Tuesday, September 29, 2009

L'Affaire Polansky: autres voix

The perception here is that the Polanski arrest has generated outrage in France--that the opinion of Frédéric Mitterand, the Culture Minister, reflects that of the entire country:
Both French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stressed Polanski's artistic gifts in their defense of him, though in theory all men — regardless of talent — are equal before the law.

Kouchner called the arrest "sinister," adding: "A man of such talent, recognized in the entire world, recognized especially in the country that arrested him — all this just isn't nice."

To many here, the slap of American justice seemed particularly sharp as the arrest came as Polanski was entering Switzerland to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Zurich Film Festival.

Mitterrand said, "To see him like that, thrown to the lions because of ancient history, really doesn't make any sense."

Mitterrand continued with a jab against the United States: "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face."

As my Francophilia knows no bounds, I thought I'd investigate: so today I spent some time reading Le Monde, the Parisian paper of record for the Francophone world. I am happy to report that French "outrage" is exaggerated, at least based on the comments I read on this story (warning: if you can read French, it is quite douchey.) Quite the opposite: most of the commentors railed about how there seems to be two laws, one for famous people and one for everyone else, about how Polanski is an admitted rapist and should be punished, and basically how the "but he made cool movies" film is an utter failure. (One poster had an arresting image of an "evil cocktail" that the article's author had mixed up, and ironically said she was glad she only had sons, so that no daughter of hers would have to drink it. I thought I was at a French Shakesville.)

And then there's this article, whose title is pretty obvious even if you don't have much French: "La Loi est la même pour les artistes et les citroyens." It's an interview with Maitre Eolas, author of a French legal blog, and he calmly shoots down most of the arguments against the arrest of Polanski. I like the last paragraph the best, where he answers the "objections" of the artists that it wasn't fair to surprise him with an arrest when he came to collect an award in Switzerland:
C'est un peu le principe d'une arrestation que d'être effectuée par surprise, sinon, elle échoue... D'autres estiment qu'il ne pouvait pas s'en douter puisqu'il se rendait régulièrement en Suisse, dans sa maison à Gstaad. Cela n'a rien à voir car cette fois il venait recevoir un prix dans un festival, sa venue était annoncée dans tous les journaux. Et apparemment, la police lit le journal.
A quick and dirty translation (anyone who speaks French better than I do, please feel free to jump in with corrections!):
It is a principle that an arrest should be effected with surprise, otherwise it fails...they consider that he couldn't have suspected it since he came regularly to Switzerland, to his house in Gstaad. But that this time he came to receive a prize at a festival has nothing to do with it; the venue was announced in all the newspapers, and apparently, the police read the news.

Waker Attie provides a better translation below--thanks!
It is somewhat the essence of an arrest that it comes as a surprise, otherwise it fails... Others think that he couldn't have suspected it since he came regularly to Switzerland, to his house in Gstaad. But that is totally different: this time he came to accept an award at a festival, and his attendance was announced in all the newspapers. And apparently, the police read the news.

Cahiers Parisiens: les derniers jours

My last three days in Paris, I went to museums twice; since on Tuesdays most of the museums are closed, I stayed in and worked that day. (Pity, it was another beautiful day--but at least I went out and had some Senegalese food that night. Chicken Yassa is incredibly yummy!)

That Monday I went to the Louvre. Because, as I said last time, you just have to. Since I've been sharing my favorite paintings with you, I guess I should include my favorite painting in the Louvre not named La Gioconde (or the Mona Lisa, if you're feeling vulgar, heh.) It's by Caravaggio--I just love the voluptuousness of his canvases:

It's an astonishing work, although I understand why the monks who commissioned it ended up rejecting the painting--there's absolutely nothing transcendent about it at all, except for the all-too-human transcendence of grief. No halos (well, just a tiny one), no angels, no heavenly light, just a corpse and mourners. Amazing.

Then Wednesday, my last day in Paris...I wrote a post that you may remember, then headed out to the newest museum in the city, the Musée du Quai Branly. This is an ethnography museum. (We call it history if you can beat us in a war, and ethnography when you can't.) And it's a stunning place: beautifully designed, with a wonderful garden surrounding a modern building with a pleasantly chunky, open interior. Of course, given that it's an ethnography museum, everything is done up in shades of brown and ocher, with plenty of shadows and dim lighting; c'est normal.

I don't want to run the place down too much, because it really has an amazing collection. But there were amusing moments. If you follow the suggested path, you start in Oceania, and right at the start they have a lot of items having to do with the initiation into the various men's societies that are a rite of adolescence in New Guinea. And I was reading one of the placards about these rites, which mentioned in passing: "women's societies are known to exist, but very little is known about them." Which surprised me--not. Because I'm sure the male anthropologists were a) not able to gain access to the rites and b) really didn't care too much, either.

I get bitey sometimes.

The one part of the museum that truly stunned me, though, was a temporary exhibit on Tarzan. Being of an occasionally pulpy mindset, I thought that might be an interesting thing to see: especially because there's certainly a lot to be looked at in the Tarzan mythos, and how it relates to Western perceptions of Africa, and African perceptions of those perceptions. And while there does indeed remain a lot to be said, this exhibit sure the fuck wasn't going to say it.

Oh no, ducks. Instead, it started out comparing Tarzan to the heroes of ancient Greek and Roman myths, and actually went downhill from there. There were plenty of blown up pages from Tarzan comics (continuous salient feature: Africa had a lot of people in it, but almost none of them were black--there were lost Romans, lost Egyptians--drawn as Caucasians, natch--lost explorers, lost elephants, but damn few not-lost-at-all-because-we-live-here Africans.) There were video exhibits of King Kong (uncommented upon: the, uh, racism?) and in general an astonishing avoidance of the fact that the Tarzan myth is about a white English lord who rules over a kingdom of black apes. No metaphors for colonialization there, no sir, just keep on walking!

And of course this is--surprising? Maybe not really?--for a country that once claimed a significant portion of sub-Saharan Africa as its territory. And has remained uncomfortable with that legacy ever since.

That chewed up most of the day. For dinner, I went to a bistro called Boullion Chartier in the 9th. It was recommended by my exchange mate as a very traditional French bistro--so traditional that they actually keep track of your check by writing it on the tablecloth. Since I was alone, they seated me with somebody--the place was empty, but it fills up quickly. He turned out to be a montréalais who spoke excellent English, so I had one last anglophone conversation in Paris over my steak au poivre and profiteroles. Then I went home and watched the last episode of Heroes, Season 1: my exchange mate had a copy, which I was able to switch over to English, except for the subtitles for the Japanese characters; those I had to read, quickly, in French (and French as it's spoken, at that: but now I know that Je l'ai reussi! means "I did it!" in French.)

