Wednesday, January 27, 2010

BTB: P.O.'d

If it's Wednesday, then it must be Belgium. Wait! No! Below the Belt:
Something interesting happened recently in the Michigan Secretary of State election race.

Now, before you tell me that the word "interesting" and the phrase "Michigan Secretary of State" syntactically can't be in the same sentence together, bear with me, and let me introduce you to Representative Paul Scott:

Seems a charming enough fellow! Step right up, sir, and let us know what you're planning to do for the people of the great Wolverine State! Let's see, I have his website right here...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Secret Lives of Married Men--Now With Bingo Cards

Where am I again? Why, Tiger Beatdown:
I have not, temporally speaking, been doing this here ladybusiness for all that long. (Some would draw a facetious comparison, in fact, to the amount of time I have in fact been a lady, but as that number would vary between never and 37 years depending on whether you asked Germaine Greer or Kate Bornstein, I’ll just move on.)
Yet even that short time, the depressing amount of material that exists out in the lady-hating or lady-indifferent or just lady, get me a beer world can drag you down. Why, you say to yourself as you labor over your blog in a hot kitchen (well, I’m baking cookies, see…) should I address another MRA apologia, tear apart another straw-feminist, or deal with this week’s Exciting Variation on the Tone Argument. (I solve those by getting louder.)
But then, as Sady herself discovered, you come across something absolutely stunning in its bold sweep, all-encompassing douchery, and just plain ol’ damnfoolishness.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Later That Same Evening

I'm not much for the late night talk shows--I don't even watch Jon Stewart when he comes on, preferring to let my DVR work its magic. (Not to mention that there have been more occasions than I care to discuss where Jon was--there's no gentle way to say this--a bit of a douche.)

So I really haven't cared too much about the Leno-O'Brien freeforall on NBC; I have better things to worry about than which middle-aged white guy is going to bore me at 11:35 PM. I haven't watched Conan O'Brien since I was in college, and Letterman since I was in high school--and the odd times I have caught Dave since then have just proved that what played well to my 15-year old, kinda-sorta guy self is pretty crappy nowadays.

And as for Leno, his show has always been an unwatchable piece of trash--he turned hard into the gutter back in 1995 with the Lance Ito dancers and has gleefully wallowed there ever since.

But one thing that I have noticed about this whole fiasco is how often the principals have descended to lady-hating and other associated misogynies. I said noticed, not "surprised at": Leno has frequently been a public prick about women, and Dave...well, Dave built a frakking bedroom over his set so that he could not-quite coerce his not-quite interns with not-quite threats about very, very realistically killing any chance of a career in the business.

So no surprise as well, as Liss noted, that Leno is a contemptible misogynistic jerk:
He takes a swipe at Letterman's marriage that, in trying to hit Letterman, sprays collateral buckshot all over Regina Lasko, who is married to Letterman. And that's not a bug of the joke; it's a feature. Leno's the kind of nasty bully who will take aim at another guy in a way that hits his wife, too.

It's a construction that treats Lasko like Letterman's property, which is why this jibe has the same cowardly feel as a guy who keys another guy's car in the dark parking lot of a bar, instead of taking a swing at him.
 But wait! It's not just the principals in this mess, it's also the feakin' commentators:

Now, Seth Myers has always been pretty douchetastic; it's his shtick, and it has been ever since he started co-hosting Weekend Update with Amy Poehler. But for fuck's sake, comparing hosting a TV show to being married to a woman, and the process of changing hosts to divorce...and...and...the whole way it just assumes that women are commodities to be traded, is special even for him, and a further sign of SNL's two-decade decline into pointless wankitude. To think: this was the show that started out with Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, and Laraine Newman, launched the career of Julia Sweeney, and gave as Tina Fey as well as the aforementioned Amy...well, sigh.

Of course, it's a woman's fault to begin with, because a woman fucked up the Tonight Show 17 years ago.

That woman was the late Helen Kushnick, the woman who had discovered Leno, served as his manager and personal friend for his entire career, and engineered his takeover of Johnny Carson's well worn seat. And right away there were nasty stories about her: she was most notorious for her vindictive policies of shitlisting guests who had dared to appear on Arsenio instead of The Tonight Show. NBC, tired of her bullying ways, fired her after a few months of heading up the gabfest, and Leno sadly had to let his friend go before she destroyed the career she had built.

