Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Guest Post: On Suicide and the Transfeminine Expereince

This is a guest post. One of my very dear friends Elly posted this on her facebook wall yesterday in reaction to the coverage and tragedy of Leelah Alcorn's suicide. It was too beautiful and full of truth for me not to ask if I could share it. I'm deeply grateful that she agreed to let me post her story. As someone with lived experience as a trans woman and someone who's been consumed by suicidal thoughts she is far more equipped to write about these things than I am. I thank her for her honesty and bravery in sharing this with me and her community.
[TW: Suicide.]
If you need something to make these things more tangible and real to you, then I want to tell you something: Before my transition, I was going to kill myself. Not maybe. There was no real sliver of doubt left in me, although I was being patient. I'd worked out my plan (carefully optimizing for lethality and viability of organ donation) and I'd composed my note in my head. I thought about it nearly non-stop for years on end, refining the details, hungrily imagining the act itself. The instinctual allure of self-annihilation was indescribably intense: I wanted to die like a drowning woman wants to breathe. Sometimes I fantasized about flaying myself alive. Many of you -- some of my oldest friends and acquaintances -- have never seen me in person in any moment in which I wasn't actively wishing I was dead, although I worked as hard as I could to hide it from you: because it wasn't fit for polite conversation, and because I couldn't allow you to try to stop me.

I started seriously contemplating suicide when I was in seventh grade, and I stopped a little while after I started my transition. I don't know quite when I lost my will to die, or how; one day I just noticed it missing. There was a span of time in which it was so strange and new to actually want to live, I wasn't sure how to deal with it. Now I'm looking back from the far side and it's increasingly difficult for me to empathize with how I know I used to feel. It's an eerie thing to so clearly remember feeling something like that -- to be able to touch every scar I carved into myself down through all those years -- and feel like I only sort of understand. I can't imagine wanting to die anymore. That's why I can tell you all of this.

I was essentially suicidal for fully half my life, and I never even had to worry about most of the things Leelah Alcorn had hanging over her. I never had to deal with the violent condemnation of parents or church. By comparison to her, I consider myself quite weak: I would have died surrounded by would-be allies, having admitted nothing to anyone, done in by nothing much more than my own internalization of the ambient transphobia of this culture. All the Ace Venturas and Crying Games.

I want so badly to live now. I relish every breath I take with a kind of euphoric desperation that I can't describe any better than I can my lost death wishes, and I can't fathom that anything will ever change that now. Still, I'd trade my life in a second for a chance to speak to all the Leelah Alcorns of this world before they leave it: to say, you're not as alone as I know you feel. To tell them: holy shit do I ever worry that I'm always going to look like some kind of ugly-ass man in drag, but I've also lived to figure out that there are much worse ways to be -- and you were beautiful anyway. To say I've felt enough varieties of loneliness now to know that none of them are quite as sharp as being in the love and intimacy of someone who still only sees the facade you've constructed for them. I don't know if my words would make any difference.

There are so many ways in which 2014 was a staggering breakthrough year for transgender equality, but it wasn't nearly good enough. 2015 needs to be better. Every year needs to be better than the last, until there are no more stories like Leelah's. Until the world looks back and knows it can't even rightly imagine what it was like for us.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No More Transphobic Hand Wringing

A friend dropped this article this article onto my facebook wall this afternoon, and while it came with a bit of a disclaimer from the person who posted it, I clicked right on through. I was interested because what little I've skimmed about Bad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's oldest biological child has excited my gender politics. Also it's exciting to see a famous (tiny) transmasculine person. But my oh my, was I ever disappointed by what I clicked into.

My skin first began to prickle when this Jazz Shaw character put quotation marks around the words "identifies as male" and "gender assigned". The quotation marks display the fact that this writer is either being sarcastic or clearly does not want their* readers to believe they think John (or anyone) identifying as such is legit. But then my skin went into full on curdle at the predictable repulsive gem "politically correct". The only people who use that term seriously do so in effort to deride others for being considerate to other humans and as a means to dissuade others from seeking ways to reduce the harm they do with their language/actions. Seriously, whenever I hear/read those words I automatically assume this author is going to be an oppressive asshole to someone and has chosen this moment to refuse to apologize for it in advance.

So yeah, this writer has a serious problem, and NO it's not the problem they refer to at the end of their article. Which I guess is the problem of confusing our children with the complexities of gender or something? “children around the world are looking at [John] and thinking, “I wonder if that’s who I am too?” This is not a solution. It’s a problem.”
UGH! Just NO. No. No.

By Shaw's decree all parents should be saving their children from the dangerous corruption of anything outside cisgender and cissexual experiences. This is troubling in 3 very distinct ways:

1. It is deeply transphobic. It assumes that there is something bad or damaging not just about being trans, but also that just knowing that gender and sex can mean more than just man/woman and male/female is somehow harmful. (hey almost like how some idiots used to think all gay men are pedophiles huh?)

2. It disrespects the agency of one child in particular and all children in general. Assuming that a child doesn't know what they need and that the adults know better. Just because it is a child's decision to look, act, or speak in a particular doesn't mean that that decision is less valid or real. Which leads me nicely into

3. It's hurtful to non-binary people like me who DO go through radical changes in our desires to express our genders. It tells anyone with a gender that is too complex to fit into a tidy spot on a narrow spectrum all of the fucking time that our experiences are too confusing, and inappropriate for children. It erases us. It calls us obscene.

I was particularly pained by Shaw's mournful cry of "What is to become of this little girl". And their trying to explain away young Pitt-Jolie's behavior as temporary. As if temporary-ness of someone's explicitly stated expression or identity is reason enough to ignore and invalidate them. My family members pull this shit with me sometimes. And when they mourn my decision to not have children and the beauty I coulda been or whatever and it hurts in a way that sticks with me. It's just a change dammit not a fucking funeral. Seriously, people respect it when names are changed for marriage, even though about half of those things end up being pretty temporary.