So that was my Paris sojourn, my attempt to find out what it would be like to live in the City of Light. And I think I succeeded; it was a good fit, though I recognize to really live there I'd have to truly immerse myself in the language and not spend so much time in self-created anglophone spaces. And of course I found privilege there, expected and unexpected, much that was the same as home, and a few that were quite different.

But you knew that already; heck, it's really not even fair: I always find privilege.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rapist, International Fugitive Arrested: Media Aghast

I will preface this by saying I like Roman Polanski's movies, at least the ones I've seen--Rosemary's Baby, Frantic, The Pianist, and especially Chinatown; I saw a restored print of it ten years ago that was almost a religious experience.

His sudden arrest in Switzerland over the weekend has stunned the world's artistic community. A true cinematic artist, one who's long-suffered and even been forgiven by his victim, opinion seems to be that...the man is a rapist and why the fuck are we having this conversation?

Yeah. Rapist. He didn't "have sex" with a 13-year old girl. He raped her. Well, first he got her drunk and high on quaaludes. Then he raped her.

Don't believe me? Check out the Smoking Gun's transcript of her testimony. I looked at it for the first time on Sunday. It made me ill.

Predictably, the comments at the New York Times website were full of fail. A lot of people seem to feel that he's "suffered enough." They base this, I guess, because he hasn't been allowed to re-enter the United States since he fled in 1977. Instead, he's had to content himself with making lots of money directing movies in Europe and living in France.

Ya know, I just got back from France. That's really not a hardship assignment.

The latest bit of doucheoisie posturing is this:

Nearly 100 entertainment industry professionals, including the movie directors Pedro Almodovar, Wong Kar Wai and Wim Wenders urged in a petition that Mr. Polanski be release, saying: “Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision.”

Ronald Harwood, who won an Oscar as screenwriter of “The Pianist,” which Mr. Polanski directed, said: “It’s really disgraceful. Both the Americans and the Swiss have miscalculated.”

Jack Lang, a former French culture minister, said that for Europeans the development showed that the American system of justice had run amok.

“Sometimes, the American justice system shows an excess of formalism,” Mr. Lang said, “like an infernal machine that advances inexorably and blindly.”
One wonders, however, if Wong Kar Wei, Wim Wenders, or Pedro Almodovar would feel comfortable leaving a prepubescent female relative unattended around Roman Polanski. Or if they'd be arguing about the "great artist" exemption for a shocking act of rape if it were their 13-year old daughter.

Liss McEwan, as usual, hits it right on the head:

Very few, if any, of the people who have publicly defended Polanski, or who have worked with him, make it their business to champion or associate themselves with admitted child rapists. They make an exception for Polanski for the same reason exceptions have been for other famous, artistic men – directors, writers, actors, comedians, singers, musicians, dancers, choreographers, painters, sculptors, photographers – who have been known to sexually assault women and/or children: Because geniuses get special dispensation.

Because there's only one Roman Polanski.

So goes the breathless defense of the artiste, while the flipside of that particular coin, because thirteen-year-old girls are a dime a dozen, goes unspoken.

So yeah. Overaggressive prosecution! Of a child molester! Who admitted to it! That's overzealousness, all right! Just remember, as long as you can paint a nice picture or make a good movie, you get to rape young girls!

But not boys. That would be sick.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cahiers Parisiens: Tout le monde parle à moi

Bon jour, mes canards! Paris may be a fading memory, but I will try and catch you up on the last few days of the Cahiers Parisiens.

Maybe it didn't come through, but I didn't talk much with people while I was in Paris. This is not that unusual. I work either from home or at a desk marooned at the other end of the floor from everyone else; I don't often go out to bars either home or in Europe; and in general, I am a misanthropic sour puss. This helps out in the writing game, but isn't so much use in other places.

But...well, the last few days in Paris I actually had some interactions with people.

The first couple happened on Sunday last. I went up to the Canal St. Martin, which is a hip spot to hang out nowadays. The canal is indeed quite lovely, and they close off motor traffic along it on the weekends. I stopped at a little cafe (amusingly, when I asked for the menu, the waitress brought an enormous blackboard with the specials written on it out to my table.) While I roasted in the sun I wrote the first draft of my long screed below. (I had what amounted to a mess of egg over good country ham with some sort of vinegar sauce--it was fabulous.)

After brunch I walked over towards Buttes Chaumont park, one of the gems of non-tourist Paris, a magnificent landscape of hills, crags, and a lovely lake. Here's a picture of the grotto in the center of the park:However, on the way over to the park, I had my first experience with...Latin lovers.

I was crossing the street when a young Tunisian guy (as he told me) came up to me to tell me how pretty I was. Which was nice of him, but I kept walking. He followed me, and we struck up a bit of a conversation in French. Admittedly, I was a bit lonely, which let me fall into the trap of talking with this guy, something I wouldn't have done in English. And of course, he got a bit grabby as the conversation progressed. I did finally manage to extricate myself (after a bunch of "arretes" and "ma relationship est grave!") but it left me slightly shaken. And of course this all flows into my background as a trans woman: should I be worried because I don't have the experience that would have helped me learn the skills to deflect guys like this, or relieved because I haven't spent my whole life deflecting guys like this?

Later that day, as I was walking home (baguette in hand, of course), another guy came up to me and began to talk rapidly in French to me. I couldn't really follow him, but it wasn't hard to figure out what he was after. I let him down firmly but gently: "S'il vous plait lassez-moi suele." (Please leave me alone.)

And oh! On Monday, I went to pay my respects at the Louvre (you have to see the Mona Lisa while you're in Paris...you just do.) And as I was walking to the Metro, another guy wanted to "make my acquaintance." This time I just said I didn't speak French.

But the best story has to be when I was walking home from the Louvre on Monday. I passed a store I had previously seen, and just had to snap a pic, because...well, because the sign is a rather weak joke:

The name of the store is Les Bonnes Compines which in French means something approximately like "The Good Girlfriends." Fair enough...but it's written with out the space between Les and Bonnes, making it look a bit like...something else in English.

As I said, a weak joke. I'm not proud

Like most of the stores in that region of Paris, it's a wholesaler--I had basically landed in the Parisian garment district, with "Ne vente pas au detail" (wholesale only) in almost every window. And for some reason, when I took the pic, a woman in a telephone booth (yes, they still have them there) started to scream at me.