Or wait! Maybe that's not what happened, mostly because Leno is a huge douche and misogyny is a recreational sport in Hollywood. To wit, from a 1996 EW profile:
Kushnick's story is well-known to those who follow the late-night TV wars. She was portrayed as an abusive tyrant in The Late Shift, Bill Carter's 1994 book about Leno and Letterman, and in last February's HBO movie; and the image was no exaggeration. In the end, many who had been her supporters, like former client Jimmie Walker, and even NBC executives, found her impossible to deal with. Her stepdaughter, Beth Kushnick, 35, still calls her a ''ghastly monster.'' Even her only sibling, Joseph Gorman, 48, had been estranged from her until shortly before her death at age 51.

But what is not so well-known is the story of Kushnick's final years — years spent out of the media eye, years that ended in a kind of redemption and, for her daughter, Sara, 16, in a reconciliation with Leno. ''Maybe she did have to be a bitch to get where she did,'' says Sara, Sam's surviving twin. ''But when she started out, women were supposed to be secretaries. She did things with anger because it was the only way she knew how.''

''They called her a bitch,'' says Mitzi Shore, owner of L.A.'s Comedy Store, ''but if she were a man, she wouldn't be called a bitch. There are managers in town who are 10 times worse than she was and they don't call them bastards.''
 And if you needed any more confirmation about Leno's jerkiness, consider this from the same piece, about  Kushnick's daughter:
She grew up with Leno, called him Uncle Jay, considered his parents her grandparents. ''He came over for dinner the weekend after my mom got fired,'' she says. ''We had chicken wings — we always had chicken wings. I sat on his lap and he said everything would be okay. That was the last time I saw him.''
 And there's another way to look at the Kushnick story, as Rudy Panucci explains in a sweetly vitriolic piece on the whole late night mess:
Kushnick was dying of cancer while Leno was explaining that he had to fire her and ban her from the studio lot because he was shocked, shocked, to discover that she had lied to him about planting the rumors that hounded Carson into early retirement. The truth is, Leno threw his long-time manager and personal friend under the bus when it became clear that The Tonight Show with Jay Leno was a poorly-produced, barely-watchable disaster. After eighteen months of coming in second to Letterman, even though NBC had a strong prime-time line-up, Leno’s manager took the fall, and then the large-chinned wonder let NBC revamp the show to rescue it from cancellation.
So there you have it, folks--the kyriarchy in a nutshell, brought to you by a bunch of rich white guys who are barely even funny. I think I'll just go to bed early.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Purloined Girlhood Part 1a: Wild at Heart

Hey, where am I today? Over at Tiger Beatdown!
I saw “Where the Wild Things Are” this weekend, ducks. (One of the advantages of living in the Great American Metropolis is that movies tend to hang around a surprising length of time.)

I saw it because of Spike Jonze, and because I am just old enough to have grown up in the Golden Age of Maurice Sendak — that hazy, golden late afternoon in America when Sesame Street had become established, the children raised by Dr. Spock were raising their own children, and Sendak and Shel Silverstein dominated the bookcases of every “with it” parent. (I was too young to say things like “with it,” of course, but I had teenaged cousins, and was vaguely aware of things like The Disco… we are talking about that point in history when The Captain and Teneille had their own TV show, people.) It was an age brought to you by CTW.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How To Tell You've Transitioned, Part II

I had a kinda frantic day today--spent all day trying to get some SQL to behave correctly, even though the task should have been pretty easy to do. Plus I was late for my therapy appointment--even with catching a cab.

As I was coming up out of the subway, a panhandler asked me for some money; and as I was walking away, he said "You have a nice day ma'am--sir--ma'am." (I'm assuming he saw either my boobs or my lipstick and that pushed him over the edge.)

I wasn't particularly happy to hear that, but I wasn't terrifically surprised either. I was dressed for work, when you work from home: a black tee, jeans, and sneakers. As I was walking away, I thought to myself, you've forgotten how to be a girl.

I am much less enlightened in the dark recesses of my mind than I am in print.