I don't mind the above being faulted as unnecessarily venomous. I can risk being called that today because this morning my twitter stream was filled with necessary discomfort of confronting suicide within the trans community. Specifically the suicide of transgender youth. It's why I found Shaw's disrespectful article so particularly revolting. Because it espouses the exact attitudes that prevent adults from providing trans kids with access to life saving resources.

No. Not on a day like today**. I just can't let a thing like that stand. No more transphobic hand wringing. I've had enough.

Now that I've verily skewered Shaw,  I do want to say that there's one point on which we probably agree (but for differing reasons). And this is a hard thing for me to fess up to because boy do I ever want me an adorable transmasculine spokesperson who goes by the pronouns I prefer, but dammit, John is 8 years old. They're not an actor or someone who's chosen public life. Their gender or gender expression should not be something we're morbidly interested in. But we are, because part of celebrity culture is about obsessing over and criticizing the family and parenting decisions of famous people. Which is weird and creepy. Let's not do that.

*I very intentionally chose to refer to Jazz Shaw by "they/them/theirs" in this article. Yes, I neglected to the research Shaw's preferred pronoun. In this case alone I'm proud to return the misgendering fire. For John, my dapper little sibling in arms.

**Today is only special because I am hearing about the loss of one of my trans siblings. These losses happen all the time. On Transgender Day of Remembrance, we read a list naming the people we've lost to violence and suicide. These lists are so long that you can't make it to through them without ending up numb, checked out, or chocked up, with your face in your hands. All slippery hot from the accumulation of ache and fury.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Final Impossible post

This is my final October transmission. The last communiqué  in the impossible blogging project.

I feel proud and very rushed. Like I wish I had a drawn out perspective on the foolish accomplishment of all this. But the truth is, I am very bad at viewing my own accomplishments with any sort of objectivity. Most humans are. I feel no relief yet (as of writing this).

I do feel excited to see people's costumes and to be getting back another hour or so of each of my days. I am excited to be back in a city where my heart feels so wet and welcome.

 I know a lot of people are going into nanowrimo tomorrow. And I sort of wish I could be joining y'all and writing up a book about a werewhale who lives in the San Juans, but I need to get on with other things. My schcool work has been woefully neglected lately and I am itching to spend more time on it.

I realize I talk a lot about fear in this arena. And I confess I use this blog sometimes as a method o categorizing my fears. But right now I am having fears about stuff I can't yet share publicly.

I also realize I use blogging as a way to probe and affirm my own uncertainty. I know at the very least that it makes me better at blogging every time.

And I want to say something pithy, something inspirational, that wraps up all the work I have done in the last thirty days, but the truth it that shit don't come when it's supposed to. So stay tuned for a post in the future, that tell you all more about what it's like to blog for 30 days straight. My words will be seeing you soon!

It's been a blast. Thank you.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rant about fame, micro-aggressions, and responses to them

This afternoon a good friend of mine, with whom I often talk politics and rhetoric, posted this to FB
Liberals be like:
"We must discount everything this person has ever said or ever will say because this one time, out of context, s/he said something that may have offended one of our Saintly Groups! (i.e. gays, trans folk, disabled, and nonwhite people)"
All. The. Time.
The comments section ended up being a rigorous run down of the way tumblr activist have "gone after" celebrities like Dan Savage, Laci Green, and Bill Mahr for saying/doing offensive things.

Firstly I need to state that I personally I love pieces of art/media made by people who hold politics or have done things that I find gratingly reprehensible. I love the show Community but like many I find Dan Harmon's behavior deeply troubling. I love Wes Anderson films and basically every project Tilda Swinton is associated with but both signed a petition supporting the release of Roman Polanski.

I do this by reminding myself that these people aren't their creations. Dan Savage is not the Savage Love. Laci Green is not Sex Plus. X celeb is not (just) their words, behaviors, and projects. This mantra helps me ease the cognitive dissonance I have surrounding my affinity for things crated by people I don't like. Now this practice isn't for everyone. Not every wants to or should be able to ease their contradiction in politics like this. I think it's okay to not subscribe to this way of thinking.

I don't see the mistakes in speech or rhetorical missteps people like Dan Savage and Laci Green as harmless. Regardless of their intent to do no harm or whether or not it was done to promote another "good" cause. And especially as those who are in the public eye and known for specifically for their progressive or inclusive projects. I see these missteps as micro-aggressions. Micro-aggressions signal many minority individuals (even those not under the purview of the offensive word/comment/approach) that this person will mock and potentially ostracize those that divergence from the "norm" (where "norm" is what the celeb considers normal).

When I see an educator or artist make a casual and probably unintentional slur, it cues me to suspend my trust and I begin to worry that this person's work may not be safe to share with some of the people I care about. It makes my hackles go up and I am angry for either myself (if the slur is against me) or on behalf of my siblings who are systematically ostracized by the rhetoric echoing in the mouth of said famous people.

These echoed slurs take them off my recommended list. I can't say that this social impulse is an entirely logical one, but it is very real. I feel it viscerally giving me hesitation when I consider recommending a celeb's content to someone else. Even if the content does not contain anything I found offensive, witnessing the unintentional harm they can cause, I worry that my privilege blinds me to other harmful sentiments and implications that might be a part of their work.

As I have written before, it's important to allow those in the public eye to be fallible. They aren't gods. And people end up seeing much more of their lives than most anyone would be comfortable sharing. And we all say, think, and echo busted oppressive shit from time to time. It's easy to do because it's in the stage directions of the script society has set down for us. That said, their words and actions do have significant cultural impact. Much more significant than most self-described critics on tumblr will probably ever have. And with great power comes great responsibility. Ideally everyone famous out there would watch this video:

Sadly this template is rarely followed. For so many reasons. But mostly because our culture doesn't allow celebrities to make mistakes (especially is they aren't white, cis men) so they feel hesitant to show themselves as having made one. They fear losing the social power and status that their fame gives them.

