Live show tonight at 9:30 PM

Heather and I will be hosting a live show on BlogTV tonight at 9:30 PM Eastern time. If you haven’t been to BlogTV before, it’s a live stream attached to a chatroom where people can visit and talk with us. It’s usually a lot of fun. If you’d like to stop by, just go to http://www.blogtv.com/people/zjemptv tonight at 9:30 PM. See you there!

Update: The show is no concluded. Thanks to everyone who came by!

Lady pills: Talking about HRT in a sexist society

I’m usually very private about my medical history, but many of you have been with me for the duration of my whole “project”, and I just see this as another chapter of our journey together. I started hormone replacement therapy a little while ago, which means a lot more estrogen, and a lot less testosterone. And plenty of people have asked me: What’s it like? This curiosity is completely natural – I wanted to know, too! – and I would love to tell them about it. This is something the vast majority of people will never experience, and there’s a lot for all of us to learn from it. The problem is that there are so many issues that can get in the way of discussing this and distort it into something completely divorced from reality.

Talking about how it feels seems like it should be the simplest thing in the world. Unfortunately, it’s far more complex than you might expect. First, I haven’t been on HRT long enough to experience any physical effects, aside from softer and clearer skin. It’s not magic – most of this won’t happen in a week, or a month, or maybe even a year. At this stage, almost all of the effects are mental. And paying attention to what’s going on in your mind is hard enough already, whether you’re transitioning or not. Trying to pick out what might be due to your shifting hormones is a whole other level of difficulty, and it’s really easy to fall prey to the placebo effect. Sure, maybe I’m in a ridiculously good mood because of estrogen, but that could just be the elation of finally getting started. Did I cry at a movie on the Oxygen channel because of hormones, or was the movie just that good? I can’t tell, because there’s no way to blind this sort of thing, and having a sample size of one certainly doesn’t help.

I’ve also relied on those around me to point out any differences they’ve seen in me, such as being somewhat more expressive. If these changes are real, I might not always notice them. We don’t “have” brains, we are brains. And likewise, we don’t just have hormones – we’re made of hormones. It’s not easy to examine a phenomenon within yourself as though it were distinct from yourself, because it really is a part of you. Of course, the people around me aren’t blinded either, and they might also be highly attuned to any apparent differences, and inclined to attribute them to hormones. And we might also only notice what seems to be new, while failing to look for things that haven’t changed. People pay more attention to the times you cry than the times you don’t.

But figuring out what’s actually changing is only half of the problem. Talking to other people about it presents a whole new array of difficulties. We live in an incredibly gendered world, where so many behaviors are classified as inherently male or female. Even when those behaviors are obviously and unavoidably shared by both sexes, we still find ways to create artificial distinctions of gender. Somehow, we’re supposed to believe that women are naturally drawn to the kitchen, but when men grill up some steaks with their friends, that’s a “manly” thing to do. And when dolls are dressed in G.I. Joe outfits, it suddenly stops being so “girly” to play with them.

Because certain behaviors are seen as being male or female in themselves, people look for ways to connect this to male and female biology. And that’s where hormones come in. When I describe how I feel now that I’m switching from testosterone to estrogen, it’s disturbingly easy to fall into the trap of talking about it in a way that’s based on the common mentality of “men do this, women do that”. And even if I do my best to avoid that, everyone who’s listening will still be inclined to view this in terms of common stereotypes about men and women – whether they know it or not. This is the result of all of us spending our entire lives in a society that conditions us to think that men and women have a fundamentally different existence.

Just look at how the Nashua Telegraph described one woman’s transition:

Cynthia, now 48, has developed a new love for chocolate and ice cream – possibly a side effect of the hormones. And a half-hour isn’t enough time to get ready anymore.

Yes, because women spend all day eating Dove bars and taking forever to do their hair. “Men, eh eh eh eh, women, doo doo doo doo!” No. That’s not how the world works, and if we continue to believe this, we’ve got a problem.

