have guessed by now, this is a blog about gender. (Well, and privilege. Primarily privilege. In fact, when I renamed it, I should have just gone with "Privilege Privilege Privilege...blah blah blah, Privilege!"--but that would have been an even worse url.) As it turns out, however, soon I may need to stop writing here--because my work will have been done!

That's right, ducks--it seems that scientists have created synthetic sperm! And that can mean just one thing:

Synthetic sperm’ from stem cells raises hope for male infertility

Wait, no, that's not it! (Though wow, I'd never guess that the first take on this would be how it could benefit men.) No, what everyone is talking about is this:

Synthetic sperm brings mad feminist dream a step closer

The idiotic internet blather following the creation of artificial human sperm evokes the writings of mad feminists who dreamed of a world without men.
Now, let us leave for the moment that there are plenty of women and feminists (and even a lot of people who are both) who like men, just not how so many men behave. (Because of, you know, the oppression.) Actually, don't leave that, because that's the whole fucking point: it's not exactly a mainline feminist viewpoint to advocate for the genocide of one half the human species, except in the mind of Neil Lyndon. (Hint: Maureen Dowd--Maureen Dowd--isn't exactly an unimpeachable source for your "feminists hate men and want to get rid of them" argument.)

I mean, this is so Old School, so "bra-burning feminist hippies" stuff--I'd almost expect to see a Gloria Steinem reference. voila:

Q: What do you think 21st-century feminism looks like?

It looks like you. It looks like each self-respecting women in the 21st century. It's not for me to define; the message of feminism is that each of us, as female human beings, define ourselves. There are some generalities that you can see. It's much more international, I'm happy to say. I think clearly most of the country now understands that women can do what men can do; the problem is that they don't understand that men can do what women can do, which as I was saying, is the reason why women still suffer from having two jobs

Now, I've been reading bell hooks a lot lately, so I'm not such a huge fan of Steinem and some of the other more prominent Second Wave leaders who focused their attention almost completely on the issues of white, middle-class women. Still, the comments section is painful:

Can we have dismissiveness?

A broad with a narrow mind...
Shouldn't they call themselves "masculinists"? Seems more appropriate.

Mrs. Steinem, please exit stage left...

If you really want to have an honest, cerebral look into a 'real feminist's' mind you should google...Melinda Jelliby
(warning: don't)

Howabout sexist fauxgressiveness?

You poor saps just can't take the thought of a woman being smarter than you. I would think you would be used to it, judging from your comments I would say just about everyone above the age of three is smarter than you. Its one thing to be stupid, its another to revel in your stupidity. This guy thinks Gloria is a complete dish and always has been.
Just plain sexism?


Gloria Stinem is some kind of gal }:>

Aaah, Gloria! You're still hot but you're no Sarah Palin. Now that's a "self-respecting" woman!
Bonus round: a Jane Fonda reference?

I won't take any gratuitous personal attacks on this woman even though she is nothing more than a mouthpiece for flowery quips and idioms from some 60's hippie manifesto (which started decades prior to the 60's actually).

I honestly look at Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and their contemporaries (sp?) today as ironically exploited and in no way empowered whatsoever.

BINGO! What'd I win?

You know, after all that, maybe I'm changing my mind, and we really should look into this world without men thing--I wonder what it would be like:

And why would any of us want a world with no men anyway? Who would carry our heavy luggage up the stairs after getting home from a vacation? After the jump, 15 things we’d miss about men if they ever became extinct.
  1. Their 5 o’clock shadow.
  2. Intercourse and outercourse.
  3. How cute and vulnerable they look first thing in the morning.
  4. The way they reassure us we’re nothing like our mothers.
  5. Their ability to reach the high shelves at the grocery store.
  6. Taking it like a man when we have a PMS outburst.
  7. Their cute little nicknames for us.
  8. Reassuring us we’re nothing like the bitches their friends date.
  9. How well they lie about the size of our ass in our skinny jeans.
  10. How they always know where all the wires go.
  11. The way they look in a suit.
  12. How good they are at killing the bugs.
  13. And installing the AC window unit.
  14. The sound of their voice in the dark wishing us “good night.”
  15. The way they look holding a baby.