And that brings me to my next point. I, and these other "tumblr activists" can't ostracize famous people (if the them you are speaking about is either Dan Savage and/or Laci Green). Famous people, by virtue of their celebrity have substantially more social powers and receive more social recognition than I or any other of those tumblr activists do. Yes they can bully and they can say hateful, hurtful things, but celebrity buys you distance from your critics. And I don't deny that when I critique a celebrity that my own personal frustration about this imbalance of cultural attention comes through and as consequence makes me extra acerbic.

To me, though,  saying the tumblr social justice police are ostracizing Dan Savage or Laci Green is tantamount to crying "reverse racism". The power and privilege imbalance at play make it impossible for well supported progressive celebs to be "ostracized" by a small minority of folks who have a comparatively small audience.

I'm not saying that the "burn-it-to-the-ground" approach is called for, because it's usually not. I am saying that whatever impact the "tumblr police" have is significantly less than the impacts of the celebrities they are critiquing. Think of them as trolls if you like. Progressive trolls. They are as effective as other kinds of trolls, only a vaguely annoying/menacing aggregate.

And perhaps the level of the ire with which these celebrity's and their projects are targeted aren't just about the person themselves, or even their body of work. It might just be an inarticulate strike against the frustratingly unfair and often oppressive mechanisms that push some people into fame and notoriety and others into obscurity.

Also I have a limited amount of fucks to give about issues. And tend to shy away from handing them over to folks who are already appear to have a decent supply of social support and recognition from their chosen communities. I'm not saying they don't deserve my empathy, just that they don't appear to be in dire need of it. I honestly don't care if Dan Savage', or Laci Green', or Bill Mahr's images are damaged. They have public attention to spare.

Let's stop making heroes, because they will fuck up. And probably they won't apologize for it. Because heroes don't usually do that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I have a crush on David Rees and so will you (if you watch Going Deep)

My partner and I just finished the last available episode of Going Deep with David Rees. A show I've come to love for its earnest enthusiasm for strange bits of knowledge about everyday rituals. To me, it functions like good poetry should. It goes both macro and micro on a quests to find how things are done and grasp for meaning surrounding life's every day activities. It makes us sit with what we as humans so often shrug off simply with cliched euphemism and inattention.

The show itself is a simple 30 minute set-up. First David, in his goofy big-eyed excitement explains what we're going deep about today and why it interests him in particular. Over the next 20 minutes the audience gets to sit shotgun on David's field trips and guest appearances to talk with the experts. The experts range in many different fields an are based on the adorably non-scientific understandings David already has about the topic. After each guest or field trip David tallies up what we have learned so far and at the end of the show this list culminates into a final display of David's new and improved method of doing a simple task.

His facial expressions and bodily gesticulations really sell the action of the show and give the viewer their own sense of wonder about what is really being witnessed. In many episodes David goes through what appears to be a significant transformation. This is wonderful to watch and gives the episodes a nice twist.

I think I feel especially kindred to David because he's a very loud socially awkward person (like me). He gets all jazzed and hooty about exciting things but doesn't feel particularly comfortable with the implications of sharing that excitement with others (as is shown clearly in the episode on how to dig a hole). He is a ridiculous man. Which I love and can't get enough of.

Also his demos are silly as fuck. This show it fun. It's like a kids show for adults, but without all the schmaltzy kid stuff in it. If you have ever felt like you've failed at being a human, or that you just don't know how to human like everyone else, you will love this show. Though it may just make you want to buy parachute cord for your shoes.

I recommend starting with either How to Dig a Hole or How to Swat a Fly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Drafty Annotation of O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency

These poems in Meditation in an Emergency are of a time, location, and context. And by "of a time" I also mean of the moment. Each poem seems an unattached snapshot; a stream of consciouness portrayal of the way reality and thought/feeling permeate one another. This encapsulation gives the poems power and focus but it also requires the reader to strive to join the narrators of these poems in a context that may be forgien to them. For example, I'm a west coast poet without much experience or expertise in the visual art or music disciplines. O'Hara leans heavily on these disciplines as inspiration and illustration. So I had to accept that the peices of mucis or art he referred to were powerful. This gave the poems less of an impact for me and makes me suspect this book was not written with a very wide audience in mind.

That said, there are very interesting lines drawn here between what was then thought of as "high art" and "low art". O'Hara praises the comonplace in the same stanza as the cutlurally prized. He even has an entire poem about the movies, and in another bemoans the slow death of the ballet.

I'm impressed with the variety of forms put forth by O'Hara. It's and interesting sampling of beat influence. Some pieces are one single block of stanza (Chez Jane) while others have a clear cut stanza set up and line distribution (Jane Awake). The form choices make subtle impacts on the reader and  wish I knew more about how he made arrangement choices.

In my opinion he is at his best in the mixed prose/poetry format in the title poem Meditations in and Emergency. There of a beautiful mix here of strange imagery and declaration. It's a deeply quotable piece with bits like "It is more important to affirm the least sincere" and "It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so." It's also the only piece here that makes direct reference to O'Hara's homosexuality. I belive it is hinted at in Poem (p.60 ) with the metaphor of foreigness as a possible stand in for the, at the time unspeakable, sex acts traded between men. I wanted to like this poem but the racism of this poem makes it offensive and staunchly sets its voice in a time and perspective that dehumanizes others by using their "exoticism" to the wrier's benefit. This is unfortunate and off-putting since there is such an enticing tenderness and truth to this poem.

