Free Thoughts #3: Grown-Ups

A few days ago, The Telegraph posted this apparently innocuous little article entitled “The 50 Signs You’re A Grown-Up“.

Normally, I don’t take things like this particularly seriously. But this one kind of hit a nerve. Mostly because it sort of calcifies a rather horrible message I’ve been getting my whole life.

Namely, that to be an adult, a grown-up, you have to conform to a VERY specific kind of life. A life that is furthermore almost wholly defined by hetero/cisnormative expectations. Appearing on the list? Get married. Have kids.

What of those of us who can’t? [Read more…]

Free Thoughts #2: Unspoken Narratives

I’m very open about a lot of highly stigmatized aspects of who I am. I speak more or less freely about the fact that I have a transsexual body, that I was assigned male at birth, that I suffered from a severe heroin addiction for several years, that I’m still dependent on a daily dose of methadone to remain functional, etc.

I’m an open book.

But not really. In each choice to be open about a particular aspect of who I am, or who I was, I made the decision deliberately, intentionally, with individual reasons for each. There are a variety of motivations, and sacrifices, beneath each choice I made to be “out” about something, be it transsexuality, addiction, atheism, sexual orientation, whatever. The reasons behind each choice were particular, and some were harder choices than others.

All that, though, has the somewhat undesired effect of obscuring the fact that there’s a great deal I don’t talk about.

Some of my books are closed. [Read more…]

Common Ground

I’ve been talking an awful lot about the tension between trans-feminism and certain branches of radical feminism lately. Now I’m going to talk about it some more! It seems like a topic that demands attention at the moment, given the conferences being organized, or attempted to be, in Portland and London, and Sheila Jeffreys upcoming hate screed (available soon from Rutledge University Press!).

There’s a flip side to this all that I don’t think does get talked about enough, though. Which is that periodically, beneath their burning, biased, clearly irrational hatred and fear, the transphobes organizing themselves into these “radical” cliques occasionally touch on points that do deserve to be addressed. The truth is that the trans community, and certainly it’s main stream, often do espouse anti-feminist principles, and suggest creepy, essentialist things.

We need to talk about that. Dividing ourselves into strict camps, circling wagons, and refusing to ever perceive any fault amongst our own is not going to help move anything forward. How can we ask cisgender feminists to examine their own statements, beliefs and assumptions, and hold the hateful, oppressive voices of their community accountable, if we’re not willing to do the same? [Read more…]

Fourth Wave: Part Three

In the first two parts of this series, I talked a bit about some of the things that has been holding feminism back from being able to speak to the fact of gender variance. In part one, I mentioned the way that a considerable amount of feminist theory, radical feminism in particular, based itself on a binary dialectic, with a male oppressor class and a female slave class. Not unlike how marxism reduced all oppressions and social ills to consequences of the tension between the bourgois (property owners) and proletariat (workers), and envisioned a world where everything would just be dandy if we could get rid of private property, considerable swathes of feminism imagined a world where patriarchy was the defining oppression, all others simply consequences of it, and everything, perhaps, would be just dandy if we could just get rid of gender.

Obviously, such a utopian vision reads a lot more like a nightmarish, brutal dystopia to me. The world they propose creating in their Rad-Fem 2012 conferences, a world where gender transition is outlawed and called a “human rights violation”, is a world I would fight as hard as possible to prevent being realized.

And in part two I talked a bit about the degree to which much of feminism, again radical feminism in particular, has staked far far far too much on an absolutist, social-constructivist view of gender. This is a vision fundamentally at odds with the evidence, and if feminism as a whole can’t learn to resolve the “nature vs. nurture” debate (a debate trans-feminism got over years ago) then it’s going to doom itself to becoming discredited and irrelevent. Which isn’t good for anyone, given the degree to which we all depend on the sustained presence of a strong feminist movement.

But these problems don’t simply create an inability for feminism to address the needs of people who don’t fit into a cissexist, binary vision of gender and sex. They’ve furthermore steered feminism into a dead-end alley, careening at top speed towards a great big brick wall marked “intersectionality”. [Read more…]

Trans “People”: Intersectionality And The Distribution Of Risk

A few weeks ago, a latina trans woman named Lorena Escalera died in an apartment fire at her home in Brooklyn.