I couldn't follow everything she said, but it was mostly about how I shouldn't take a pic. I tried to explain, but only got as far as Parce que...("because...") before she started to scream again. She even spit on the ground. Eventually I just walked away...I guess she thought I was some sort of corporate spy or something.

Shows what you get for acting like a tourist; I should know better.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

If it's Wednesday, it's Below The Belt!

My latest post at Below the Belt is up:
It must be something in the air: we seem to be having another round of the Great Cisgender Debate. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the question is whether or not it is appropriate to refer to people who are not trans with the term cis, short for cisgender, as trans is short for transgender.
You can read it here. And while you're at it, there's my companion piece down below, this post on cis and this post on the linguistics of cis at Billerico, and genderbitch's take on helen's post as well. When you're done, you'll be as exhausted about the subject as I am!

I'm off to the museums! Enjoy!

Nonsense is as Nonsense Does

As a companion to my new post on Below the Belt about use of the term "cis," I thought I'd amplify my issues with helen boyd's recent post on (en)Gender ("Jeez Louise this cisgendered nonsese": nothing dismissive there, nope!) about her objections to the term, as I found the post highly problematic for a number of reasons.

First, she claims that "cis" is unclear, because you can't tell if it means cisgendered or cissexual:
[...]I’m going to claim a difference between cisgender & cissexual. Cisgender, the problem seems to me, is not the easy opposite of transgender. Cisgender implies, or means, or could mean (depending on who you talk to), that someone’s sex and gender are concordant. So your average butch woman, who is not trans, or is, depending on how she feels about it (see Bear Bergman), is now somehow cisgender. So is someone like me. So is a femme-y gay man who maybe performs a more gender normative masculinity for his job. That is, those of us who have variable genders, who maybe are gender fluid or gender neutral but who don’t identify as trans, are now somehow cisgender.
I have a number of issues with this. For one thing, she does not make the same objection about "trans": that is, when we use trans, there's no clear indication as to what kind of trans person you are talking about: crossdresser, drag queen (yes, some are trans), transsexual, etc. So it demands something more from the term cis than is demanded from trans, which in of itself is an act of privilege.

But I also don't think that the division between cissexual and cisgender is clear, or even as important as helen (and Julia Serano) make it out to be. Yes, I know, it seems so logical: we make a division between sex and gender, so we should make a similar axis for trans and cis.

On closer inspection, however, it simply does not hold up. There are trans people, for example, who live fulltime in a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, with legal recognition of that gender, who have never had either hormones or surgery. Yet I feel more than comfortable calling them transsexual. And this just points out another issue: it puts so much focus on a transsexual's body, and not his or her gender--and that plays far too easily into the very ways that anti-trans people attempt to invalidate trans people's genders. Finally, I've met many trans people of all stripes, and all have had some sort of body issue that the cis people I know simply don't have--the motivations are completely different. Both a straight man and a heterosexual crossdresser might pluck their eyebrows: but only the crossdresser does it to look more like a woman. So even if we were to accept that cissexual is a valid distinction, it is experienced quite differently by cis- and transgendered people.

The key point for me is that you have to be transgendered to be transsexual. That is, transsexuality is a phenomenon within the larger trans condition. It is a variety of trans experience, not an essential axis of being. Therefore, I think it is safe to say that in the absence of other qualifiers, "cis" means cisgendered and "trans" means transgendered.

So, taking helen's two examples, can we call them "cisgendered"? I think we can, because both a butch lesbian and an effeminate gay man don't ever identify as a gender other than they were assigned. That is, a butch calls herself a woman, a queeny gay man calls himself a man. And when they stop--we call them something else.
Telling me, & other partners whose lives are profoundly impacted by the legal rights / cultural perceptions of trans people, that we are “not trans” implies that we are also not part of the trans community. I’ve been saying for years now that we are. When trans people are killed, harassed, not hired, fired due to discrimination, denied health care, etc. etc. etc., their loved ones suffer along with them. Their families, their lovers, their kids especially. We are not just “allies.” We are vested, dammit, & a part of the trans community, so when “cisgender” comes to mean, or is used to mean, “not part of the trans community,” we are once again left out in the dark.
And...wow. This is an extraordinary statement and I am struggling to understand why it was said.

First, I'd have a lot easier time figuring it out had helen not ended her post with this:
I have lots of genders, but I’m not trans.
So...this is only a problem if trans people say it?

Second, replace "trans" with "in a wheelchair" in that paragraph and you can see how this starts to get queasy for me.

What do we mean by "community"? When we say "gay community" or "deaf community," do we mean allies and families of gay or deaf people, or only those who are gay or deaf? I think the usage is often contextual, but most commonly we mean only those members who have the trait being discussed. And with good reason, because while an ally may simply stop being an ally--friendships can end, married people can be divorced, a person's political alignment may change--for the person with the trait it is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to remove that trait. I don't think it is uncalled for to make the primary meaning of community those people who have the greatest self-interest in it.

This leads us to another of helen's points:
Likewise, cisgender seems to get used a lot in place of “ignorant or unsympathetic to trans issues” which is also bullshit. Being cisgender or experiencing cissexual privilege – say by having a doctor assume correctly that I have a uterus – is not the same thing as being ignorant or unsympathetic to trans issues.
The exclusion and silencing of allies is a problem for all progressive movements, not just trans movements: witness the problematic relationships between men and feminists, for example. Some people certainly make attempts to cold-shoulder cis people from trans discussions, and often this is hurtful and unnecessary. At the same time, however, we should recognize that a movement needs both safe spaces and leaders from within its primary constituency: I call this the "no male president of NOW" theory. And just as straight or white people can condescend, obstruct, or even derail gay or black rights movements, cis people can do the same in trans movements, and trans people are well within their rights to talk about it and safeguard the goals of their movements.