I consider For Grace, After a Party a more successful, less offensive, and well-rounded portrayal of an interaction between lovers. One that, minus the name in the title, goes completely without gender signifiers of either the lover or the other characters. The narrator speaks of the strange pleasure and crooked ache of attending a party along with someone you long for. And it kicks in the end like a haiku with reality pushing things back into old patterns.

As a reader I often had trouble grasping what the point of each poem was. And while some of the poems (like For Grace, After a Party) benefit form this ambiguity, much of the time I found it frustraitng and confusing. The strange and vivid images were enough to push me through the poems with a lovely hunger, but I rarely felt "full" at the end of them.

I remember taking Blas Falconer's workshop on finishing a poem at Antioch. He used his own "perfectly well written" poem with one very piercing line as an example of an unfinished poem that needed to be fueled from the depth that one line came from. O'Hara has many piercing lines but I don't know if all his poems are "finshed" in this way. This contribute to the snapshot-esque feel of this book and I think also why so many of the details seem to have aged poorly since the book came out in 1957.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Today's post brought by listening to Abba at 9am

I love dancing.

I had the great fortune of going dancing with a new/old friend on friday night at White Horse. I danced so hard the inside of my jeans ended up wet with leg and back-of-the-knees sweat and my hair got slicked down wet from it's regular poofy stance.

The advice "dance like nobody's watching" has never been relevant to me. In fact it really doesn't apply at all. When I dance I always imagine everyone is watching and everyone is entertained and slightly light aroused by the coolness of my moves.

There is no other place I feel more comfortable taking up so much space (minus when I am reading poetry on stage). When I dance I prance around. My feet move much more than most of the other people on the dance floor. I think sometimes I scare them and I don't care. One time I tried to keep my feet stationary on a dance floor and failed. Music makes my feet allergic to stillness.

I have always been bad at the whole bump and grind. Sure I can handle partnered dancing, but that is not my MO. My dancing is much more self centered. I love just letting my body chase the melody and syncopation with movement. My conscious is not in the drivers seat when I am dancing. It's a big beautiful feeling. I know that dancing is not the thing that sets most people free or that everyone finds even enjoyable. But I do. There is noting I want to do more when I hear music my body recognizes.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Jellyfish and other shapshifters

So I think a lot about sea creatures. I love how in the ocean there is such a wealth of living proof that the distinctions we humans have made for things are not as well fitting as we like to think.

The creatures that live there often straddle the lines of what we would commonly think of as the distinction between plant and animal. For instance, I used to think anemones were plants! And there is an entire lake full of jellyfish that survive on the photosynthesis of algae inside their bodies (this is also how a bunch of corals get their fuel too)!

But one of the things that amazes me the most is the life cycle of the jellyfish. (More like jellyshift if you ask me!)

More basal marine animals like barnacles and jellyfish take many forms throughout their life cycles. Though these organisms go through similar stages (both stick themselves onto other objects/surfaces in a stage known as sessile), they go through stages so differently.

The barnacle rhizocephala is particularly strange and fascinating. (and also potentially scary if you have an aversion to parasites so be warned!)

Weirdest shit ever am I right?

Some polyps (one of the stages in a jellyfish's life) actually have the amazing ability to reconstruct themselves and re-begin the progress toward strobilation and into more adult stages. For me such creatures have been objects of study, fascination, and respect. I revere their ability to change in ways that blow my mind. I often lean on them as the perfect metaphors for personal transformation.

I love how weird things get out there there in the blue. And oh yeah this jellyfish can live forever apparently.

PS If any of my car-having friends in the Bay Area ever wants to take a day trip with me down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium I would be beside myself with joy.

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'd get the chance to 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 about 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 testosterone (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 currently necessary to my being.

*In California the law only requires that those under 18 wear a helmet. While there isn't a state law regarding helmets in Washington state, 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 rationale 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.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Back to School: a journal entry

At 7:45 on Thursday morning I had to clean out the rotted food in our broken fridge before the repair man came by and noticed how rancid it was. After a rushed job of tossing jars and produce bags into a hefty bag I hopped on my bike ready to whizz away to my volunteer gig that started at 8:25. Too bad my tire was flat, and the ride share service I usually rely on was not working at the time. I finally got there at 8:40 after calling my partner and having him send a car to me from another ride share service. I arrived late just in time for action.

This week I started volunteering as an in-class writing and reading tutor for a local Oakland high school. I chose this program because of it's integrated vision. It gives individualized attention to students during school hours and its methods are built off of a respectful student-centered "meet the writer/reader where they are at" philosophy. So I don't have to worry about 'motivating' my student to get a good grade (unless the student cares about that, which most do).

Right now I am working with three students, who for the sake of anonymity I'll call Marco, Emma, and Brent.

Immediately after I arrived I was assigned to work with Emma. She had trouble looking at me. She fidgeted frequently. I think felt shame/embarrassment about the very small amount of work she had done so far, but also about the kind of work she thought she would do. I think, based on what she was telling me, she is going to write about thoughts of self harm, among other things. Which is some heavy shit indeed.

I wondered very briefly about talking to her teacher about what she told me. But for the moment, for this week, I want to keep her trust. And as a person who regularly contemplates self harm I believed that it was only thoughts. I hope I'm right. I feel some regret about this decision and I made a promise that if she mentions it again I will let her know that those kinds of thoughts can be very serious. Let her know I care about her well being and ask if she want help finding a teacher or a counsellor to talk to about those them.

But that resolution was made long after she and I interacted. Most of the time when I am working with these student writers I ask questions, listen, and write down everything they say (as much if it as my slow hands can catch). Afterwards I hand over the sheet of what I transcribed and say "look how much work you got done!"

A little later than I was supposed to, I switched to working with Marco fro the rest of this period. He let me sit awkwardly in silence for the better half of out time together while he worked through the finishing touches of the assignment he had a very good handle on. He did ask me he read his work to him and we talked a little about it. It was nice to see him get his poem on independently. However I couldn't help but feel I should have offered more assistance or more something at least. I always feel that way when the student knows what they're doing and has now fears/anxious about their work.