Even just saying that I now feel more in touch with my emotions comes with an absurd amount of gendered baggage. Not only will I be more inclined to attribute this to HRT because of everything I’ve heard throughout my life about the supposed essential natures of men and women, but those who hear it will take it as yet more evidence of “Ah, yes, women are emotional creatures tossed about on the winds of their feelings, but men are cold and rational!”

If I didn’t make a conscious effort to think more deeply about this, I might not have realized that what I’m actually sensing is a greater control over my feelings – an ability to see them more clearly, observe their features, and not be as unduly influenced by them as I used to be. If I hadn’t been able to put aside those crude stereotypes about men and women, I wouldn’t have been able to communicate all of that nuance to everyone who wants to know what this is like. So, is this a “male” or a “female” phenomenon? If I’m a man, a greater grasp of emotions might mean I’m diplomatic, understanding, and good at handling conflict. If I’m a woman, it makes me “sensitive”.

Likewise, if I were to point out that I now find it much easier and less stressful to deal with cooking, cleaning house, and taking care of the kids, most people wouldn’t be able to avoid seeing this as further evidence that women are somehow optimized for domestic life and men are just naturally lousy at household duties, as illustrated by every commercial ever. These beliefs are so pervasive and occluding that it would be easy to stop at that shallow observation and ignore the fact that this just happens to be what I spend all day doing, and maybe it only feels easier because everything feels easier for me now. Is it male or female to be happy? If I’m a man, it makes me a stronghold of enduring optimism. If I’m a woman, it makes me “perky”.

This is why talking about HRT is such a minefield. Switching from male to female hormones provides an ideal example that people can grab hold of and plunder for anything they can use to reinforce their ideas about the attitudes, behaviors and abilities to which men and women are “naturally” predisposed. Transitioning is about many things, but it’s not about going from one stereotype to another. Hormones don’t do that, because no one is that one-dimensional, trans or not. It doesn’t do us any good to pretend that this reflects reality. The darker side of the assumption that a certain set of behaviors and preferences define manhood and womanhood is the belief that the absence of these features makes someone less of a man or a woman. When cis people don’t fit into this model, people use these standards to strip them of their worth. And when trans people don’t meet these standards, we’re stripped of our genders. This isn’t helping anyone.

Perhaps because of the implication that manhood and womanhood are inherently different modes of existence, I’ve been asked whether I feel “like a new person”. I feel different, but that doesn’t make me an entirely different person. It’s really not that stark of a division. This isn’t like being injected with Borg nanoprobes that start whispering inside your head. It’s not like turning into someone else. You’ll still be yourself. This isn’t a cure-all, it won’t make you superhuman, and it won’t destroy who you are, either. It might just help you feel better, and if it does, then this could be what works for you. The grass is the same color as it is over there – I’m just seeing it a little differently now. And I’ll let you know if anything changes.

This is how slut-shaming works

Rebecca Watson has provided an insightful overview of why calendars featuring pin-up photos of women, even for important causes, may be doing more harm than good:

The women were objectified on a level unmatched by those viewing and commenting on the men. This was something difficult for me to objectively evaluate at the time and was just a hunch based on my casual observations, but that hunch was confirmed last year when I had shitlord after shitlord emailing me to tell me that I have no right to complain about being groped or propositioned at conferences because I posed in a calendar for skeptics (see my filthy slut photo as the featured image on this post). If Phil Plait ever complains about a woman grabbing his crotch at a conference, I’m confident that no one will forward him his entry in the 2007 “Skepdude” Calendar and tell him to stop being such a whore if he doesn’t want that kind of attention.

It’s all worth reading, but this part stood out as especially important for everyone to understand. Regardless of the noble ideals of the movement for sex-positivity, the reality is that we live in a world where many men will make it simply impossible for any woman to exercise the full range of her choices as a sexual person without incurring intolerable penalties. They do this by using women’s personal and sexual decisions which they disapprove of as a cause to brand them for all time and invalidate anything else they’ve ever done. That’s how they police women’s sexuality: by threatening to erase her entire history, body of work, and depth as an individual, and reduce her existence to a single scarlet letter if she ever fails to obey their (unjust, suffocating, no-win, double-standard) norms.

