Saturday, October 25, 2014

Etymology is not destiny. A short rant.

Sometimes when I try to engage in discussions with people who disagree with me on the internet. And sometimes when I do this the person I'm speaking with will drag up dictionary definitions and the etymological lineage of a particular term I am either using or that we are discussing.

Now, as a writer and poet, I have a deep love and vested interest in etymology. It can provide wonderful context and a rich sense of history to a word or discussion about that word. But as a word nerd who holds etymology very dear to their heart I resent it being used as evidence in a disagreement.  It's a cheap and inappropriate ploy. Here's why.

Calls to etymology are a distrustful derailment technique. They deny the way the other party uses words and assert the authority of past uses of those/that word/s. It's basically a pedantic version of sticking one's fingers in one's ears and singing "la la la. I'm not listening."

But let's take it further. The implication here is deeply unfortunate. Someone who makes this call to the authority of etymology is not only refusing to listen to the way the other person's using words, but they are making a stand for meanings and concepts to never change. That's right folks, this use of etymology implies that the speaker/writer supports continuing the use of out of date meanings for in modern contexts. This is one of the mechanisms by which oppressive the verbal tics of history get carried over.

Beyond that, it's just unrealistic and comically Sisyphean to cling to origins and historical meanings and ways of doing things. Yes, there's much value in using them as starting points for how to communicate and live our lives. But we will always need to find new ways to communicate. The context of the worlds we live in shift and along with it so should they ways we use our words and tools.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Rage Rant (all I have time for before my haircut)

Sometimes I rage for no reason at all (or at least for no reason I can immediately discern). Right now is one of those times. The minuscule shortfalls of life feel like personal vindictive misfortunes laid out by a vengeful god. It's a good thing I don't believe in god because my anger would make me a very poor believer.

Acceptance of anything feels just out of my reach and all my joints are swollen with anxious fluids. My ankles feel just about ready to pop. And fuck, today was a good day at work. This collapse into seething is sudden and vicious and I am beginning to feel guilty about even feelings this way. I hate myself for letting it get this far. Blaming this body and its shortcomings has always been the easiest course of action to manage. I hate my hands for being dry and my fingertips for bleeding.

I've started to envy the people on tv who always have a reason when some awful feeling crawls inside their body. I wish there was always an answer beneath every outburst I feel might come spilling out of me. I just feel angry. There is no reason to it at all.

I can never observe myself with an anger like this. I can only be with that anger. There is not room for noticing what kind of person I am. And as much as I have fantasized about releasing the pain of self-consciousness I am scared of what not noticing myself might cause.

Even now after I have escaped the suffocation of my work environment, have scuttled away to the safety of a cafe and am sitting somewhat comfortably I still feel like my heart might be a volcano and that my dry hands could smash clean through a forty piece china set. I want to punch every motorist in the balls because one car came too close on the way over here. I want to give up entirely on the belief that good exists in anyone.

Again I blame myself for the venom. I think "I shouldn't have had so much diet soda" or "I should have drank more water" and I sometimes I just get exhausted thinking about how to attend to all the implications of the concept known as "self care".

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Some thoughts about discrimination and bias

Public attention is a privilege. Babies, trolls, grifters and misbehaving dogs know this and are unashamed of doing anything they can to wrench themselves into being noticed. Discrimination is rarely so bald faced as is depicted in the media or in anti-harassment policies. Similar to micro aggressions this slew of semi-conscious choices about who we listen to and why ads up over time and eventually becomes the cultural force known as fame and public opinion.

The problem here is that the slate is never clean for any of us. Before you even think about speaking the people you speak with have already made years of those semi-conscious choices about people who, while not you, were something like you or associated with issues that are central to what you want to state publicly. Many people have to re-teach or convince others to unlearn what they have already learned just in order to be given the privilege of being heard.

As I have written on before, being heard is a privilege and listening to someone is a gift. When people talk about social capital this is part of what they are talking about. It's much more complicated than "like" or "dislike". It's about trust and the people opening their listening to someone.

I know a lot of people that speak think and write critically about capitalism. And I wonder if this is something that they think about, because listening and public attention are also a life resource. One that many people need to be realized as fully human. for instance if I didn't have friends or a therapist to listen to me and give my space to explore my ideas then I'd have developed in a very different way as a person.

Humans are social animals we seek validation and community. What we rarely acknowledge is the fact that some people have more easy access to this resource than others. It's tips its hand into obviousness when we see the stats about high conviction rates for black and latin@ folks in criminal court (because their word is less trusted). And in moments when the reaction to a rape or harassment accusation is to defend the perpetrator.