The manner in which the New York Times reported her death demonstrated an egregious lack of respect for the deceased, and equally disturbing lack of professionalism on the part of the reporter. Lorena, in this article, was only “called” Lorena. Slut-shaming hints were given as to the number of men she allowed into her apartment. Possibility of foul-play or negligence on the part of the two men who were in the apartment at the time but left her there, somehow surviving while she did not, was hinted at but quickly brushed aside in favour of several hundred printed words speculating on the nature of Lorena’s sexuality, gender, identity… the legitimacy of each, all with the constant thematic tug in the direction of finding this person just another one of the big city’s fascinating “weirdos”, her death simply providing the circumstances where she’d no longer be able to object to be treated like a Coney Island exhibit. Could no longer correct the speculations her neighbours made on her history and character, presented as being somehow legitimate content for journalism.

Notably, the article printed assertions about Lorena’s medical history. Vague wonderings about what procedures she had or had not done. One of the neighbours asserts in the article that she’d had her lower ribs removed to help grant her a more “hourglass” figure (I have never, ever, ever heard of a real life trans woman undergoing such a procedure, much less being afforded and pursued by an impoverished woman of colour living in a cheap, shoddily wired Brooklyn apartment building who may have been a sex worker. Was Lorena even able to afford SRS?). Would a report on the death of a cis woman ever include casual musings on her medical history from uninformed neighbours? Would it include irrelevant details of her medical history at all? “Ms. Crowne, who’d had an ovarian cyst removed three years prior, drowned today at Ritter’s Beach.”

And even that level of unprofessional conduct would be analogous to this only if we’re either naive or absurdly generous enough to grant the neighbours’ speculations on her medical history any credibility. Do you recall the now thoroughly debunked urban myths claiming Marilyn Manson had undergone such a procedure for the purposes of autofellatio? It’s appallingly unprofessional that the journalist would print, as though credible and authoritative, without seeking actual confirmation, what is most likely simply a product of transphobic imaginations desperately trying to grab onto some scenario that could account for finding a trans woman, a “man”, beautiful and sexually attractive. “Such beauty,” the transphobe imagines, “must be artificial. The product of a surgeon’s craft. It cannot be ‘his’ own. It cannot be natural. My nice, normal heterosexual desires must have been deceived by a fancy, technological illusion”. These are the same neighbours, remember, who later stated that she was attractive “for a man”.

(I’ll leave well alone the deeper mythic resonances tying the removal of a man’s ribs to the “creation” of a woman)

I had intended to write about this, but extensive commentary emerged in the trans (and, encouragingly, LGBTQ) blogosphere very shortly afterwards. But what I saw in that commentary filled me with renewed anger. I saw those championing for the New York Times to be more respectful of the deceased engaging in equal levels of such disrespect, albeit with different motives. While the New York Times were simply trying to sell papers, these trans people were attempting to simply sell ego, and an exaggerated image of their own opression, exploiting deceased trans women of colour to do so. [Read more…]

A Trans Girl’s Guide To Gotham

As anyone who follows my twitter feed is already painfully aware, I’ve lately been going through a ridiculously, passionately, pathetically, obsessively renewed interest in comic books. Specifically, “mainstream” monthly titles, something I haven’t really followed since I was a teenager. I’ve had a real, genuine love for the medium my whole life, and went through lots of times throughout my twenties where I was enjoying reading “indie” stuff like Chris Ware, Lynda Barry, Charles Burns, James Kochalka and pretty much anything Drawn & Quarterly or Fantagraphics did, but for some reason I just didn’t let myself fully geek out on superheroes, despite how much I love them and love the broad stories -the myths, as cheasy as it is to say so- that define them. I kept it as a relatively minor little part of my pop-culture-addled brain, and used them as touchstones, metaphors, cultural reference points, conversation fuel and so on without diving back into the pleasures of actually reading them.