Ah, fuckit. Let's just skip to the whole life after men and women thing then; the planet will thank us.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Baron Cohen: Glorious Privileges For Amusement Of Elites

I can't say that I'm a Sacha Baron Cohen fan. (Now, Simon Baron-Cohen, I can totes get behind.) My niece liked his song in Madagascar, I've probably seen Ali G a few times, and other than that I've been pretty much indifferent to him.

But that hasn't been much of an option of late, thanks to this:

A lot of people--led by Liss over at Shakesville--have talked about the, oh, FAIL risk inherent about using homophobic humor to expose...homophobia. Hell, even the New York Times--not my usual stop for cutting-edge progressivism--says as much in a well-balanced review by A.O. Scott:

The film demonstrates, at a fairly high level of conceptual sophistication, that lampooning homophobia has become an acceptable, almost unavoidable form of homophobic humor, or at least a way of licensing gags that would otherwise be out of bounds. An early sequence that graphically shows Brüno and his lover exerting themselves in various positions and with the assistance of, among other things, a Champagne bottle, a fire extinguisher and a specially modified exercise machine, derives its humor less from the extremity of their practices than from the assumption that sex between men is inherently weird, gross and comical. The same sequence with a man and a woman — or for that matter, two women — would play, most likely on the Internet rather than in the multiplex, as inventive, moderately kinky pornography rather than as icky, gasp-inducing farce.

However, here at The Second Awakening, we don't just do analysis: we do analysis of privilege! (It says so somewhere in the mission statement, which I think The Grey Mouser is using as a pillow right now.) So what can we say about the privilege used, abused, hidden, and sickeningly visible in Baron Cohen's work? And is that the reason why no matter what, you always feel vaguely icky watching it?

To answer the last first: Yes. Yes it is.

The thing is, both Borat and Bruno1 are humor for privileged people. They let you, the privileged person, laugh at other people who aren't as privileged as you. To make it funny, of course, we use multiple axes of privilege: so Borat spent a lot of time lampooning white people of different educational or cultural backgrounds. (Most egregiously, the Romanian villagers who provided the backdrop for the movie's early scenes.)

The way that both these movies mitigate any privilege guilt you might have about laughing at other people (please, please tell me you have privilege guilt for laughing--not everybody does) is by selling you the ultimate privilege: you're in on it. Unlike the hapless buffoons of the movie's universe, you get the joke. You know all along that Borat isn't really a Kazakh journalist, that Bruno isn't really a gay fashionista--that Baron Cohen is using these guises to draw people out of their shell and show their true colors. Which are inevitably ugly or laughable. As A.O. Scott says,

They — Americans just like you but of course nothing like you — were exposed as bigots either for being outraged at the things Borat did or for politely agreeing with his misogynistic, anti-Semitic or otherwise objectionable statements. Any twinge of guilt you might have felt on behalf of the actual glorious nation of Kazakhstan was quickly soothed by the spectacle of American intolerance and idiocy that “Borat” purported to expose.

That's not to say that this isn't a time honored technique (Jonathan Swift, for example, used it to great effect.) But I have to feel that there's a fundamental difference in, say, attacking the powerful by pointing out they were essentially eating the children of the Irish by oppressing them into starvation, and getting a laugh out of a few ordinary citizens who aren't hip that they're being lampooned.

I mean, it's not like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia (my personal fave) or anti-religious bigotry needs much encouragement to come out; nor is it likely that using a horrid charicature of gayness to draw people into overt homophobia is going to do much to alleviate homophobia. Instead, it's more oppression masquerading as liberation; a joke for those "good" enough to be in on it, a joke on everyone else.

'Cause not having privilege is hysterical. For them who have it.

1. I refuse to use the idiotic umlauts; that's not how you spell the name in German. And you don't spell "Borat" that way in Cyrillic, which is odd given that the DVD box actually spelled out the English title in Cyrillic characters. Yes, I am a hopeless pedant; you knew that already.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I have an abnormal relationship with--normal.