An especially pointless lie

Matt Barber of the homophobic right-wing Liberty Counsel recently tweeted a photo of a massive crowd gathered at a rally, which he described as “Media report support for Romney dwindling. Media lie”. In no time at all, blogger Jeremy Hooper found that this was not a gathering of Romney supporters, as Barber implied, but actually a photo of an Obama rally from 2008.

What exactly did Barber think he would accomplish with this? To bolster his claim that support for Romney is actually more substantial than is being reported, he had to find a photo of a huge crowd that had not turned out for Romney at all, but rather for Romney’s opponent. It doesn’t get any more self-defeating than that.

Pointless paternalist policing of the potentially pregnant

by Heather

Meet Jody Allen Crowe. He’s on a mission to save the world one baby at a time. As the owner of a bar in Mankato, Minnesota, he happened upon a harrowing discovery: sometimes pregnant women drink! Jody’s done his research. Once he found out that pregnant women drink, he went on a mission to find out exactly how many pregnant women drink, how much they drink, and which women are doing the most drinking. Armed with this important information, he founded Healthy Brains for Children, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of a singular method of keeping pregnant women from drinking: putting pregnancy tests in bar bathrooms.

From the website:

Because the zygote is self-contained, any alcohol in the bloodstream of the mother will not impact the embryo before the placenta is formed and delivering nutrients to the embryo… By placing pregnancy test dispensers in the women’s bathrooms in bars, gas stations, hotels, restaurants, fitness centers, etc., women will have a constant reminder to think before they take a drink of alcohol. They will be able to take a pregnancy test in the privacy of the restroom without having to purchase a pregnancy test over the counter at the drugstore or local big box stores. In a small community, purchasing a pregnancy test can be an embarrassing event and expose the woman to the gossip of the town. The advertisement on the dispenser reminds women to test each time they decide to have a drink of alcohol to ensure their child will be born with an alcohol-free fetal development.

The New York Times article about Crowe points out that pregnancy tests are among the most shoplifted products, citing a 16 and Pregnant star recently arrested for the same as an example. Of course, a 16-year-old girl with no job and a lot to lose is probably not whipping out her AmEx to buy a pregnancy test from a vending machine before dropping another benjamin or two on a night out at a wine bar, but I digress. Hilariously, the site further contends that a woman who has recently purchased a pregnancy test at a drug store must then “rush to find a bathroom.”

I’ve been pregnant a few times. I used to lead weekly discussions in a group of women on the topics of breastfeeding and fertility. We all purchased pregnancy tests at some point or another, and on precisely zero of these occasions that I was aware of did we then rush to find a public bathroom to test ourselves so that we could get on with the business of eating sushi and getting shitfaced. Before you get started on me, yes, I am aware that my personal observations do not constitute a scientific study, but there are reasons we didn’t rush to public bathrooms. There are a lot of reasons. And there are even more reasons the business-savvy pregnancy test marketing brains haven’t ever done this before.

A woman who uses this vending machine is necessarily:

1. unaware of her pregnant or non-pregnant state

2. either at the bar already before she considers testing or too embarrassed to go to a drug store and buy one

3. in a room with a lot of other women

4. concerned deeply with the health of her Schroedinger’s fetus

5. not in a relationship wherein a pregnancy would be publicly acceptable

6. not planning a pregnancy

7. not concerned enough time in advance to buy one on the internet

Jody Allen Crowe has demonstrated a profound inability to understand women, not to mention child development. As this study found, moderate alcohol consumption in the first twelve weeks is not associated with negative outcomes, and there’s a reason for that. For all of Healthy Brains for Children’s balking at alcohol going through the placenta to the fetus, a placenta isn’t developed enough to begin transmitting much of anything at all to the fetus until it is nine weeks along, and not in portions enough to harm it until it is fully developed at the end of the first trimester.