This doesn't mean, however, that use of the term cis means open season on trashing allies. Trashing is a serious problem for any movement; bell hooks talks at length about this in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Trans people have a responsibility to make sure that they use the term responsibly, and not just as a shorthand for "bigot." But cis people have a responsibility too--to listen to trans people, and not get so caught up on a point of terminology that they use silencing tactics wholesale to shut down discussion. Men didn't like the term "male privilege" but feminists insisted on it because it was a valuable concept that made visible a previously invisible prejudice; and while sometimes people used it in an irresponsible or even hateful way, the term has entered our discourse and is an important part of everyday discussions about gender.
i guess the point is that there are women, & gay men, who actually have legitimate & well thought out reasons for objecting to the term [...] so if all these explanations of why some people criticize the term or how it’s used, only convinces some trans people that anyone who is uncomfortable being called cis is (1) ignorant, (2) unhip, and (3) unwittingly transphobic, then i guess there’s been no point whatsoever in explaining that maybe people have their reasons, & that none of them have anything to do with being any of those things.

which i suppose means i should go ahead & go back to using “tranny” since i think it’s playful & sweet, & to hell with any trans people who don’t like being called that, because obviously they’re just (1) unhip, (2) ignorant, and (3) self hating.

This comment was addressed to me on the discussion boards at helen's site. But the thing is, and as I argued there, there really haven't been any good reasons to object: just people who feel that they're being called bigots, or saying that they don't identify as cis and thus the term shouldn't be used--on them, or really, on anyone.

But both arguments fail. First, it is not clear that every use of the term cis is conflated with "transphobic bigot"; plenty of feminist and progressive sites use the word every day in its primary meaning, "the opposite of trans." And yet I don't see posts by helen directed at Liss McEwan at Shakespeare's Sister, for example. It only seems to be problematic when trans people use the term. Now, the argument can be made that trans people use it the most more often in a problematic way. And I'll agree, but always with the caveat that trans people are also going to be the ones with the greatest understanding of cis privilege, and will call people out on it more frequently than others will. After all, who uses male privilege more often? Feminists or non-feminist guys? So yes, the most problematic uses of "male privilege" will be by feminists, but there will also be a much higher volume of overall use.

And it's not as if there isn't any oppression here or anything. That can make people upset.

The other argument is that cis is an identity. But it's not; as I said on Below the Belt, it's a descriptive term, like trans. That trans has more in common with an identity is purely a function of the oppression and disprivileging of trans people, just as it is with being black, or disabled. We use terms like "identify as trans" because there is a step you have to take, an identification you have to make: you have to reject the dominant culture's discourse about who you are--perverted, subhuman, crippled, and instead find a positive strength in who you are. Trans isn't an identity: it is the act of being trans, of being unashamed for what you are, that is the act of identification.

I mean, we don't talk about whiteness or being able as identities: and neither is being cis.

So all we are left with, then, is a really elaborate tone argument. And a tone argument is never an acceptable objection--it's a silencing technique. (As is helen's idea that the word only be used in an "appropriate" context, like a classroom.) And make no mistake, that's what's happening here. By telling trans people that there can be no word for people who aren't trans, we are being told that we are so unique and so different that we are the pure exception of the human race; that every other oppressed group gets to have de-centering language (sighted, able, hearing, straight) but we don't. That it is impossible to talk about not being trans without mentioning being trans. (Quick: I can write an article about dating as a straight woman, put straight in the title or the first paragraph, and never mention lesbians anywhere; that is impossible to do with a term like "non-trans.") And what happens when there is no term for non-trans? Simple. All too often, when people are talking about being non-trans, they will simply not even mention it: they will remain comfortably normal.

I am neither alien nor monster. I am not permanently othered by the accident of being born. And I will not accept a permanent second-class existence in the world simply because a three-letter word pisses some people off.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cahiers Parisiens: ce qui vous tenez, ça c'est ce que je prends

I've finally escaped my Catcave the last several days, making my way out to a few museums I hadn't visited before. First was the Musée Carnavalet on Friday, down in the Marais. Carnavalet focuses on the history of Paris itself, and has dioramas, objects d'art, paintings, etc. from various time periods. They also had a special exhibition on the French Revolution, which engaged the military historiophile and the Francophile in me: the Revolution is one of my favorite time periods, and they had a wealth of stuff. Including some of the commemorative models of the Bastille that were actually carved from the stones of the Bastille itself.

Plus I discovered that I could read the Declaration of the Rights of Man in French. Score one for me.

I've been eating lunch rather than dinner the last several days, since lunch is cheaper, so I had my traditional, once a trip croque monsieur at a nearby cafe, washed down with some Haut-Médoc and a cup of strong French espresso. I've taken to drinking coffee in the French style after meals--espresso, with some sugar to cut the bitterness. It makes me feel all expatriate and such. Though I suppose I'd really need to drink some Pernods in a bar with a zinc counter top, and scribble furiously away in my notebooks about running the bulls at Pamplona and other homoerotic displays of masculinity.

Wait. That's not me. That was Hemmingway. Maybe I've been drinking too much wine.

Saturday I had a real treat...well, not an unproblematic treat. But you've probably come to expect that of me. I went to the Musée Guimet, over by the Trocadero. This is the main Asian art museum in Paris. I didn't go straight there, acutally: I had a large lunch nearby first, which included a desert of profiteroles--cream puffs stuffed with vanilla ice cream and drenched in chocolate sause--my favorite desert in the world, and something that it is almost impossible to get (at least, impossible to get done right) back in the states:

Anyway, the museum really has an excellent collection, from all parts of Asia. The India collection was quite good; and as someone that has been interested in Shiva since my days researching Indian mythology, I was happy to see this marvelous bronze of Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance:

They have an excellent Cambodian section. As I've been to Cambodia this year, it was quite pleasant at first to reacquaint myself with the amazing and monumental Khmer art--to see one of the gently smiling, inexplicable faces of the Bayon silently contemplating me again, to look at a marvelously preserved naga, to see a beautiful bas-relief apsara.

But something began to bother me. When I would read the labels to see where these things came from, I began to feel...uncomfortable. That's because I've actually been to those places; I've seen the elephant terrace, the royal palace, the Bayon of Angkor Thom. And given that Cambodia was a French colony for ninety years, I thought it was a pretty good bet that they didn't ask if they could take any of those things.

This isn't a new issue, of course: the Louvre has the best egyptology collection outside of Egypt, because of Napoleon's conquests there; the British plundered the Greek world to build their amazing collections; even within Europe itself museum collections are often the plunder of war.

Still, the enormous gap of wealth, privilege and power between the colonial nations of the nineteenth century and the countries they subjugated seems to lend an air of disquietude that doesn't linger over the internecine push and shove of Europe's long shabby history of warfare. Because they essentially stole these things from people who found it difficult or impossible to resist. Stole, and left no recompense, and often no regrets. Even the great humanist Andre Malraux got into the act, trying to steal artifacts and whole bas-reliefs from the newly-rediscovered and beautifully-preserved Banteay Srei in Cambodia.