During the next class I had the privilege of working with Brent for the entire period. Who, when I plunked down next to him was certain that I was Johnny Law and that I'd arrived to tell him to get to work and do it right. He was determined not to show that he might have a good time writing.

Now I did tell him to get work done, but I also told him that writing poetry is work. And I'm sure there was a danger in writing what he wrote about disliking school. I told him "You can like the writing you do at school and still hate school. A lot of school is pretty much bull shit. But the work you do here can still matter to you."

Mostly we sat in silence together while he wrote a fantastic poem that used to assigned form to draw out the delicious contrast between expressing his respect to family and performing empty gestures of "respect" required by school.

I know I'm no supposed to pick favorites, but jesus, he wrote 12 lines of searing words from just a bubble of brainstormed words. Hell, I write poetry as a calling and usually can't to that in 45 minutes. I was most impressed with him (even though Marco was further along). Before I had to leave we scholgged through how he might include alliteration and more sensory details (the reqs of the assignment). While he clearly resented being required to include these elements, I'm pretty sure he enjoyed learning about and experimenting with them. I found his reluctant enjoyment of writing very exciting.

As I was leaving I saw Emma in the hall surrounded by friends. She smiled at me and said "that's my writing coach".

That smile made me forget all about the horrible details of my moldy flat-tire morning.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Allen's Treehouse*

When I was fifteen my bother had a saw fall on his head from 20 ft in the air. I don't remember if I actually saw this happen or not but there's a clear picture in my mind of what happened and I remember thinking he was dead or that surely he was doing to die. My brother is not dead. Though they did put several staples into a considerable gash that was smack dab in the middle of his hairline.

My brother has always been interested in beautifully doomed ideas (not that he'd ever call them that). During his teenage years he'd blather incessantly about plans for a perpetual motion engine. I loved him for that.

The saw dropped from a bucket of tools he was hoisting a up to the platform he'd rigged between the two douglas firs that loomed over my dad's garage. Allen had set up a complex system of ropes and pulley's in order to bring up the tools and the doors he'd salvaged from the clutches of condemned buildings.

Nothing brought more color to his face than encountering a sturdy old thing he'd found a new use for. (I look forward to growing old with my brother). He was going to build the entire treehouse out of the heavily beveled planks that sat in old frames and had, without humans, lost their vocation. It disappoints me deeply that my shame-prone, teenage-poet self never noticed how lovely of  project he'd embarked on (though I guess nobody starts out a good poet huh?)

Sometimes we, we being he, myself, and our little sister Ariel, would climb up there to play cards together or just to get away from our parents for a while. Nothing against our parents, but we lived in a small house. We were all post pubescent or in the full throes of it by that point. And kids over a certain age just feel some relief knowing there's a place in the world where adults the age of their parents can't get to.

This was not a tree house for children though. At nearly forty feet up the climb was physically strenuous and probably too dangerous even for us. You'd arrive at the top pretty winded and surprisingly grateful to have something solidly geometric and level for your body to rely on. It was never not scary for me. Though I think Allen was never afraid. Sometimes I think  he never is.

It was a paradise up there. Seriously. It only takes thirty feet of climbing to reach an altered state. And us being the super uncool straight edge kids were were (I think I was even afraid of drinking beer at the time) it was the most badass we got to feel. When school let out for summer we took our binders up and threw them all the way down.

But one day in August a strong gust of wind blew in, brusquely tossing half our playing cards onto the neighbor's roof. That malicious chunk of wind also knocked loose a door that had yet to be strapped to anything. It hit Ariel on the shoulder and head pretty hard, and she decided never to climb up there again.

I still went though. Still dreamed with my brother about how good it was going to look with all those unhinged things brought together against the wind and in spite of gravity and expired purposes.

But when he dropped that saw on himself, and was rushed to the hospital in need of metal teeth to hold together the new mouth he'd almost opened in his skull, our parents got scared. And we stopped trying to make lofty things out of old openings and rusty hinges.

The treehouse waited half finished and lonely for about a week. Then a bunch of raccoons braved the heights and started a family up there. The last time I climbed up (without my parent's permission) the whole place smelled like shit and animals.

Three years ago the city had my family cut those trees down. And now whenever I visit my childhood home there's too much sky. I have no idea what happened to the treehouse of old doors. I like to think it's ghostly opening still hangs up there, 20 feet above the mossy roof of my father's garage. But the wind probably blew that away too.

*as with all memoir, the exact details of this piece are subject to vast amounts of creative misremembering and some pretty shady guesswork.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bad Morning

I know that I am supposed to be writing essays and all, but yesterday was brutally busy. I was running up against a grad school deadline. I ended up writing a much more in depth essay at the end of a day that had too many small errands and not enough time to take stock of what I'd done. Today I am tired, depressed, and empty of the familial intimidation an approaching deadline offers. And so when I sat down to write something this afternoon only poetry came out. Sad exhausted poetry.

Important note: I don't usually feel this way

Nothing feels more like belonging than
sleep. This flat-tire, rancid,
broken-refrigerator morning bullies me
with its unfulfilled comedy. I awoke
too full of excuses to cough up anything
like laugher. My love life's leftovers crust
over my eyecorners. So I rub the itch
of conversations unfinished. I have
no tincture for this. Weary
sets into the bones like
black mold ribs bend
and prickle. Even breathing
becomes another excuse
a nebulous bitter flinching. I think,
maybe, if I make an incision I might
be able to find out where the issue is,
or maybe instead of cutting through that
sad shiver of oatmeal, I could drown it out
where the silver-necked
ducks are diving, confident
after the squirm of fresh and lively.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A critique of transphobic supposedly unbiased rhetoric

So this afternoon I read Michelle Goldberg's What Is A Woman: the dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism.