But there has been a change in how I present myself over the two years of my fulltime life; there was a time when I always wore eye makeup when I went out, and gave much careful thought to what I was going to wear. Nowadays, not so much; I've even gone out without wearing any lipstick, something I'd been avoiding ever since I got read when not wearing it.

A little of this is the weight I've put on, and being too broke to buy new clothes and too unmotivated to try and lose weight. But a lot more is simply that I've reached a new point of stability with my life; that my acceptance of myself as a woman means that I need fewer and fewer reinforcements via the trappings of femininity. (That, and a year of pounding concrete sidewalks; that gets you out of heels really quick.)

Three years ago, in the middle of my dark winter of discontent when I began to seriously consider the idea of transitioning, I would sometimes ask myself (as a way to not transition) what the difference was between hanging around my apartment in my PJ bottoms and a tee as a man and doing the same as a woman; the idea being that my life would be the same whether or not I transitioned, so why transition? I think I know that answer better now; it's because now I'm free of the doubts about whether I should transition, the doubts about whether or not I really was a woman, the awful amount of psychic energy I dumped into worrying about that problem. And a lot of those issues are gone now, and overall (when I'm not fighting off major depressive crises), I have a lot more energy to think and do things--case in point, this blog, started a year after I transitioned. Even if I have forgotten how to be "a girl," however it was that I construed living inside the public tokens of femininity.

Being a woman--a person--is a lot more satisfying anyway.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hiram Monserrate Watch

Sometimes, you get a win:
The political fate of State Senator Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Democrat convicted of assault in a dispute that left his companion with a gash on her face, grew uncertain on Thursday as a special committee recommended that the Senate vote soon on a motion to expel him.[...]

The special committee formed after the trial concluded that Mr. Monserrate lied about the dispute and demonstrated “a lack of fitness to serve in this body.”

The report says that he recklessly put his interests above the safety of Ms. Giraldo and was insincere in his apology. “Whether the senator was worried for his political future or not, the evidence demonstrates both recklessness and callousness,” the committee wrote.

“Accordingly,” the report said, “the select committee recommends that Senator Monserrate be sanctioned by the full Senate, and that the Senate vote to impose one of two punishments: Expulsion, or in the alternative, censure with revocation of privileges.”
 Now, the New York State Senate is the most useless legislature since the steering committee of th Mesopotamian Pot-Washer's Guild tried to formalize which pots they would, in fact, wash, and the most corrupt legislature since...well...since ever, I think.

What I'm saying is that if these guys think you can't sit with them, you really have to be an asshole.

Like Monster Rat QED.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

BTB: Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

It's Below the Belt time again!
I call myself transfeminist, because I identify as trans (with a little help from our wonderful society which does so much to keep me from forgetting it) and feminist. Usually this isn't a problem: I identify as a woman, and  feminism is about furthering the causes and rights of women, and I am. so. there.

But at the same time it has to be acknowledged that feminism and transgender activism often have found themselves in at best an uneasy alliance, and at worst completely divorced from each other. A certain strain of radical feminism (see: Heart, Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, and my friends at AROOO) maintain a richly transphobic tradition of never seeing trans women as women (or trans men as men, for that matter; that's why so many trans men have had no problem getting into MWMF), using such all-time hits as "mutilated men," "colonizers," and still number one with a bullet, "rapists." (I always like that one. I once went looking for statistics on how many trans women get raped a year. The numbers proved very elusive--it seems most trans victims are either killed instead of being raped, or killed right after being raped.)
 Mach schnell!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Patriarchy Doesn't Exist And Other Comforting Fictions For Hard Times

It's comforting to tell ourselves that a lot of the battles that feminists have fought are finally over, and we're in the mop up stage. It seems undeniable that attitudes have indeed improved since the days of the pre-Second Wave; one sees more and more female executives, attorneys, and doctors (though not nearly enough) than ever nowadays, and even my D&D book uses the female pronoun as often as the male pronoun in the text.

When D&D hops the equality train, that's progress.