But that changed about six weeks ago. In a really really big way. I’ve been especially immersed in DC’s “New 52”, a decision they made ten months ago to reboot their entire continuity (while maintaining in broad strokes a lot of the more well-loved stories as back-history), and relaunch their line as 52 new titles, all starting at #1, with new readers not requiring any previous knowledge to start following a title. In other words, the absolute perfect set-up for a fan of comics who’d been longing to return to the medium but felt intimidated by the gargantuan continuity scaring away potential new generations of readers (and creators) like some Eldritch abomination from the darkness beyond the stars, the gravity of its immensity distorting narrative itself into labyrinthine, non-euclidean timelines.

For me, it was an in. And frankly, I think both of the “big two” comics publishers should do this kind of thing once a decade or so. Because one of the coolest, strongest, best things about superheroes is that there’s no one “correct” interpretation of any of them. They don’t belong to any individual artist or reader. We share them. And there’s nothing but positives to be had from periodically providing a little breathing room for new generations.

And so I’ve been obsessively catching up on the back issues of the titles I like, and sifting through the whole current comics industry to figure out what characters, writers and artists and stuff I do and don’t like, and have been having a whole hell of a lot of fun doing so. My twitter feed has been choked with my ramblings on it… complaining about the creepy implications of the “majour hero” DC had come out as gay turning out to just be an alternate universe Green Lantern on “the Earth where it all went wrong”, feeling embarrassed for recommending Resurrection Man before realizing that from issue two and onwards it’s totally choked with sexism (totally not kidding: it features a pair of sociopathic “slutty” porn-star assassins in mini-skirts who speak in valley girl slang), wondering about the racial implications of Static Shock’s cancellation and what it represents in relation to the legacy of Milestone comics and minority-oriented comics in general, gradually coming around to regarding the sweetness of the love story and beauty of the art in Batwoman as being enough to really like the title and forgive the issues I had with the characterization, being indifferent to Northstar’s wedding, which came about five years too late to feel like anything other than a sales gimmick (when Archie beats X-Men to the punch on one of the defining civil rights issues of our time, I’m not going to be impressed when the latter finally gets around to it), wondering if Starling from Birds of Prey was deliberately modeled after Skepchick’s Surly Amy, getting a bit sad when Blackhawks got cancelled before I could find out if their Lady Blackhawk was Natalie Reed, feeling excited but not getting my hopes up for Archie’s upcoming gender-swap issue, feeling totally heartbroken over how Harley Quinn’s new origin irreversibly ruins absolutely everything I most loved about someone who’d been one of my all-time favourite DC characters, deciding I like Scott Synder’s take on Batman the best, as his most closely matches the Paul Dini interpretation I grew up with, etc. etc. etc.

And in case anyone’s wondering, my current pull consists of Batman, Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Animal Man, Dial H, Saga, Rachel Rising, Alabaster: Wolves, Doctor Who, Fables and Fairest. I love all those titles, and totally recommend them. Except for Doctor Who, which I only recommend to people as stupidly head-over-heels for The Doctor as I am. I’ve also been enjoying The Flash, Action Comics, Justice League Dark, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E., The Defenders and iZombie, but haven’t been following them quite as closely.

But there’s one title that above all the others I really, really, truly love. One that isn’t just fun (although it certainly is fun), but resonates on a very personal level too. Where I get that rare, intensely beautiful feeling I always chase after in literature; that feeling like somehow, someone, somewhere, genuinely understands some part of you. That feeling of something reaching out from the oceans of time and culture and hitting home. Those little moments of sharing some deeply personal feeling or idea or something, some intensely particular way of being human amongst the nearly infinite such possibilities we stumble through as we work our way through our funny little lives. That someone gets you, and you get them. And in those moments, you feel just a little less alone. While I love all the titles I’ve got in my pull, and always look forward to them on Wednesday mornings, there’s the one that feels really special for me.

Batgirl. [Read more…]

…What The F@#k?

Our sexual orientations are innate. We’re all just born that way. None of us really have any choice in what kinds of bodies we are and aren’t attracted to. It’s just the way we are. Personal preference. You can’t change what your sexual desires are, they’re just a part of who you are. And if you criticize how those desires manifest, or what we say about them, you’re clearly a bigot.

So the dominant narrative goes anyway. [Read more…]