Not pictured: all of the fucks I tried not to give but ended up surrendering anyway
It absolutely reminded me of reading Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs two years ago.

Both styles of writing employ the self same "subtle" tactics that make their biases seem more legitimate/natural without actually stating those biases. As a fan of bias-disclosure this bugs me.

For instance, Goldberg gives specific visual and physical detail to the majority of the radical feminists she quotes or shortly profiles. The trans advocates who's voices she leans on are afforded little of these humanizing characteristics. The only trans people who get detailed descriptions are either throwing their support behind radical feminist or have decided to de-transition.

This schism in representation is particularly clear when she profiles the rightfully identified "Abusive posts [proliferated] on Twitter and Tumblr" made by allegedly trans activists. None of those "trans activists" are humanized with physical description. Goldberg mentions a photographic threat but chooses to focus on the knife in the photo rather than the person holding it.

In the very next sentences we're given a friendly amount of context about Lierre Keith. She has a name, an outfit, a well described hairdo, and we get to know what she does for a living. Only after all of that personal information does Goldberg obfuscatingly say that the activist group Keith is a part of: "D.G.R. is defiantly militant, refusing to condemn the use of violence in the service of its goals."

Consider the visceral difference a you as a reader feel when reading an actual threat in contrast to the feeling you get form reading the distanced language with which Goldberg describes the unspecified "violence" condoned by D.G.R. For me this exposes a bias in the writer's own notions. It shows me who she is willing to grant leeway and give the benefit of her doubt. It shows me that she considers some violence to be worse than others. Now I don't know if this bias in her language is done intentionally or not (though with Levy I assumed it was unintentional).

But in the craft of fiction this is how you set your readers up for a polarization. It's how you create  Good Guys and Bad Guys. The Good Guys get detailed and compassionate descriptions and yes, sometimes do vague sorts of violence to the Bad Guys for the "greater good". The Bad Guys are usually only shown in the graphic throes of committing violence with no additional context.

In this article acts of violence are associated with both radical feminists and with trans activists. However the polarizing presentation of that information drastically changes the way the reader will receive and process that information. This article is not designed to humanize trans people or trans activists. And it's more than just the polarizing way she (refuses to) characterize/s trans activists. In the third paragraph of her article she makes the misstep that dooms any possibility of trans people and their experiences being validated by her writing.

She states: "Trans women say that they are women because they feel female--that, as some put it, they have women's brains in men's bodies."

Not only is this an excruciatingly basic reduction of the experience most trans people have, it's erases trans women before the piece has really begun. This erasure may not seem entirely evident to non-language nerds.

Let me show you what I mean:
Trans women don't "feel like women". They ARE women. Reducing someone else's explicitly stated experience as what they "feel like" shows a huge distrust of that person's reality.

Think about it this way:
Say you had a headache or a medical condition, and you said to a friend who you were supposed to meet for lunch that you couldn't make it because of the uncomfortable reality of your health was preventing you from attending. And then imagine this friend, instead of trusting that the pain you felt is real simply said "I guess if that is how you feel." and hung up.

Instead of just nodding and accepting it as true when a trans person tells her, Goldberg responds condescendingly with "well if that's the way you feel". It's rude. It shows that Goldberg does not trust even the explicitly stated experiences of trans people.

Yes it acknowledges those experiences. But it degrades them categorically. It marks those experiences as impossible to exist as a shared reality. Because if it's a feeling someone else has, then you don't have to accept it or feel it too I guess.

This distrust and assumed falseness is echoed in Goldberg's use of the world "transgenderism" throughout the entire piece. As if the identities of entire swathes of people under the trans* umbrella were just some -ism. Ism, which google delightfully defines as "a distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement." In other words a lifestyle.

Being transgender is not a fucking "lifestyle". Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't it common 20 years ago to hear homophobic people talk disparagingly about lesbianISM and the "gay
lifestyle" (okay okay I know people still do this but I live in a queer Mecca). To me reducing transgender folks and there experiences to the realm of an -ism is really just an echo of the rhetoric that straight people use(d) to ostracized and delegitimize gay and lesbian people.

Much as I would love to I won't go into refuting the many and mostly flawed or anecdotal points Goldberg tries to pass off as evidence that TERFs are in fact being persecuted by trans people. Others have done so already. And I believe my views on the exclusion of trans women from radical feminist spaces has been clearly stated (summary: it's complicatedly wrong).

This post was an examination of how Goldberg's biases seeped (or perhaps were intentionally leaked) into the craft and style elements of this article.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book Club Excuse

Five months ago I read this awesome book:

And due to poor scheduling on my part I forgot that tonight I am going to a queer theory book club to hear what other people thought about it. I'd love to write you up a post about all my thoughts on this book, but the truth is I haven't the time and I honestly don't remember too much about what happened in May.

But I will leave you with this nugget I thought pithy enough to capture:

As you can see it leans a bunch on post-structuralism. But I remember also loving that Wilchins recognizes the Western lens they and most of the book's readers will be obliged to think about gender.

Anyway. I'm hoping to get home brimming with new ideas and a blogpost ready to go. But on the off (and actually pretty likely) chance that I get home just plain exhausted, you have my apologies. This is all the post you get today.

Monday, October 13, 2014

My Commute (a prose poem for my bike)

This is how I get to and from work every day (and also anywhere else I need to get to). I'm pretty sure I have the best commute ever.

Even after 8 hours of anxious rolling to and fro, the soles of my feet are overjoyed to be gripped and my sneakers grin at being bitten into by the pedal's teeth. For the first few blocks my palms and fingers squeeze hard to the handlebars. As if I could somehow milk relief from the yellow leather bar tape (last month's big spend). But less than a mile of my hip socket and knees churning, my spine collects enough courage to straighten up. Little by little until my hands let go and allow themselves to be dragged heavily to my sides, as roll roll roll my shoulders to the music I pinned under my helmet straps and into one ear.