Of course, it's nice that people in other places in the world can see these things, and it's good to have some of them safe in a museum--the Angkor artifacts suffered during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. But that still doesn't make up for the crime of taking them in the first place. I mean...they could have just asked.

In any case, maybe it's appropriate that this guy, donated by the women of the United States in the memory of Lafayette, should be right outside the museum:

(Yeah, that's good ol' George himself.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cahiers Parisiens: les Autres, les Etrangres, le Moi

Last night I was having a somewhat dismal (in Paris, that means it was actually decent) meal over on République when I think I saw the mostly iconic image of 21st century Paris I've ever seen: a guy on a rented bicycle, smoking a cigarette as he rode down the boulevards.

Paris, of course, has an uncomfortable relationship with the modern world. It retains it's preeminent place in the world of fashion, is a major political and business center for Europe, and remains the center of gravity of the francophone world. And, of course, it is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

But so much of that comes from its curious sense of being frozen in time: the perfection of the nineteenth-century vision of Good City Life, the architecture frozen in place, the parks looking almost identitical to the images on the canvases of the Musée d'Orsay. It's static the way New York, my other favorite city in the world, never is: New York reinvents itself every day, in a furious pace of rebuilding, modifying, reconsidering, reconfiguring. Paris sedately glides by, asleep in the long belle rêve of Haussman.

Sometimes I think only Paris' status as the capital of a major country in Europe keeps it a living city. That, and the changing face of the French world.

I am staying in the Oberkampf district, on the northeastern edge of the city. I'm guessing it's going through a gentrification cycle; it's close to the Marais, the former Jewish ghetto that has become not only the heart of gay and lesbian Paris, but the home of most forward-looking fashion designers. It's an area of former factories being transformed into a residential district.

Out here, not quite in the periphery (let alone the banlieues, the suburbs that ring Paris), I still see more people of color than you do in central Paris, tourist Paris: Africans and Berbers from the old colonies, Indians, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabs. It makes me homesick and feel at home at the same time, resembling my ethnically mixed neighborhood in the Great American Metropolis. (Also a rapidly gentrifying area with great restaurants.)

I won't rehearse for you the litany of troubles the changing population of France has brought on: the difficulties in assimilating different ethnicities into the French self-conception, the poverty and racism and rioting in the banlieues, the fact that the President of France once threatened retributary violence on those same rioters, before he was elected. France bans the veil at school, championing the cause of secularism and human rights, and we are left with profoundly mixed feelings about exactly what liberties are being abridged, and who has the right to do that. Etre Muslulman en France, screams the headline of one magazine I see advertised: being Muslim in France. What is it like, I, they, wonder, to be marooned in a culture that regards you cautiously, obliged to help you because of the mythic ideals of its own past, but not sure how to come to terms with being more than it was in the past: plural, multiple, different. How it is to be Other until that happens, if it ever does.

I could claim some parcel of this terrain, as both a woman and trans, but I really doubt it's the same: here, as in America, the swath my privilege as a white, able-bodied, educated person cuts through most hindrances.

Still: Tuesday night I went to an aikido class. The dojo has a very different style compared to my dojo back home: much harder, more concerned with proper form than movement. A good experience, but too much like my original aikido dojo for my taste.

I've talked about my French being better on this trip, but the truth is, it's still very weak, comparatively. I can read it passably well (today I was reading the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" in French and getting most of it), but anyone who speaks even moderately fast will have me in the dust. So, when the teacher would explain the technique, I would be...lost. I have almost no vocabulary for body parts: no word for wrist, barely able to recognize "leg" or "knee." I would get a word in every so often, and occasionally a general sense, but for the most part I'd be lost, and have to rely only on what I could see.

Which is the best way to learn, actually. But in those moments...I was the other. I was the one lost in a sea of incomprehension, struggling to use all my wits to figure things out, almost mute, ignorent. (There are times I grow so frustrated with how I speak, because my mind leaps so far out in front of what I actually know how to say: and I know I must sound stupid, with my mangled syntax and wonky accent.) And this is a valuable lesson to learn, to hold to myself the next time I get frustrated with someone else.

We never learn more about our privilege than when we are called on it. Or made to see the other side of it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cahiers Parisiens: À faire vôtre conaissance, je suis ravie

Désolée, mes canards! Sorry, Ducks! Been an odd few days--an exhausting theory fight on a board I belong to, and general exhaustion! You see, it would seem that I did an apartment exchange with a French person who only drinks tea. That's right! No means of creating coffee in the apartment except a jar of instant coffee. Which I was actually desperate enough to use.

So I've been drinking tea. Now, I know that the UKians in my audience will think this odd, but tea doesn't wake me up, or at least not enough, not like coffee. And I think I've been going into serious caffeine withdrawal, which has completely messed up my sleep cycle. So today's big accomplishments--on the day I needed to do a solid day's work to get back on track--was walking down the Boulevard Voltaire to a kitchen appliances store where I got a tiny french press to make coffee with. And after I'd had a pot, and took a long nap, I finally am feeling human again.

So anyway. Do you like puns? do you like obscure French puns that only make sense in English! I do! I've named two blogs after that way, and the title of this post! Which I will explain below.

On Monday I went to the opening of Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Venetian Rivalries at the Louvre, thanks to a ticket my exchange mate scored for me. I'm not a huge fan of the Cinquecento, but there's obviously some insanely good stuff done by these painters, so I was happy to go--plus sailing into the special exhibition hall in the Louvre was pretty posh.

The show has some really good paintings, and they are really beautiful--though I agree a bit with Michelangelo's critique that the Venetian painters placed color over drawing skill. (It's okay; you can make the same criticism of my favorite painting in the world, which has some awkward bits--look at the way the arm kind of hangs out there in the foreground.) And as I walked through the exhibit, two thoughts came immediately to mind:

A) These guys painted real women!
Take a look at the centerpiece of the exhibit, one of Titian's most famous paintings, Danaë:

It's astonishing to contrast Danaë with media images today--her breasts, hips, thighs, arms--and look, she even has a bit of stomach. And she's a gorgeous, idealized image of femininity; this is what women were supposed to look like.

In fact, she looks a lot like Lizzi Miller...the plus-size (size 14) model:

Although she's hardly idealized, at least by some people:
So what do you think? Does Lizzi Miller look fantastic or is this lowering standards for stick thinness industrywide?
(For a little more intelligent discussion, see this Below the Belt post.)

However, my appreciation for this fact was kinda mitigate by my next observation...