In pregnancy speak, the weeks start counting from the first day of the last period, which is usually about two weeks before the fetus is conceived. Two weeks after conception is the expected period. That’s when you can have a positive pregnancy test. Eight weeks after that is three missed periods. Even if you’ve missed the morning sickness, cravings, and absent periods, by then you’re starting to show, and you’re probably even starting to feel the little bugger kick. That’s plenty of time for our pregnant mother to go on a handful of benders before her fetus is at all damaged.

So, what baby is Jody really saving? Jody is saving the baby that has been mistakenly conceived by a woman who does not want an abortion. She is mortified to go into a drug store but she is totally okay buying a test in a public bathroom full of strange women. She is twelve weeks pregnant or more and has not noticed. She wants to drink a whole lot tonight but wants to make sure that these two missed periods for which she’s been too humiliated to test don’t mean that she’s pregnant before she does so, and if she is, she’ll go home and start knitting booties instead. She wants to learn her fate in a bar bathroom stall and cry over a positive test there, with only the comfort of sharpie graffiti on the walls naming men at the bar who have sores on their dicks, and maybe the girl fighting with her boyfriend on her iPhone in the next stall. She would rather die than face the humiliation of going to a drug store and buying one, then testing at home, but she’s brave enough to face the world with her unwanted baby belly. Maybe she’ll throw a baby shower.

So that’s pretty unlikely, right? I mean if you’re going to start a business or start selling a product of some kind, you probably want a wider base of potential customers. And if you’re going to save the world, you’re probably going to want to start with a larger pool of save-able victims. Jody Allen Crowe’s crusade against fetal alcohol syndrome ultimately amounts to policing pregnant women. It is a crusade to make sure all women remember that, want it or not, they’re the bearers of the next generation and should not even think about selfishly enjoying themselves before they’ve done everything possible to protect the babies they might have some day. But not only that, he wants women to remember that they’re too stupid to do it on their own, because he can’t even imagine a single possible way to know whether you’re damaging a baby without constant reminders every time you have to take a piss that you might be pregnant. Jody didn’t bother to consider what women might already know or be capable of. In Jody’s mind, he’s pretty sure that he just saved the next generation of children from their stupid, bumbling moms. That’s some nice sexism, Jody.

And they see nothing wrong with this?

Even for AVoiceForMen.com, this is a whole new kind of low. What I’ve always found most disturbing about that site is not merely that it exists, but that the wider “men’s rights” corner of the internet apparently sees no need to repudiate its content. This is a place that proudly hosts articles claiming that pointing out misogyny is the same as centuries of vicious racial hatred and abuse, and whose founder rants about “feminists, manginas, white knights and other agents of misandry” in their mission statement. He is also completely unable to refrain from calling women “whores” (just count ‘em!).

And how does the men’s rights movement at large respond to this? Do they declare that this site does not represent their interests? That it’s simply too reprehensible to support? That it doesn’t deserve to be read and it doesn’t deserve to speak on their behalf? It would seem not. The site is almost always heavily upvoted on various MRA sections of Reddit, and it’s a challenge to find anyone aligned with “men’s rights” who denounces it for its ridiculous and extraordinarily offensive claims. Nowhere do we see an acknowledgement that perhaps this is not the voice that men need. It’s unsettling that so many of them seem to find this tolerable and not at all problematic.

Why “religious freedom” arguments about gay marriage fail

This November, Minnesota will vote on an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution. Reverend Mark Kuether of the Congregational United Church of Christ recently wrote an opinion piece for the Detroit Lakes Tribune, arguing that religious freedom requires legal recognition of gay marriage. Kuether says:

This amendment would tell clergy who they can and cannot marry in their congregations. Some churches and religious organizations want to recognize the relationships of committed gay and lesbian couples. Some don’t. It should be their choice. However, this amendment does the opposite. It tells religious leaders they are not allowed to marry same-sex couples. Many faiths want to decide for themselves. This amendment represents a one-size fits all government mandate on our state’s churches.