For most of my life, I looked normal, but never felt normal. Sure, I moved around the world as a (sorta) guy, even acted like one--ok, hell, sometimes even felt like one; but I was always aware of this thing about me that made me not feel normal: this awkwardness, this discomfort, this constant wondering if I was the wrong gender, and if so, should I do something about it.

Nowadays, I feel much more normal, but to large chunks of my world I don't look normal: the friends, family and coworkers who knew me before transition now have to look at me a different way, and who knows what they think? And even beyond them, I'm tall for a woman, broad-shouldered...well, you get the picture.

But inside? Inside I feel right as rain.

I bring this up because of the recent controversy surrounding a very short word: cis. This word has apparently caused the Internet to catch fire and burn down. Well, at least my part of the internet--sure, it may only be a studio apartment with a kitchenette, but when there's a fire it's still quite alarming.

It all started with this post on Pam's House Blend, and specifically this comment:

There has always been a certain amount of animosity between the L's the G's the B's and the T's. We all know this. When I start to tune out of a debate is when someone describes a whole group of our community as "cisgendered, transbigoted, privileged assholes". Cisgendered is not even a word that gay men identify with but one created by people to single them out in a way that I personally find offensive and derogatory especially when used in this context. Not all white gay men are privileged, nor are they transphobic, lumping them in this category serves no purpose to a greater dialogue.
That's how it started, but it didn't end there. There was a huge pile-on in that thread about the use of cisgendered, followed by this thread at PHB (including this now-infamous comment) and then another follow-up at Questioning Transphobia and then the next thing you know cis isn't allowed to be spoken at PHB but then it is (along with a--sorry, Autumn--"we need to struggle against the real oppressors" derail.) But by then it was all over the internet and even our old friend Carolyn-Ann had to check in.

All over a rather obscure Latin prefix. Color me impressed, I guessed: I mean, even the real c-word has four letters.

By now perhaps you are shaking your head: most likely in confusion. What is this cis you might wonder, and how may I get some? Or, maybe I should get rid of it? What, C.L., is the dish with cis?

It's actually very simple. Cis- means not-trans.

That's it.

Would, of course, that it would be so simple.

It comes from Latin, likely via biochemistry, where cis- and trans- are used to distinguish isomers from each other based on where the molecular bonds fall: on the same side, then cis (meaning within or on the same side), on opposite sides then trans (meaning across or on the other side.) The term has been kicking around for about two decades, but gained prominence thanks to Julia Serrano's extensive use of cissexual in Whipping Girl, her groundbreaking work about transfeminism.

Julia does a much better job than me at talking about why cisgender/cissexual isn't a pejorative word, so I'll just quote her quoting Emi Koyama
I learned the words "cissexual," "cissexist," and "cisgender," from trans activists who wanted to turn the table and define the words that describe non-transsexuals and non-transgenders rather than always being defined and described by them. By using the term "cissexual" and "cisgender," they de-centralize the dominant group, exposing it as merely one possible alternative rather than the "norm" against which trans people are defined. I don't expect the word to come into common usage anytime soon, but I felt it was an interesting concept - a feminist one, in fact - which is why I am using it.
Yet as the brouhaha above shows, a lot of people--cis people, natch--seem to somehow feel that somehow it is pejorative. That somehow trans people are forcing an identity onto non-trans folk. That somehow it lumps them in with all the other bigots out there--racists, homophobes, chauvinists.

To which I say: you bet your ass it does. That's the point.

By which I mean not that all cis people are bigots, but rather that they belong to a bigoted power structure. So do I. So do we all--we are all caught in the trap of kyriarchy, and pretending not to see the chains that bind us doesn't make them not exist.

The thing is, there are privileges to being not trans--I doubt much that anyone is going to fight about that. I'm just going to refuse to agree that one of them is the right to be normal.