B) This exhibit is a little...rapey

OK, a lot rapey.

I mean, the signature painting of the exhibit--the afore-referenced Danaë--depicts, well, the rape of a woman by Zeus. Oh, and did I mention that she had been kidnapped by her father and locked up to prevent her from having a kid? I know the Greeks weren't really big on happy stories, but still.

In fact, and I guess sort of to it's credit, the exhibit has a whole couple of rooms about the ways nudes are depicted in the arts of these masters. But even that was a bit problematic: wall to wall naked women, offering themselves up to men, or the male gaze, or alone by themselves (letting you gaze voyeuristically at them.) And in one room, there were five separate treatments of the Rape of Lucretia. Which is a lot of rape to have in one room, even if the paintings themselves are exquisitely decorated.

So that takes me back to French puns.

One of the things you say in French when you are introduced to someone is Ravissante à faire vôtre conaissance. Now, ravissante means ravished; and in French, this is basically only used in the way we use the English word ravishing, that is, beautiful.

But it comes from the same roots and same sense as ravished in English: to take, to carry off...to rape.

So that's why I flipped it around in my post title, one translation of which might be: "to meet you, I am ravished."

I don't mean to say that in French you say that you're raped when you meet people. That's not what it means anymore. But it is an artifact of how rape, how the principles of rape--that a woman's body belongs not to her, but the men who look at her, who can take her--pervades every corner of our culture. You can see it art; you can hear it in language; you can feel it in the way men look at you, or in the long lists that people send you telling you how you can avoid being assaulted--because assault is an implacable force of nature, not the acts of people with the moral capacity to make decisions.

But hey, don't believe me. Just ask Tucker Max!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Les Cahiers Parisiens de C.L. Minou: un dimanche de feminisme

So yesterday I managed to do a few feminist things while here in Paris--both homages, of a sort.

First, I visited Père-Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris and a convenient ten-minute walk from the apartment. I didn't stay long, just long enough to visit the tomb of Heloise and Abelard, the great medieval lovers and philosophers.

After that (and after a quick café au lait--my exchange mate doesn't drink coffee, it seems, and I'm in a caffeine deficiency from trying to make do with tea), I dropped by Violette and Co., a feminist/LGBT bookstore in the arrondissement. I picked up a new copy of Le Deuxième Sexe, volume I--I somehow managed to lose the copy I bought last year--and a book called Je suis pas feministe, mais... ("I'm not a feminist, but..."), mostly because I have a book in English with the same title. They're very different books--the French one is a collection of pointed cartoons, the English one a collection of feminist facts aimed at consciousness raising (i.e., if you believe/know all these things, you really are a feminist.) The cartoons are interesting to me beyond their humor (which I mostly get) because they reproduce spoken French, a very different thing from written French or even the French they teach you at school.

On that note (and of interest to nobody besides myself), I'm doing better with my French than ever--I even attempted to use the subjunctive while talking to the clerk at Violette's. (We also discussed, unbelievably enough, the fact that a) the only translation of The Second Sex into English was, as I said, absolument merde, and b) there's a new one coming, thank goodness.) In any case, it's a relief to me, as one of my quirks is that I actually like to speak French, even if I'm not very good at it.

Today, I'm off to the Louvre--my exchange mate got me a ticket to the premiere of a Titian/Tintoretto show. Tomorrow, I'm going to try aikido Paris-style.

Monday Media Watch: Oh NYT, You've Done It Again

Oh, New York Times! You mixed-up kid! When you're not panting all over the latest Dan Brown novel (for shame, Janet Maslin, for shame) you're punting muddle-headed essays on gender on us.

Let's take a look-see...hm, they talk about Caster Semenya--hey, join the club! I used the controversy to talk about gender issues too, seeing as gender and appearances were a major part of my life. What's Peggy Orenstein got to say?
I had my own reasons to be fascinated by Semenya’s story: I related to it. Not directly — I mean, no one has ever called my biological sex into question. No one, that is, except for me. After my breast-cancer diagnosis at age 35, I was told I almost certainly had a genetic mutation that predisposed me to reproductive cancers. The way I could best reduce my risk would be to surgically remove both of my breasts and my ovaries. In other words, to amputate healthy body parts. But not just any parts: the ones associated in the most primal way with reproduction, sexuality, with my sense of myself as female.


No, wait, I don't.

I mean the whole point of the Caster Semenya story is how people question your gender, right? Now, not to diminish Ms. Orenstein's pain here. I am well aware of how terrible cancer, breast cancer, and the surgeries proposed are, and how not having breasts or a womb or ovaries can make you question your femininity and your sense of yourself as female, as a woman. (I'm rather intimately acquainted with that, actually.)

But like they say over here, quoi?
So I began to fret: without breasts or hormone-producing ovaries, what would the difference be, say, between myself and a pre-op female-to-male transsexual? Other than that my situation was involuntary? That seemed an awfully thin straw on which to base my entire sense of womanhood. What, precisely, made me a girl anyway? Who got to decide? How much did it matter?
Um...the difference would be that you thought of yourself as a woman? Ya think? And waitaminute--involuntary? Are you kidding me?

I guess you can say that starting treatment to transition is voluntary--I mean, you have to decide to do it; nobody makes you. But the being trans part isn't.

Oh, goodness, ducks, there's a lot to pick apart in the essay--like when she says biology is destiny! Sorta! But it totes shouldn't mean anything to women's rights or stuff (which seems pretty baffling.) She does inch close to something important though:
According to Sheri Berenbaum, a professor of psychology and pediatrics at Penn State who studies children with disorders of sex development, even people with ambiguous biology tend to identify as male or female, though what motivates that decision remains unclear. “People’s hormones matter,” she said, “but something about their rearing matters too. What about it, though, no one really knows.”

There is something mysterious at work, then, that makes us who we are, something internally driven. Maybe it’s about our innate need to categorize the world around us. Maybe it arises from — or gives rise to — languages that don’t allow for neutrality. My guess, however, is that it’s deeper than that, something that transcends objectivity, defies explanation.
Now, that I can agree with. I mean, that's the story of my life, right? Except that in my case, my sense of gender was at odds with my body. I didn't choose a middle way or androgyny or something like that (though people do and that's just as valid as my own gender), but instead was impelled to think of myself as female. Why? And why is it so hard for some people to accept that about me--why do people cling to narrowly construed models of gender? What is it in human culture or the human brain that does that? These are good questions! Ms. Orenstein, maybe you'll leave me on a good note!
I know that my sex could never really be changed by any surgeon’s scalpel.
Thunk. Boy it's a good thing my desk is 5,000 miles away.