It’s easy to see why this argument is appealing: it takes the usual religious objections to legal gay marriage, and turns them on their head. Instead of claiming that legalizing same-sex marriage would curtail religious freedom, it argues that a ban on same-sex marriage is the real infringement on religious freedom. And it also points out that “religion” is not a monolithic body that’s uniformly opposed to gay marriage, as many religious opponents of gay marriage often like to pretend.

But the religious freedom argument for marriage equality is just as flawed as the religious freedom argument against marriage equality, and for precisely the same reasons. Those who argue against gay marriage on the grounds of religious freedom make the mistake of conflating civil marriage law with religious marital practices. Out of willful or genuine ignorance, they claim that the legalization of same-sex marriage would mean all churches and other religious institutions are now required to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. This is simply contrary to fact, which is plain to see in every state where same-sex marriage is legal and intolerant religions are still free to conduct only the weddings they want.

Just as with opposite-sex marriage, same-sex marriages under civil law are the kind you get at the city hall or another government office. Its legal aspects are a purely secular matter, and that legal recognition does not oblige any religion to celebrate these marriages. The recognition of opposite-sex marriages in civil law has never meant that a Catholic church is required to let just anyone get married in a cathedral, and same-sex marriage is no different. The people who make this argument don’t seem to understand that you can’t just go to any church, synagogue, mosque or temple, and demand to get married there. In other countries with official state churches whose doctrines are decided by legislators, those churches may be required to solemnize same-sex marriages, but in the United States, the government is entirely unable to tell a religion which marriages and relationships it can and cannot celebrate.

For that reason, the claim that a ban on gay marriage “tells religious leaders they are not allowed to marry same-sex couples” is likewise false. Various religious bodies, including the United Church of Christ, already choose to recognize same-sex marriages and perform same-sex wedding ceremonies as part of their faith. And if they only wanted gay, queer, and otherwise extraordinary couples to get married at their churches, they would be fully within their rights, too. Because civil marriage and religious marriage are completely separate practices, a civil ban on same-sex marriage does not prevent them from doing this.

Conversely, a certain religion’s marital practices are not and should not be used to define the civil marriage laws which apply to everyone. The Catholic church may choose to recognize as valid only those marriages which abide by their specific religious requirements, but that doesn’t mean these are the only marriages that are recognized under civil law. No religion gets to dictate our nation’s civil, secular laws, and they can’t demand that everyone be forced to live under a particular religious doctrine that they may not even believe in. Even if no religion in history approved of same-sex marriages or wanted to perform them, this would be no argument against recognizing same-sex marriages under civil law. And just as we wouldn’t let an anti-gay church define what marriage is for everyone, we also shouldn’t let a pro-gay church define what marriage is for everyone.

Respect for religious freedom does not demand that our civil law must ban all the marriages a religion bans, and allow all the marriages a religion allows. The scope of religious freedom does not extend that far. There are certain faiths that approve of many different kinds of marriages which are not recognized under civil law. Does this mean the state is required to recognize child marriages or multiple marriages just because someone’s religion does? No, just as a racist church that disapproves of interracial marriage cannot impose this rule upon the populace at large. But all of these groups already have the freedom to practice their religious marriages in accordance with their beliefs. And just as the legalization of same-sex marriage does not burden that freedom, neither does banning same-sex marriage.

The claim that legal gay marriage limits religious freedom is a complete non-starter. But so is the idea that its absence poses a similar restriction. There are already plenty of excellent points in favor of same-sex marriage, and no good ones against it so far. We don’t need to rely on arguments that proceed from the same faulty premises, so why pretend religious freedom has anything to do with it?

A commenter makes an excellent point

On my last post about trans people and “disclosure” in relationships, where many people seem to have missed the point entirely and launched into the usual debate over if and when trans people should disclose and whether cis people consider trans people to be acceptable partners, commenter Sivi cuts right through the bullshit:

As a brief note, to other cis straight dudes, can we refrain from patting ourselves on the back by going “You know, by gum, I would sleep with a trans woman.” It’s uncomfortably self-congratulatory for what is, after all, an admission that as a straight dude you would sleep with a woman.