Because that's what it comes down to. I'd have no problem ditching the term cis in favor of another term for people who aren't trans; I'm just not going to concede that we don't need one. Because every time I write not-trans instead of cis, I'm calling attention to myself; I'm pointing out that I'm the weird one, the one with a problem, the one that needs to be differentiated. And fuck it, I'm just not going to put up with that forever.

It does not invalidate other axes of oppression to demonstrate that another one exists. Kyriarchy is complicated; it is devilishly difficult to sort out. But that does not refute it's existence--quite the contrary.

Now, it may well be true that cis is a unique term in one respect: it is being used by a disprivileged minority as a term for a privileged majority--some would say, forced upon a majority. This seems pretty different from some of the other terms that have evolved out of usage, like homosexual or heterosexual--in both of those cases, they were conceived by the privileged majority as decentering terms. But again, I say: good. Because we should celebrate the fact that so many people of privilege (cissexist privilege, that is) are willing to decenter themselves based on the suggestion of a disprivileged group. That's not tyranny: it's progress.

Telling other people what normal should be is where the tyranny begins.

Another Blog Note

We're back, mostly. I ended up staying an extra day in Montreal--my friend ended up needing to be hospitalized--and yesterday was too burnt out to write much. But we should be resuming our usual schedule around here, i.e.: erratic.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Adventures in Transition: Édition Internationale

A dear friend of mine recently had her GRS done up in Montreal. She's had a long history of complications from surgery, and sadly this was no exception--so yesterday her son and I hit the road and took a seven-hour road trip up to visit her. (It would have been six hours, but I always get lost--also, asking a truck driver for directions to a gas station when you speak a very imperfect French is a wonderfully Dadist exercise.)

She's doing a little better today, and was surprised and pleased to see us, so I'm very glad we were able to run up here.

It also reminds me of a few things.

This isn't the first time I've visited Dr. Brassard's clinic; I came here last spring, when I was considering using him as my surgeon. (I ended up going to Thailand when I decided to have more things done; it cost the same to go to India and Cambodia--and fly home via business class--as it would have cost to have everything done in Canada.)

Back then, I still wasn't sure when I would even want to get surgery; it wouldn't be until the fall of that year that it would take on a sudden urgency. I ended up hanging out over the weekend with a few of the patients who were waiting to have their surgery done--there was a very pre-op vibe.

Appropriately enough, thios time all the patients are post-op, the last group of surgeries before the clinic's summer vacation. And it carries me back to my own early post-operative days, the camraderie between me and the other patients who were staying at the hotel. (We had two pizza parties while I was there, and generally hung around in each other's rooms for a while; I also met the nicest person in the world there, a trans woman who had made the trip on short notice to be with her friend who was having the surgery.)

I don't use the word comrade lightly, either; we were like any group of disparate people thrown together by a painful shared experience--we bonded fairly tightly while we were together, but our natural differences pulled us apart afterwards. I've seen so many different takes on what we went through: from people who convinced this was the most important and transformative experience of their lives to grim-faced agnostics like myself who were convinced that nothing important would change after surgery. (I was wrong, though not necessarily about what the surgery did to me; it was how I felt about myself afterward that was the radical difference.)

The residence where people stay to recuperate here is quite pleasant, and is another what if place for me: because this is more or less what it would have been like to stay here had I done my own surgery here. In some ways, it would have been easier--on the same continent as my family, and my French is about eleventy-million times better than my Thai (and my French ain't that great, so you get the picture.) Not that I regret my trip, because I got to finally see India and Angkor Wat, and even use my French when talking to Frenchwomen in Thailand for their own surgery. But it is kinda nice to make it up here and see what it would have been like.

Meanwhile, I'm worried about my friend, but happy as well to be able to be up here for her. Send her some good wishes if you can.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How Not To Have A Conversation

Greetings, ducks! In today's Adventures in Google Reader, we have some examples of Talkin' About Teh Tranz! (Wait, Cat, isn't this supposed to be Back To Feminism Week at TSA? To which I reply: hold yer horses, ducks! Wait 'n see!)