I mean, I know what she means, and it actually follows the same course as my own thinking: my gender was female before, during, and after my surgery. But sheesh, lady, for TS and intersex people, surgery can be Kind. Of. Important.

And that's just it. She wants to talk about gender, she even brings in the example of a famous person who is intersex (or presumed to be, thanks to the leaks of evil, evil people), but does she engage with any intersex or transsexual people, who sure as hell know a lot about intrinsic gender identity?

Fuck no.

People get all in an uproar, it seems lately, about the word cis as opposed to trans. (Right now on a message board I still read we're having our latest battle about it, a three-way fight between cis folks who don't want the word applied to them, trans folks who want it applied in the neutral and descriptive way, and other trans folks who oppose its use and want to be nice in hope of getting a cookie from the cis folks.) But an article like this shows exactly why we need to have a word like this: because the privilege of not only never wondering about your gender identity, but never needing to know anything about people who have, is astonishing and smothering. So many of the questions Ms. Orenstein ponders have been batted around for years. There's research, books, testimonials, diatribes, and even blogs.

There were answers. But privilege deafened her to them.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Adventures in Transition: Édition française

Bon jour, mes canards! I'm spending the next two weeks here in Paris, doing the apartment exchange thing (there's some value to living in the Great American Metropolis--people want your place!) I hope to report on le feminisme and transness here in France, and also make some of you green with envy.

More later--I splurged on a traditional dinner (vegetable soup, confit de canard, crème caramel and 50 bloody cl of wine) and need to sleep it off.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

If it's Wednesday, it must be Below The Belt

My bimonthly post for Below The Belt is up!
One of the things about being part of a maginalized population that is the most fun--if for fun, you read "uncomfortable, occasionally stomach-churningly so"--is that many pleasures cannot simply remain unmixed: messages, tropes, and cultural references that can be overlooked, disregarded or just plain unseen by the dominant group hit home with you in unmistakable and unignorable ways.

Even worse is when you make the, ahem, transition from dominant to marginalized groups. Things that once gave you easy enjoyment now leave a bad taste in your mouth, and when you complain, people tell you you've become humorless or a radical.

And that's just when you talk about popular entertainment.

Which leads me to Adult Swim...

You can read the rest here.

Edit: Links Now Work--Sorry!

How to Tell You've Transitioned, Part I

How can you tell you've transitioned?

...because shopping for clothes becomes a tedious chore rather than a fun excursion.

OK. Not fair, I get that--I know plenty of women of all stripes and origins who enjoy clothes shopping, including me, on occasion. But still...as compared to the times when I constructed myself as a crossdresser, shopping for clothes doesn't have the same kick.

On the face of it, this seems strange. I mean, I no longer have to use the exasperating and even sometime ridiculous accoutrements to round out my figure, give me the appearance of having breasts, add to my hips so that my skirts wouldn't fall down. I've got a body that actually fits the mold women's clothing is intended for...and that is a relief and a pleasure, often.

On the other hand, maybe my body's part of the issue--I've gained about 25 pounds in the last six months, and while that's not an earth-shattering, cry myself to sleep issue, I am a little unhappy about how I look in my clothes lately.

Which got hammered home yesterday when I went out to buy some clothes for the first time in months (business has been slow and I haven't had the cash to spend on clothes--though maybe I'd kill both my issues there if I stopped ordering out all the time.) But I'm travelling tomorrow and wanted to have some new clothes for the trip, especially some casual dresses, which would be light to pack. I didn't find any that I liked, although I did get some new jeans that will actually fit.

I hate shopping for jeans. There are times I just can't even work up the energy to go try them on, even though I think I look good in a lot of different styles of jeans. But I just hate doing it.

Maybe that's another sign I've transitioned.

My relationship with my clothing has always been...interesting. I'm not like a lot of trans women--I don't deny having had a long period of time identifying as a crossdresser; I think I was a crossdresser, albeit one with a greater interest in transitioning than I let on, even to myself. Back in those days, clothes held an allure, a mystique, an air of the forbidden about them. To crossdress was to engage all my hidden desires and frailities at once; the feeling of being at home while crossdressed was exhilerating and terrifying, and my clothes were fraught with a lot of meaning.

Which isn't to say that clothes aren't fraught with meaning for anyone--compare the different uniforms we wear every day, from bike messenger with one pants leg rolled to corporate honcho in a bespoke suit. Clothes are shorthand for our identities, they send out messages about us--sometimes ones that we don't want to send.

For example, when I was in India, I bought two saris. I bought them because I loved India and the culture and the people, because I wanted to bring home a souvenir, because I think saris are beautiful dresses. I even asked a friend of mine (not Indian) if I could wear one of them to her wedding, and she enthusiastically agreed.

All this was before my "second awakening," though. After I began to engage identity politics further, I saw that my wearing a sari just couldn't be an isolated action--that I couldn't avoid all the centuries of past interactions between Western and Indian people, and that ultimately I wouldn't be able to get past the fact that if I wore a sari, I'd be a cool multiculti chick--whereas an Indian woman who wore a sari in America would seem to be "fresh off the boat," unassimilated, perhaps ingnorant of American culture or even English. And that while some Indian people wouldn't have a problem with me wearing a sari, others would, and it wouldn't be easy to just discount their opinion simply because it was a beautiful dress and I liked it a lot.

I did end up wearing the sari, because my friend insisted, and she was the bride. I was fortunate; the only couple I met at the wedding who were from the region didn't mind at all. Still I changed out of the sari and into a dress after the ceremony. And I'm not upset that I felt I had to do it, and certainly not upset at any Indian people who might take offense at me wearing a sari. I'm upset at the four centuries of Westerners who plundered India, who exoticized it, who used and abused the people there. They're the ones who've "ruined" it for me--not their victims.

So yeah, clothes mean a lot more than just something to keep the wind out.

But you knew that already, didn't you? Any woman who has been verbally (or all too often, physically) assaulted because her neckline or hemline had crossed the invisible threshold between "prude" and "slut," who's been told she's "asking for it" because of what she's wearing, who's been told that her outfit was part of the reason she was attacked (as if women in pants and long sleeves are never raped) knows this. Hell, even I knew that back when I was a crossdresser, although sadly like many of the CDs I knew, I don't think I really fully engaged with all the implications of what that meant. (There are things that being full-time does to you.)