So we can tell ourselves that women are finally (at least in the West) moving out of the shadow of men, begin to truly have autonomy: that what Elizabeth Gilbert says below is indeed happening, and more than that, is being successful:
...Gilbert says, we're still in the midst of a radical new social experiment.
"And the radical, unprecedented new social experiment is: What happens if we give women autonomy, education, finances, you know, control over their sexual biology?" she says. "What happens if we give you all this freedom? What are you going to do with it? … And we're all still sort of puzzling it out in a very intense way."
 And then you open your browser or flip through a newspaper and all that comes crashing down around you, and you see it for the papier-mâché construct it truly is. Like when you read this:
Before the first juror is selected or witness called, a decision allowing a confessed killer to argue he believes the slaying of one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers was a justified act aimed at saving unborn children has upended what most expected to be an open-and-shut case.

Some abortion opponents are pleasantly stunned and eager to watch Scott Roeder tell a jury his slaying of Wichita doctor George Tiller was voluntary manslaughter. Tiller's colleagues and abortion rights advocates are outraged and fear the court's actions give a more than tacit approval to further acts of violence.

''This judge has basically announced a death sentence for all of us who help women,'' said Dr. Warren Hern of Boulder, Colo., a longtime friend of Tiller who also performs late-term abortions. ''That is the effect of the ruling.''
Just so that we're really clear on this, just so that everybody gets on the same footing, just so we can skip past the language issues of calling fetuses "unborn children," understand this: Roeder's defense, basically, is that he had the right to kill someone based on his right to control what another human being does with her body.

He had the right to control you. And if you asserted that control (which is due to you, one would hope, as a member of the human race--at least the male half is supposed to have bodily autonomy) and enlisted the help of a medical professional, he had the right to kill that professional in order to remove your autonomy.

Of course, "yours" only if you're female. Which still seems to be a quasi-legal status.

Think of other cases where bodily autonomy might be involved, and wonder to yourselves if they would be able to be entered as legal justifications: But your Honor, I had to kill that abolitionist, she was helping my slave to escape.

If somebody had killed Dr. Kevorkian, would the court allow a justification defense? Even though it would be a lot more warranted than one in the case of the murder of a physician, a man who helped save the lives of many women?

Jill at Feministe has a good explanation of what's happening, though it hasn't quite gotten me off the ledge:
I will write more about this later as time allows, but the judge in the Scott Roeder case — Roeder is the man who shot abortion provider George Tiller at Tiller’s church — has ruled that Roeder may present a case for voluntary manslaughter instead of murder. Voluntary manslaughter is a less serious crime than murder, and subject to softer penalties. This doesn’t mean that Roeder is only being charged with voluntary manslaughter; my best guess based on the judge’s comments here is that he doesn’t want this case to be overturned on appeal, and so he’s allowing the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter as a lesser-included offense. Which makes sense.

Except that there are, of course, bigger issues at play. The judge at least rejected Roeder’s proposed “necessity” defense, but a jury will still have the option of giving Roeder a lighter sentence if the defense makes the case that Roeder had an “unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.” If the jury does buy that defense — and you can bet that Roeder’s team will make the trial about Dr. Tiller and abortion — it lessens the disincentives for other would-be terrorists to take out abortion providers.

So there is no patriarchy, and justice is for all. Just not the all that includes you.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The View From My Kitchen Window

Greetings Ducks, from the home office! Which isn't even really an office, but it is in my home. My kitchen, actually: space here in The Great American Metropolis is at a premium, let me tell you!

Lately it has become an actual office of sorts, because of that gig I mentioned last week, which I do from the comfort of home. Well, relative comfort: while I'm no longer unemployed, I am underemployed; I need to do about 50 hours a week at my current rate to make my monthly expenses. I'm not really complaining...well, I am a bit, because this is way below my former rate, alas.

That's the economy, folks.

I do have a view from my window, of sorts--it's on the air shaft between my building and the one next door. Now, this was supposed to be an improvement, way back in the 19th century, over just having buildings cheek-by-jowl; but the reality is that they don't help all that much. The shafts let in almost no light (in the spring, I sometimes get some light in through the shaft in the afternoon) and they have no draw whatsoever, so you don't get much in the way of cross-ventilation. And my view is a brick wall.

Still, it's nice to have an office with a window.