Between the road cracks I dance or even flap my arms like some goofy fucking bird, or one of those pre-flight humans who knew nothing about aeronautical engineering. There is something so freeing about being on a bike. My fixie delivers to me a false and deliciously flattering sense of control. As I turn my hips and inner thighs into a steering wheel and belt out Lady Gaga, I do not fear onlookers. I welcome their gawking, because right now I am awesome-- and not in the 90's Tony Hawk sort of way. A classic sense of awe streams through my biking bones. And I become bold. Consider proposing a drag race with one of the cars. I envision winning and riding off with the stunned motorist's girlfriend bouncing on my handlebars; her heart clearly the wager of the race he was foolish enough to agree to.

I flirt with every pair of eyes I can catch. It takes serious effort to unpurse my lips from the wolf whistling position. Instead I shake my dance more vigorous. Grooving on my bike, I am sex on wheels. And in this state of churning catharsis I am freed. I am dangerous. I trickle my calculated risk through red lights and past the stilled and grumbling chagrin of jealous drivers.

I am naive enough that I do, for a few blocks, actually feel immortal, that if anything came close to hurting me and Queen Bee we'd just glide free from the damn pavement. Like I had a fucking alien hiding under a blanket in my front basket or something. Up on my revolving perch, this thing, this cycle combining with my body is stronger and surer than any drug I have ever taken. My lungs open like wings waiting for action and I am free as the air that moves through them.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Breakfast sensations (short sweet)

I stuck my tongue into the bottom of the nearly empty syrup ramekin and let the sweet meet my thoughts. It was pleasing. The exceptionally bright and heated morning made it a chore to walk on the unshaded part of the sidewalk. But we walked there anyways.

We met our friends for breakfast. They'd just returned from Ohio after two weeks of waiting for a family elder to finally succumb the whatever the hospital told them as the matter. And I don't want to talk too long about intimate suffering that doesn't belong to me. But it was good to see friends again.

I've been battling a fickle fever since Thursday and the oatmeal in my bowl is about all I can handle. I make conversation as best as I can and try to remind myself that just being there, that is a big deal. I don't have to be witty to be enough. I miss my friends and I am glad they are back in town again. And I don't have to be entertaining to deserve this life.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Movie review: The Hundred Foot Journey

This film was adorable. Deliciously fluffy. The best features of this movie are of course the food but also the way it glorifies the Taste Face. If you are a person who likes to watch other people experience pure joy and epiphany then you would probably like this movie. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It made me miss my family.

Now that said, the entire premise of the main character Hassan's progress is slightly irksome to me. He supposedly has this magical Stuff which makes him innately, some sort of genius chef (who can cook you into orgasm even with badly burned and bandaged hands). Most of you who know me or read my words on the the regular already know that I dislike the entire construct of the genius and consider how we romanticism overnight success extremely unhealthy. So the whole "he's got the right stuff and I can taste it" crap kinda bothered me. And I, like Hassan's love interest Marguerite, had to keep fighting to get over my knowledge about what a crock the idea of "natural genius" is.

When I could get over the hokey of that premise, this movie's visuals and style of storytelling hit my nostalgia bones in a good way. The dialogue is almost slapstick, but it has a very classic american-ideal-of-paris quality to it. It reminded me of Sabrina (the 1954 version, not the 1995 disaster) and a few of the other rom coms of the period that I watched when I went through my teenage obsession with Audrey Hepburn. There was a simple and naive sort of passion to this film and all of its characters' motivations.

Granted some of this romanticism comes from the exotificaiton of cultures that are considered "other". And yeah, I know, this film does plenty of work to put equally degrading dialogue into the mouths of both races represented here. But come on. Equal opportunity insults are no substitute for honest depictions of the awkward and subtle way that tension builds up between people of different backgrounds and cultures. Especially when there's a history of oppression and skewed power dynamics there.

With easily identifiable rights and wrongs, and extremely few supporting characters. The friction portrayed is overly simplistic. It is the story book version of cultural exchange and tolerance. At best this can give the message that cooperative and joyful exchange between cultures is possible and beneficial. At worst we get an endorsement of the "melting pot" mythology that has and continues to erase the heritage of those with less privilege (read here the nonwhite and nonwestern).

It's upsetting but unsurprising that The Hundred Foot Journey never even makes a real attempt at addressing the historical contexts of power and oppression would effect the relationships that these characters have. There is an almost satirically comical portrayal of the way racism affects the main character and his family members. But I am glad that this element of being immigrants without community is at least hinted at.

The thing I was most disappointed by was the romantic story line of the main character and another chef. Now I don't want to spoil anything, but the lack of communication between them and odd treatment of the boundaries of their relationship left me in question about the kind of character Marguerite actually was. And I suspect her character development was sacked for a happy coupling that such uplifting films seem to require I guess. Oh well, another female character's complexity sacrificed to the protagonist's development.

But it was still very fun. Also most of the story is given away on the trailer, so um, you don't really neeeeeeed to watch it. I recommend having foodstuffs nearby when you see it.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sick day: a body of jumbled thoguhts

I started feeling sick yesterday afternoon and gave myself a nap and a much longer amount of time than usual to put together and post my essay. And it's only gotten worse. It's been a challenge to convince myself to eat a decent amount of calories.

I do not love my body today. I have trouble loving my body when there is wailing ache in my tendons and when the pain between my ears is so loud and makes concentration impossible. I hate the pain but the pain is also part of my body. The messages my brain is reading as pain are parts of me.  And I sure as hell don't love them right now.

As someone who's dealt with chronic illness, who experiences gender dysphoria on the regular, and someone in a community of people who often take steps to change their appearance and bodies to reflect their identities, I take serious issue with some of the simplified and often heavily gendered sentiments of body positivity.