Wearing clothes has a context for me now that it didn't have back when I kept mostly to safe spaces--it has the context any woman has to deal with, from issues of personal safety to the whole construct of female beauty and its impossible-to-attain ideals. So yeah, some of the fun has leached out of it. And that's how I can tell I've transitioned.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Sorry ducks--it's the doldrums here, where I try to not flip on the a/c even as it gets warm again, my PHP website continues to progress PHPfully--that is, in fits, starts, and inexplicable error messages--and the rest of my hilariously-titled "free time" is eaten by aikido.

So that's for me, why I've not been writing more (I do have something I want to get down about "Johnny Guitar", which I watched last weekend and was tickled rainbow about, but that will have to wait.) Fortunately, you have been writing here, so...to the mailbag!

First, about the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival: Sal writes
Whilst a trans woman, and feminist, I'm not that bothered over the whole Mich controversy. It's just one festival in the world which has a slightly strict (and from what I can gather, over the years difficult to even enforce) policy. If they want to try and define that someone like myself can't be female by their definitions despite that I've been post-op since 18, well, meh. I say just let them get on with it and I'll happily be at Glastonbury instead!
Well, said! However, I do still think it is important to continue to raise consciousness about MWMF, because it is a very influential event for many in both lesbian and feminist circles. So, I'll keep talking about it, even though you'll likely never see me at one--because three days in the mud only sounds good to me if it's the hot mud treatment at a spa, decadent capitalist that I am!

There were a lot of good responses to my "How to be alone" post (and one slightly clueless--you know who I'm talking about.) Friend of the blog Spatula
had some very interesting things to say about the dimensions of the problem:
You know, maybe setting up the whole thing as "enlightened me vs. barbarous them" is not the only way... I'm starting to see the whole calling-out-and-being-called out as a collaborative figuring-life-out-together thing. I'm muddling through my own thinking and perceptions and how to deal with situations, and so is everyone else.
And while I agree with that wholeheartedly, the thing is--some of these issues have taken on a moral dimension to me, and that makes it hard to not respond forcefully, albeit there need to be ways to temper the insta-crush reaction that you develop online. I think, ultimately, the way forward will be to continue to try and live up to my own ideals: to listen more and talk less, to teach and educate...but also to be willing to take a stand, even when it's not popular.

Also, aikido. Lots of aikido. At the very least I'll be too tired to argue.

Finally, as I expected, my post on video gaming got a bunch of comments. Thank you all, especially VM & feministswithfsd, a blog I really oughta take a look at since there are certain issues we may have in common. I guess I'll update you: I blew up Kilrah, finally, and with fewer qualms than I thought I'd have--I got frustrated at having to fly the mission over and over again until I finally figured out that the Big Bomb would indeed lock on even while I was cloaked. I still have the WC games kicking around on my PC (WCIV plays beautifully and still looks good--twas ahead of its time) but I haven't done much, maybe because I've actually finished those games in the past. And have I mentioned I'm busy?

Speaking of which, I'm late to get picked up and thrown around. Also, I have to go to aikido! More new stuff soon, I promise.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Now Let Us Abhor Wicked Men

I haven't had much to say about the Rihanna incident--where for "incident", I invite and encourage you to read "vicious beating inflicted upon her by an depraved, jealous boyfriend." Like a lot of folks I was appalled at the light sentence he received, incensed that once again money and fame insulate men from the consequences of their actions (but said money and fame didn't do squat for Rihanna) and moved on to the latest outrage.

Turns out, today everything old is new again! Because Chris Brown has kicked off his rehabilitation tour! (You know, the one where a douchebag guy goes on the talk shows, displays a vetted-level of contrition, promises to never do that again, mentions Jesus somewhere, and is immediately rehabilitated in public opinion so you never have to feel guilty about listening to/voting for/paying $12 bucks* to watch him again.)

Chris has hit upon an interesting rehab tactic, however: he claims he doesn't remember assaulting Rihanna:

King, whose interview airs on Wednesday night on CNN's "Larry King Live," asked Brown if he could remember the event, and the singer told him "no."

"I just look at it like, wow, I'm in shock, because, first of all, that's not who I am as a person, and that's not who I promise I want to be," Brown said in a video posted on CNN's website. "So when I look at the police reports or hear about the police reports, I just don't know what to think."

Hey, dude, guess what: that fucking is who you are as a person. A person who beats his girlfriend viciously and repeatedly. Even if you "can't remember" doing it.

Separately, Brown told People in a story for the issue on newsstands Friday that he still loves Rihanna. "I never fell out of love with her. That just wouldn't go away," Brown said.

Well, that seems to be the problem, since the assault started

...when Rihanna found a text message on Brown's phone from "a woman who Brown had a previous sexual relationship with," according to CNN's story.

Yeah, he never fell out of love with her, provided he could get some on the side. And when the woman he "loved" argued with him about that, he attacked her. He assaulted her. He choked her. He bit her.

Brown, 20, said he was distraught the night of the event and "broke down" after he told his mother, who herself was a victim of an abusive relationship.

His mom, Joyce Hawkins, told People that Brown's confession was "the most painful moment of my life," and sitting with her son on Larry King's program, she said she was "totally shocked."

"I know that Chris has never, ever been a violent person. Never," Hawkins said.

I'm supposed to say something sympathetic here about the cycle of abuse. And honestly, I am sympathetic--there's no question that children who are abused, or whose parents have an abusive relationship, are more likely to abuse other people. But that sympathy kind of sputters to an abrupt halt when it includes putting a horrific beatdown on a woman. One that you claim you love.

I mean, it's not like Chris Brown was without resources to help him get over the abuse he'd suffered.

As for Ms. Hawkins...well, see above. And below:

But a story accompanying CNN's video cites a probation report for Brown stating he and Rihanna had two other abusive incidents: one a verbal argument in which Rihanna slapped him and he shoved her, and a second in which he broke the windshields of a rented car while she was with him.

Yeah. Never violent at all.

Of course, the thing is...the thing is. Bloggers like me will write about this. Lots of women and well-thinking men will get outraged. People will be upset. Hell, Rihanna will even do a revenge song about Chris Brown.

And he'll probably go on ultimately like it never happened. And the next time some rich and powerful douchebag beats his girlfriend, he'll go on TV and do his contrition waltz and the rich and powerful douchebag interviewers will pronounce their absolution and it will all go on and on and on again.

Because they know they can wear us down with all the other outrages they throw at us every day, while their patience seems unlimited.