Working from home doesn't particularly bother me--writer, remember?--though it is a drag to be chained to my chair all day long without being able to run out for a while (I'm on a timeclock, and I'd have to punch out if I was up from my keyboard for too long.) It's a bit ironic that I should end up with this gig, though (and not just because my brother used to work for them, something I didn't know until I applied for the job.) Ironic because a lot of trans people end up either wanting a job like this, or having to take a job like this because it's the only job they can safely do.

Trans folks come in all shapes and sizes; and sometimes those shapes, for whatever reason (most often because the person is still in the middle of transition), are harder for cis people to "peg" as one gender or another. This causes enormous discomfort on the part of the cis person (see unboxedqueer's groovy post about this today at Below the Belt), which they immediately pass along to the trans person. Because, that's like the totally fair thing to do, right? I mean, it's the freak's, I mean, your problem, right? Right?


So a lot of trans people have to look for work that doesn't involve interaction with other poeple. (And yeah, the phone often counts, if you're MtF--phone voice is the hardest voice to manage.) I'm fortunate enough to have a skill that lets' me do this and still survive; many other folks aren't. But it must be their fault, right?


Back around Halloween a lot of folks like this Onion bit about finding costumes for your effeminate boy. I wasn't one of them, though--to me, the bit ultimately felt pretty cruel and lost the point of laughing at the bigoted announcers in favor of indulging in some cruelty towards the kids. You know, like...holding people up to your own standards of gender presentation? Which never ever hurts anybody, or makes it hard for them to get a job? Yeah. I much preferred this SNL bit instead:

Until you come around.

Friday, January 8, 2010

And Other Stories in Transphobia (Yawn)

Hey, I haven't said anything about David Letterman yet!

I mean, not that there's often much to say about David Letterman, besides he's mostly a jerk. It's, you know, what he's famous for.

But I guess you might have heard about this...

Yeah. OK. Wow, a show hosted by a known jerk (of the douchey, cheating on his wife with interns in a bedroom he had built at the studio just for that purpose kind of way) engages in some cheap-shot transphobia. Yawn. Hand me the remote...

But what's that you say? Speak up, Straw-Reader-I-am-making-up-for-this-piece! Are you saying that Dave at least sort of respectable towards Ms. Sampson? And that the joke is really on sidekick douchebag Kalter? That I should not, you know, get my panties all in a twist about things, you hysterical trann--sorry, you like to be called a transgenderdamajig now, right?

Sorry, Straw Reader, you're wrong! A transgendamajig is a drink, not a gender identity, one of the many fascinating cocktails I dreamed up while vacationing on painkillers in Thailand! But you're also wrong about the joke.

Sure, true to his straightdouche persona, Dave didn't say anything spiteful about Ms. Sanders. (He also called her a transgendered person, not woman. Asshole.) But the joke wasn't on Kalter--it was decidedly on Ms. Sampson.

Because, you see, at heart this was a gay joke. (Amazing! Letterman homophobic too? Whodathunkit?) Kalter is upset because he slept with a "man," not a transgendered woman. At heart, this bit was calling Ms. Sanders a man.

Which is pretty much the definition of transphobia.

I of course, don't watch any of the talk shows myself--I really could care less about the latest vapid anecdote or stupid plug a celebrity comes on to talk about. (And even The Daily Show is wearing thin on me these days.) Instead, when not reading Russian novels in French or French movies in Russian, I watch Monty Python reruns. Because our world is so surreal nowadays that they seem positively normal.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Now Let Us Praise Complicated Women, And Condemn Them While We're At It

So Mary Daly died.

(You might have heard about it.)

I don't have much to say about Mary Daly, really. I haven't read anything by her (because I am a bad feminist, or at least a lazy one, or at least somebody made very theory-adverse thanks to my graduate studies in English.) I'm not really sure if I'd heard her name before she died (because I am a bad...oh, you know.)

But I was utterly unsurprised to find out that she was a Second Wave radical feminist who, you know, hated me.

(Well, one thing surprised me: she was Janice Raymond's thesis adviser. Janice Raymond! And no, I'm not going to link to anything about her--if you're here, you should know about her; if you don't, use the bloody Google.)

As I said over at the ol' Tiger Beatdown today, it's clear that Mary Daly gave a lot of women a new way of looking at the world; that in a very real sense, she liberated them. And the glowing testimonials of people who knew her--about how generous she was with her time, how she helped other women writers and feminists, how she created, in the truest sense of the word, sisterhood with her fellow women.