First, let us visit Feministe. Now, you may not realize this, but Feministe is indirectly responsible for the very existence of The Second Awakening. That's because back during my recovery from surgery, when I was beginning to actively avoid trans stuff in favor of reading feminist blogs, I came across this sh*tstorm there. (If you follow the link, you can also see the stuff I was reading at Feministing at the same time--plus BitchPhD's stupid joke. It was a grand old time to be a trans feminist.)

Feministe has taken that time seriously, much to their credit, and they've recently had the fabulous Queen Emily of Questioning Transphobia (one of the best of the trans blogs out there.) Q.E. did her usual bang up job. The comments thread, sadly, was a big ol' bundle of FAIL:

If there was a pill a person could take that would “cure” transexuality, would trans people take it (even without social pressure to do so)?

Is it transphobic if a cis person will not date a trans?

I’m a college student currently taking a Gender in Humanities course and have been assigned a project to find websites that discuss controversial topics, with which I can comment and converse with lots of people.

So nice to see that a blog post that was specifically requested in order to combat a recent history of people cluelessly mystifying trans people in comments threads...we had people cluelessly mystifying and othering trans people. Sigh. Or to quote bell hooks:

I did not feel sympathetic to white peers who maintained that I could not
expect them to have knowledge of or understand the life experiences of black women. Despite my background (living in racially segregated communities) I knew about the lives of white women, and certainly no white women lived in our neighborhoods, attended our schools, or worked in our homes.

(Theres going to be a big bell hooks-loving post one of these days, soon.)

At least we didn't get into the "cis" discussion, the great hobgoblin of mainline feminist blogs' comments threads. ("Cis" is used as the opposite of "trans", i.e. a cisgendered person is someone who doesn't feel the persistent discomfort with their gender a trans person feels--but it's not exactly hard to find that out.) I don't use the word cisgendered here a lot--sorry, I just don't think the Latin is all that well used in this case--but it's without a doubt very useful for trans people who are trying not to be perpetual others. Well, most trans people:

"Cis" is not an attempt to "decentralize the dominant group". It is an
attempt, a blatant attempt, at redefining an entire conversation so that it can't stray into areas that might be uncomfortable. It's being able to cry about "cis privilege"; it is not about leveling the linguistic playing field.

Any civil rights cause needs articulate, reasoned argument. It needs impassioned speech, and it demands a proper feeling of being oppressed. It doesn't need people saying that they are "oppressed" because women talk about some exclusively feminine issue, and they, as a trans woman, don't, can't, have that same experience. The debate about trans discrimination does not need the unwanted, unwarranted, imposition of a prefix onto those who are not transgender.

(Disclaimer: I used to know C-A personally, although I don't remember him--he prefers male pronouns--as being such a transphobic wanker back then.)

Well, now. I suppose if I don't mind being perpetually othered--if I don't mind perpetually having to to put my history on display--if I don't think that there might be some, oh, I don't know, privilege attached to the idea that one gender history doesn't need a prefix and one does, I might agree with Carolyn Ann. (And seriously: WTF is this about "exclusively feminine" things? In the comments, it turns out that this is--wait for it--periods! If you've ever felt "not so fresh," then you qualify for a "Get out of cisgender FOR FREE" card!)

C-A provides a great example of how to talk past people, play fast and loose with your own definitions (using "Orwellian" to describe how people try to recast language to avoid their own oppression is pretty....Orwellian), and in general, not check your privilege. I've come to expect this sort of thing from the allmighty Google Reader--but then, comes something like this incredibly reasoned exchange, where sharply divergent points of view about the use of "Cis" manage to remain mostly respectful:


I don’t describe myself as being “cisgendered” every day, but I realize that the term describes what I am and so I’m happy to claim it. I was born with female organs, I’m comfortable with being called a woman, I appear reasonably feminine despite my incompetence with nail polish, and so I don’t experience any dissonance between my anatomy, my gender presentation, and the way the world views me. That’s a big ole privilege.