Nobody feels beautiful and content with their body all of the time. Life, our own unique brains, and mostly our toxic culture has made "loving yourself" a task that is uniquely difficult for everyone. Meaning yeah, it is harder for some of us.

The oversimplified directive of "love your body" can be excruciating to someone who is dreaming of, intending to, in the process of, or has gone through a physical transition process. As well as for people who are feeling sick or ill.  As with many things, when we attempt to simplify, package, and universalize it, body positivity can get twisted, exclusive, and misleading pretty fast.

This is a very similar process to the cultural awarenesses of LGBTQ experiences. In the sense that many people who aren't LGBTQ think of "coming out" as a simple one time easy task, when it is in fact a very long, involved, and individualized process. "Loving yourself" is absolutely as complex as that. It is a process not a single accomplishment. And not one that everybody has the same resources to endure.

It can be a denial of someone else's pain to demand that they love themselves. If I get hives, or have just been catcalled, or think no one will ever see me as a boy, I am not going to be able to "love the skin I am in."

It's hard and it kinda hurts to do it but I try accept people's feelings about their bodies. Because those feelings are real (even if they conflict with the way I perceive/know reality to be). One of the hardest compassionate things to do it to just be with someone when they are feeling awful and not try to make them feel better or "fix" their way of thinking. Even if what they're thinking about themselves is problematic and even harmful it's not something anyone else but them has the power to change.

Now this is not a wholesale condemnation of body positivity by a very long shot. I love it as a movement and I love that it challenges people to have healthier thoughts about and relationships with their bodies. I love that it's changing and complicating the balance of images and messages we're taught about our bodies.  I just want us to be vigilant, and handle everyone like they are each the unique individuals they are. Which means a simple slogan that works for some ain't gonna cut it for everyone.

I'd written most of this post before realizing someone else made a comic that did all the work already:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thinness and Gender Fluidity: breaking androgyny's rules (WITH SELFIES!)

I asked this question last night after another friend of mine asked facebook who was the most high-profile non-bianry/agender/genderqueer person.

I asked this question because all the people I thought of as symbols in terms of my ideals for gender bending are all pretty thin. 

Lack of symbols has been a serious problem for gender minorities for pretty much all of modern western/white history. Fortunately and finally trans folks are showing up in media outlets. Not in droves, but in high enough numbers that gender minorities now have at least some known individuals to identify themselves with and see as role models.

The problem of invisibility for gender minorities is slowly but successfully being resolved. The hitch for me though is that, as a conspicuously not-thin genderqueer person, I have can't find any modern role models who look like me. It's often a tough sort of work to feel comfortable loving my own body. And I think this is part of why.

The images of these gender benders, which I am endlessly thankful for in so many way, transmit to me (along with many other valuable things!) two very harsh messages about gender nonconforming:
  1. In order to be visible to others as androgynous/genderqueer one must be thin. 
  2. The masculine must always be given more prominence, and physically feminine qualities (like curves) should be played down or not there at all. Femininity is best expressed through makeup or outfit choices and not though the body or facial/emotive expressions.
These are the unspoken rules of androgyny (as I receive them). They're held together by a crude mix of masculine centrism and fat phobia

For me these rules mean that my hips, breasts, and butt should be either insubstantial or easily hidden. Which they aren't and probably never will be. The last time I was svelte by any means was when I was 14. Then the estrogen fairy visited me. It's taken me a while to get here, but today I love the curvier parts of my body. I love they way they look and feel.

But this love is brought into a false challenge when I try to express my atypical gender. When I dress masculinely I feel reflexively critical of the fact that my breasts are a visible bulge under my button down and that my hips are obvious even in mens jeans. It seems wrong. It goes against the rules I learned about gender bending.

As a champion of selfies I notice this in the way that I have staged/posed photos I've taken of myself and in how I view them:

Note how in the first photo I seem somehow "less androgynous" with my butt stuck out and the very obvious curving of my body (and also the kick-ass pump)? I could be wrong but I think most people who saw that photo out of context would not assume I'm genderqueer. 

In the photo on the bottom however, because I've reduced the visibility of my breasts, butt, and hips, put on a pair of sunglasses and my best blue steel face, I more closely resemble the culturally accepted idea of gender bending.

Now. I like both of these photos. But honestly I feel the one on the top to be more expressive of me. The sunglasses do play some part in that, but mostly it's because there's a playfulness to the first photo that's missing from the second one. When I look at the one on the bottom I think to myself with a chuckle "geez that guy takes himself way too seriously." I find the masculinity a bit (comically) over the top. But I posed that way because it was fun to try on and also because that is how I have seen androgyny/gender bending portrayed. 

Note the fact that I've posed and framed the second shot in a way that makes me appear thinner and taller and that in the first shot you can see much more of my body and have a sense of its actual size. My hips don't lie. It's the skewed representation and people's subsequent assumptions about gender bending that lie to them about my hips.

So enough with fun and games and selfies:

I'm really starting to hate these rules of androgyny/gender bending. I hate being the only one working to remind myself that yes, my breasts can be masculine and that yes, I can harvest a lot of manly in my big hips. It hurts that there is not room for my curvier parts within the cultural ideals of gender bending and androgyny. 

It stops people from seeing me my gender as transgressive. And I'm fairly certain it stops people from seeing me as transgender, and from getting my pronouns correct. Part of the reason I take so many damn selfies is to create evidence that me, my gender, and my body are not invisible and can all exist simultaneously. So I can see me, in all my impossible glory. 

And fuck, it's tiring being your own role model, so after some googling and with the help of those who answered the question I opened this post with here's photographic evidence of two badass and gorgeously fat genderfuckers:

Courtney Trouble is a badass                                  Gladys Bently. Just Awesome.