Now I'm not trying to offer folks who do this a free pass on racism or rape apology (cause they don't get one from me). But I am interested why they chose to trust one party over the other. And again, it's not about the likability of any of the parties involved or the activities described, it's about being lulled into making the same choices you have in the past because and following those semi conscious choices. It's about trying to map this experience they are hearing about onto a familiar neural pathway of trusting people who are or look like those thy have trusted in the past and distrusting the people who are or look like those they have distrusted in the past.

I don't understand everything about discrimination, but this is one of the mechanics I see at work within it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Fosters will melt your heart! (a review)

Last month my partner and I started watch The Fosters on netflix.

It has some problematic elements (like siding with the cops, sappy lingering on teenage romance, and comically flat portrayals of poverty/non-middle-class people) but if you're a sucker for Very Special Episodes then you should definitely watch this show. Every episode is very special. Just like all seven of the principle characters. The Fosters addresses many real life issues that other light hearted family shows are unwilling to associate themselves with.

I was particularly impressed with this show's portrayal of rape and the social aftermath and personal trauma that it causes. I've also been impressed with the way that it portrays the subtlety with which most bullying and exclusion happens. While it is still made more obvious for the show, its presentation is more subtle than I have seen before. It's much closer to the realities of discrimination.

All that said, it's an incredibly schmaltzy show that knows how to stick its tear-jerking claws into your heart strings. The writers are masters at making you think the worst is coming and then softening the dramatic blow so you feel sweet sweet relief (in fact I suspect one of the cliffhangers of the most recent midseason finale will pan out this way). The turn of events can also surprise with very dramatic stuff that seems to come out of nowhere and hit you in the guts.

Just based on the amount of principal characters and the vast array of diverse and subversive topics it covers, The Fosters could have been an awful mess of cute faces and progressive Hallmark moments. Diversity Soup if you will. And I'm not gonna lie, it feels a bit like that in the beginning. But by the 5th episode you are fully in love with every character and you physically twitch when they make the wrong choice for loving reasons. Which is basically what drives the plot of this show.

You watch it for the characters. Because you love them, pretend they are your friends, and want them to be happy. The characters and their motivations all ring pretty true and the actors work exceptionally well together. The way they avoid, sublimate, and misread their stresses and anxieties is painfully realistic. Some of the "drama" of the show is definitely played up in a way that is unrealistic, but that's not really what you watch the show for right?

Also for a show that centers around a lesbian couple and their family, we see a whole lot more of the teens doing sex things than we do the moms. I think that what The Fosters need the most is more sexy lesbian mom sex. This is my biggest critique of the show. Not enough gay sex.

I guess my point here is, if you liked watching Boy Meets world and My So-Called Life and if you get tired of every LGBTQ show out there being "gritty" and "edgy" then this is the show for you. It doesn't turn away from tougher issues but still leaves you feeling good about the world. Enjoy!

PS: I tried to keep spoilers to a minimum in this review but if you want to read more about the show and don't mind spoilers Autostraddle has some amazing posts about it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

We need diverse books

Despite the fact that the main branch of the Oakland library is smaller than the main branch of the Seattle Library I found the gender and sexuality section to be surprisingly comprehensive. Of all the reading I've been doing about gender for the last 8 months 1/3 of those books have come from the library. I am endlessly grateful for the resources OPL provides and for the fact that they want to hear from the community as to why diversity matters to them.

I did a lot of writing for school today. And I hope this photo suffices as a daily post. Thank you.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hard Rituals. In which I resolve to keep my gender's yellow safety on.

My partner and I moved to Oakland from Seattle in January. And having cycled in both cities I have to say that it often seems like nobody in Oakland wears a helmet when they're riding their bike*. Now I totally see the appeal in that. I see cyclists wearing funky hats and rocking kick ass hairdos. And I kind of envy their freedom. Especially since (when properly trimmed) I like to coax my own hair into a something between a pompadour and a mohawk:

This hairstyle really can't survive being stuffed into a helmet. Despite how awesome it would be to ride around looking fly and feel the wind move through my bouffant, I don't feel safe when riding without my helmet. I feel like I would look more like me if I stopped wearing one. But I think I would stop acting like myself if I decided to stop wearing it. 

Wearing a helmet is part of my politics and process as a cyclist. It shows that I believe in prevention and preparedness when it comes to taking risks associated with moving through a world made for cars on something that is distinctly not a car. It's bright yellow dome is an advertisement of my concern for my own safety and my awareness of the risk I am taking on. It shows that I know how to take care of me.