But I just can't be all that happy about it, because she also wanted to deny me all those things; because to Mary Daly, I would never have been woman or even feminist enough.

And this doesn't even touch on the criticisms Audre Lorde leveled at her of ignoring the voices of women of color except as anecdotes, a bit of "color" for a chapter mostly about white women--something Daly never publicly cleared up, at least not while Lorde was alive--or her belief that the male of the species should be reverse decimated (leave one in ten alive) and those secluded in zoos.

And yet a lot of women I admire got their start in feminism with her.

And yet she thought I was a monster.

And yet she was dismissive towards women of color.

And....and what? There was a lot of good Mary Daly did. There was a lot of bad as well. How do we sort this out? How can you honor the legacy of people who were noble in some ways, and wicked in others?

How do you make sense of human lives?

Me, I dunno; like I said, I never read her. But her fame should not expunge her failings.

(And if you want a balanced, no-nonsense appraisal of her good and bad, Sady has it.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bonne Année

Greetings, ducks, and Happy New Year. It's been a while, I know. And I'm fine, mostly, now. But I wasn't before.

We don't like to talk about depression much as a culture, although to some degree we've destigmatized it: I mean, here in the Great American Metropolis, everyone jokes about being in therapy or on antidepressants. Jokes are made; sticom plots revolve around a character's mental health; and we wonder if Ziggy had some Prozac if his life would improve and he'd finally buy some pants.

But we don't talk about it, or when we do, when we really sit down and talk about it, all the old stigmas come back. People will whisper about someone being really depressed; there's an uneasiness around the whole subject, a certain trepidation about approaching them, a certain, well, fear: of driving them to suicide? Of catching it yourself? I don't know.

What happened to me is that the chronic low-grade depression I've carried with me since before puberty flared up, as it does sometimes: but first it just gradually began to increase, helped along, no doubt, by my decision to go off antidepressants over the summer. Sure, I got worse, but gradually, gradually, and I couldn't tell how badly I was slipping, until I came back from San Francisco without a steady source of income for the first time in something like six years. And even then, I was doing OK, because I had a line on a job that wasn't ideal but would hold me while I retrenched. And I really thought I was going to get the job. Until I went up and had a horrible series of interviews.

And then I decidedly wasn't OK anymore.

Some of what happened next you no doubt can glean from my BTB post last week: I went to the psych ER, after a series of humiliations I got some meds that my insurance will actually cover, and if I'm not out of the woods, I can at least see the trees thinning out. And tomorrow I start a gig that while not ideal, will at least hold me while I retrench. (And keep working from home.)

But I was going to talk about my depression...and that's just it. It's so hard to talk about: if you don't have it, it's hard to understand. It's nothing like being sad, except when it is; it's nothing like feeling listless, except when it is; it's nothing like feeling hopeless, except when it is--and most of the time you feel at least some of those symptoms all at once. William Styron called it a "brain storm" and that comes close, except in my case there isn't a feeling of storm like violence: just a hopelessness, a feeling that everything I do is futile, that everything is just too hard for me to accomplish and that if I were lucky, I'd just not wake up in the morning. And sometimes, sometimes you just want the pain and hopelessness to go away so badly that you think about making sure you won't wake up in the morning.

I think until you can contemplate the idea of destroying yourself--of making a permanent end to all your problems--and think it a good thing, a sensible thing, to no longer care about the pain you would inflict on others, just so long as your own would go away--until you've hit that point, then no, you don't know what depression really feels like. I've had some sort of suicidal ideation around once a month since I was at least ten years old. And I almost never think seriously about it; when I do, when I get really serious in my own mind, that's when I know to go down to a doctor and do something about it. And I'm lucky: most of the time, there is something to be done, and something I can access to help me. Not everyone is so lucky.

Yet strangely enough, I don't want this post itself to be depressing. Dawn is breaking on my battered mental landscape; my Significant Other of Variable and Often Fabulous Gender spent the weekend with me, and cheered me up. I have a source of income again, and believe it or not, a line on some more interviews.

I'm writing again. And that's a light all of its own.