My rejection of the adjective “cisgendered” stems from a belief that sex/gender is socially constructed. I don’t identify with the cis/trans binary because it reifies “gender” (masculinity/femininity) and transforms it into a biological property rather than a political construct. If you can explain to me why such a position is “transphobic”, I’d be very much obliged.

So of course I had to jump in (yes, ducks! A double post-within-a-post!):

I’m not exactly sure how rejecting “cis” isn’t in fact an excercise in privilege–that is, it allows the continual “othering” of trans people, i.e. “non-trans” is normal, “trans” is different. (Redmegaera quotes de Beauvoir, but the whole theme of “Le deuxième sexe” was how “man” is constructed as normal, default, and “woman” as permanent and irredeemably “Other.” So I’m not sure how you can use de Beauvoir to justify othering someone.)

Nor does it necessarily destroy other axes of oppression/privilege to acknowledge that another one exists.

As for the biological/social construction of gender: surely nowadays we can agree that this is not an either/or issue? The tragic case of David Reimer would seem to strongly argue that neither nature nor nurture completely explains internal gender identification. (A precis: Only a few days old, David’s penis was accidentally destroyed while undergoing circumcision. Following the advice of John Money, one of the leading advocates of “gender as social construct” theories, David was raised as a girl, Brenda. However, despite the positive reports Money published, “Brenda” never felt comfortable as a girl and continually rejected his imposed gender–even though his parents never told him about the accident, even though to teachers, friends, twin brother, etc., he was always and only a girl. After years of being suicidal and maladjusted, “Brenda” became David after his parents finally told him about the accident.)

This is why I and other trans people find construction of our transitions as cosmetic” (or a “harmful social practice”) so frustrating, and, well, insulting. It silences our voices, it implies that what we do to our bodies is somehow wrong
(isn’t control of your own body a feminist issue?) and it in general enforces heirarchical constructs based on dualisms that non-trans people would reject
having imposed upon themselves. If I am to fight against slut-shaming, abortion-shaming, body-image shaming (as I do) because I believe these are egregious impositions upon a person’s dignity by heirarchical society, why am I supposed to sit in the corner and be quiet when people do the same to me as a trans woman?

It’s the same when people use the language of trans/any oppressed group to describe a form of their own oppression; it creates the very false equivalency that Redmegaera opposes. For example, I’ve suffered both gender dysphoria and body-shaming for being female; and while they both feed similar anxieties, they are not same, do not stem from the same causes, and are experienced in quite different ways by myself. (I’ll hasten to add that I would also not claim that my own experience of having my body shamed is the same as a woman who was raised female and thus had those ideas inflicted upon her at a younger age.) Colonization of other people’s experiences is not liberation.

I’m all for discussions of privilege. I acknowledge freely the privilege I accumulated before I transitioned; I talk about it all the time on my blog, as do many of the trans feminists I know. Often we use it as a way to open up examinations of the invisible privileges that bind us all inside the insiduous system of kyriarchy. Hell, my own feminism would approach radicalism, if it weren’t for the fact that most radical feminists won’t have anything to do with me.

It does not dimish the reality of sexism and male oppression of women to note that other forms of oppression exist, or even to note that sometimes the other forms of oppression are more oppressive and urgent; but that’s what radical reduction of all issues into a sexist template does. As bell hooks says,

Sexist oppression of is primary importance not because it is the basis of all other oppression, but because it is the practice of domination most people experience, whether their role be that of discriminator or discriminated against, exploiter or exploited. It is the practice of domination most people are socialized to accept before they even know that other forms of group oppression exist. This does not mean that eradicating sexist oppression would eliminate other forms of oppression. Since all forms of oppression are linked in our society because they are supported by similar institutional and social structures, one system cannot be eradicated while the others remain intact.

Othering isn’t liberation. Silencing isn’t liberation. Imposing your own description on people isn’t liberation. Normalizing your own condition isn’t liberation.

Or more pragmatically, why is it, when so many trans feminists are working against the same issues cis feminists work against, that we get left out in the cold so often by those same cis people?

(I did mention I'm really loving bell hooks, right? In fact, I'm off to read more of her stuff. Keep it classy til I get back!)