Last night my partner and I had one of our first serious talks about the possibility of me taking hormones (inspired by our new favorite TV show). When he asked me how I felt I took a long time and gave my answer as an incomplete list of feels (lists help me cope):


Complicated was a segue into everything else. But let's address the fear first. I fear medical procedures of any kind. I fear that my sensitivity to most medications and chemicals would make introducing testosterone into my system a change too enormous for my psyche to handle. I fear I will lose that very sensitivity. It can be a burden sometimes but I cherish it deeply. I fear losing the ability to cry. I fear that taking testosterone will make my masculinity (more) hostile, that it will turn me into a Bad Guy. I fear losing my ease of empathy. (this list goes on and on)

But the changes T would likely evoke in me are also attractive in many ways. I'd like a higher muscle to fat ratio. I want to be able to grow (more and darker) facial hair. I want to not have to hide curves to get the look I want when wearing mens clothes. It'd be a relief not to feel I have to "put on" any clothes or behaviors to be seen for who I am.

This is where the frustration, conflict, and eventually shame come into play. Granted I think I'd look good with many of the characteristics T would bring out. But I also feel angry and disappointed in myself for being attracted to/seduced by that. Because I like the way my body looks now. And I see the masculine in it. So do many of the people close to me. I love my body for the way it is now. I don't want to give it up. It kind of feels like I'd be abandoning a part of myself I am comfortable with, just to satisfy what I feel are the false standards of masculinity.** My demanding others see the masculinity in my big breasted, wide-hipped, and sweet-faced casing subverts these standards. It challenges convention by requiring those who associate with me to rethink what they learned about gender and body.

The ugly and common underside of this is that my demands are often rebuffed. People (even those I love and who love me) will refuse to recognize me by willfully ignoring my pronoun preference. And when I try to explain myself or my gender I'm sometimes blamed for the confusion and subsequent discomfort of others. If all that sounds tiring that's because it is. It's a lot of work. 

But for now the set of demands my identity requires is an honor and a privileged I'm willing to pay for. Making these demands is a ritual I give my energy to every day.*** Just like the practice of securing the straps of my helmet under my chin, it's tiresome and restrictive. It keeps me from appearing to others in exactly the way I'd like, but for the most part the security it grants me, and the hard message it sends are necessary to my being.

*In California the only requires that those under 18 wear a helmet. While there isn't a state law regarding helmets in Washington, King County law requires all riders to wear one.

** This is absolutely my personal perspective on my own transition process and is in no way fit to apply to or reflect the transition or rational of other trans people.

*** I'm no martyr. I know that I may not be able to "pay" this price of my energy forever and that a transition into a gender role society will readily accept may be in my future. I just want to fight while I feel I can.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pitting: myself against the system

Today at work I sweat so profusely that the sodden cotton of my work shirt started chaffing against my armpits.

Usually I arrive to work sweaty (from the bike ride). With only five minutes to change before clock in, I peel off my street clothes with a relief I'll quickly smother under my "uniform". I'd like to say that putting fresh clothes onto my sweaty body is my least favorite part of the workday. But I'd be lying. There's something about being paid poorly to work that makes each slightly unpleasant task seem like it's the worst thing you do. It's a negative meditation technique I think. Keeps my body sharp and my mind off the numbing crawl of time spent on the clock.

I'm a sweaty person by nature. And I swear that I am just getting sweatier and sweatier as the years go by. But usually once I've been working for a half hour most of my bikesweat has dried. And I just sweat a bit throughout the day from doing my customer service work. That sweat accumulates throughout an 8 hr shift and by the time I clock out I'm grateful to change into my still slightly moist-pitted street clothes. Which I proceed to make even sweatier with a quick-as-I-can-make-it ride home.

This morning a customer and I went through an extremely stressful transaction before I was even able to hit the 30 minute mark (a cascade of system/equipment errors were mostly at fault) and my sweat glands got kicked into high gear. Which is where they stayed for the rest of the day. Today was an anomaly. But I pretty much sweat my way through two shirts on a workday anyhow.

Now I know I could probably avoid so thoroughly dirtying as many garments as I do on a workday by riding more slowly. But riding slower goes counter to my style. And its means spending 10 more (unpaid) minutes doing stuff related to work. And at just a scrape above minimum wage, they ain't paying me enough to smell like roses or do work off the clock. It's pretty fucking lazy, but I see my pitting as a quiet, revolting yet beautiful sort of resistance.