As Greta has pointed out, when someone calls a woman “ugly”, the proper response is not your immediate reassurance that they aren’t ugly. Focusing on someone’s perceived attractiveness only serves to center the discussion on this, mistakenly reinforcing the idea that it’s relevant. The same applies here. No matter if they answer yes or no, straight men’s opinions on whether they would sleep with trans women are simply not the point. Just as the validity and worth of a woman and her work do not hinge on her appearance, the identities of trans people do not become any more or less real based on whether cis people want to fuck us.

When someone tries to invalidate our genders by saying that, sexually, they consider us less than “real” women and thus unacceptable by their standards, the error in this argument is deeper than the surface-level result that they don’t want to sleep with us. It’s easy to think this is where they’re mistaken, but that’s still not the core of it. The underlying error is the assumption that whether people accept or reject us as sexually desirable has any bearing on the reality of our womanhood. Failing to recognize and reject this can lead to counterarguments of the “Well, I’d fuck you” variety, which are equally irrelevant and only solidify that flawed assumption.

If you aren’t attracted to us, then stop being attracted to us

Leftytgirl is absolutely on point with her critique of the no-win situation trans women are placed in by the demand for “disclosure” on their part:

So we see that what’s happening in these situations: there is an unresolved tension between the imagination of a cissexist society that heterosexual, cis men are only attracted to cis women, and the real-world fact that heterosexual, cis male sexual attraction to trans women is far from an uncommon phenomenon. Given that this larger cissexist imagination often emerges from voices with greater power in society, that tension tends to be resolved by assuming that such attraction never happens, and that even if it does, it is the just the result of some “deceptive tr*nny,” who probably deserves whatever violent “retribution” she receives— even in the case that this violence was never retributive in the first place.

Now, this isn’t to say that there are not instances in which a cis man does discover a woman’s trans status “in the moment,” then reacts in a violent manner. But this is to say, first of all, that the “disclosure” myth hands this man respect and power that he does not deserve, in the form of a ready-made, socially palatable alibi for violence against a woman with whom he willingly decided to engage in sexual relations. And secondly, given that this hypothetical cis man is indeed attracted to a trans woman, we cannot allow ourselves to buy into the cissexist imagination that she has somehow “disrespected” him merely by accepting or encouraging his very real sexual desires.

The fact is that regardless of what this man likes to imagine about himself, or what any of us might be inclined to tell ourselves, he is indeed attracted to a trans woman. That is an undeniable fact, and there’s no manner of obsessing, or fidgeting over it, and certainly no amount of blood splattered across the wall that is going to change that. So from the point that the man realizes that he is in fact attracted to a trans woman, he has two choices: get up and leave the room if he so desires, or else get the fuck over it.

By legitimizing the idea that violence is an acceptable response to finding out that someone is trans – whether before, during or after any physical contact, even while you’re sexually assaulting them, and even if you already knew well ahead of time that they were trans – and then accusing trans people of “deception” if they don’t offer this information, society has taken all of the responsibility for cis people’s brutal, prejudiced, plainly unacceptable reactions to trans people, and shifted it to trans people themselves.

We’re to blame for their attraction to us. We’re to blame for our existence ensuring that they can no longer rightfully believe that all the women they’re attracted to aren’t trans. We’re to blame for their discomfort at the disconnect between what they believe their desires to be, and what those desires actually are. We’re to blame for the violence they inflict on us when they come face-to-face with their own internal dissonance. And even if they’re only faced with this realization after the fact, we’re still to blame for the supposed “trauma” they might somehow suffer from the oh-so-terrible discovery that one of their past partners was trans.

We’re to blame for the actions of people who can become so “panicked” at someone’s mere existence that their first reaction is to harass, beat or kill that person. And we’re to blame for hurting their fragile feelings when we upend an assumption they shouldn’t have held in the first place – an assumption which their own actions directly contradict.

Think about whose problem this really is. Don’t make it ours.