Friday, November 20, 2009

Eleventh Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is the eleventh annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. A staggering number of trans women and men are killed every year, often after horrific and extended violent attacks and torture. Reading the list of men and women killed through violence this year, the same causes seem to pop up again and again: stabbed, stabbed, head wound, tortured, beaten, raped. Again and again, this is the cost of being trans, the cost of being a woman.

This is not the only day to recognize and fight transmisogyny and cissexism. If you are cis, you need to consider the privilege that you have just by existing. Think about the danger cis women are constantly in just because we are women. Trans women face exactly that danger, but their trans status makes them many times more vulnerable.

I urge you to read the list of the 160 dead this year, and these authors:

What Does Transgender Day of Remembrance Mean to You? by Monica at Transgriot

International Transgender Day of Remembrance 2009 by kaninchenzero at FWD/Forward

International Transgender Day of Remembrance, 20th November 2009 by Helen G at bird of paradox

the drowned and the saved by Queen Emily at Questioning Transphobia

TDOR 2009 by Chally at Zero at the Bone

I Will Not Forget Them – TDOR by Recursive Paradox at Genderbitch

International Transgender Day of Remembrance 2009
by Lucypaw

(first five links via the Curvature)

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Need an amputee to complete my Halloween costume."

We're all used to seeing sexist, racist, or sizist Halloween costumes. They're a matter of fact, an example of how callous we are with others' identities and bodies - and that includes disabled bodies:

Image description: a screencap of a New York craigslist posting. The posting is listed under Brooklyn, in the section "activity partners".

The title is "Need an amputee to complete my Halloween costume."

The post reads: "So this might seem strange and really offensive to some but hopefully someone will reply. I have always loved the scene in Empire Strikes Back where Chewbacca has to carry around a half reconstructed C3PO in a backpack because he hasn't reattached his lower body yet. For Halloween I would love to dress up like this. I am big enough and strong enough to both pull off the Chewbacca look and carry around a lot of weight for the night. So basically I am looking for a double amputee (someone missing both legs - preferably at the hip) to accompany me as C3PO for the evening. We should meet ahead of time so we can work out the backpack/harness system. There are a few parties I want to hit and I think we will be the hit of any event we attend. Anyone up for this?"

Beneath the post are pictures of Chewbacca and C3PO from the Star Wars trilogy.

Yeah. Someone wanted a person to be their accessory so they could have a neat costume. The devaluation of another person down to the level of the OP's Chewbacca mask is an essential part of this plan. If it were just an example of their devotion to the specific scene, of just wanting a clever costume, they did not need to subjugate another human for it. C3PO costumes are not hard to find, and it would be plenty simple to just stuff a costume and put it in the backpack.

This is not a "sense of humor!" thing. This is a "someone is using a disabled person for their disability alone" thing. This is a "toting actual people around to impress our friends with how clever we are" thing.

This is an ableism thing.

Image comes from this post - shared by Lisa

Friday, November 6, 2009

On captions and asexuality [Foul-Up Friday]

1. Reader Alice pointed this out on my Monday morning post regarding Marie NDiaye:
On a more adminny note, I wanted to say that it feels somewhat strange to see captions for images that don't specify who the person is, when their identity is relevant. I know that you did it for the Mad Men post a few days back, but I'll admit that it caught my attention more with this post. (I'm thinking it's because she's a woman of color and a real person, as opposed to fictional characters who are white - dehumanizing characters is less weird than dehumanizing someone real.)
This is an excellent point. Inspired by FWD, I've been captioning photos and illustrations in order to be more accessible to visually impaired readers. When I began this effort, I didn't name characters and actors, though Ouyang Dan's post that specifically spurred me to do it did indeed identify the actor and character. I also forgot to caption my Wednesday cat picture post. The latter post has been rectified, and I will begin identifying people in captions and keep a closer eye on how I describe persons of color. I apologize for these oversights.

2. In my post on not claiming the term ally yesterday, I said this:
When I was in a mostly-lesbian social circle in college, I claimed the label of ally to support my friends.* The term ally was fashionable - enough to be honored in the already-problematic acronym LBGTQ in most of our GSA’s publications.
In the comments, Lottie responded:
This is completely tangential, probably, but I always thought the A was for asexual. It's definitely problematic that allies are included in the acronym, I would say.
And Faye said:
Hi Willow - I agree with everything you've said, but I thought I'd let you know re: I cannot stand it when the A is tagged onto LGBT (or however you choose to expand the acronym) that the "A" is usually meant to include those who identify as asexual, not allies.

Not that I haven't seen it applied that way (often when GSA/LGBTQ organizations on high school and college campuses are trying to emphasize that they would welcome het members ;D), but in my experience that's not the way it's usually used.
Of course, the folks in the comments are right. The "A" in that problematic acronym rainbow usually refers to "asexual". I should have clarified or noted that, and I apologize.

However, talking to some school friends did support part of my memory on said point: "ally" was indeed a part of the acronym used by the organization I reference at that point. Which is and was problematic, for all those reasons I wrote about. Are you a feminist? Or a feminine-ist? [Oh, come on!]

So, a writer for Oprah's magazine has this article suggesting that feminine-ism replace the term feminism. The premise is offensive, but arguing for femininity is not. I'm into femininity. Femininity is frequently devalued while masculinity is valorized in men and women. It's seen as frivolous - as not something that's worthy of being sought, and as something that weighs women down.

To quote Julia Serano:
Traditional sexism functions to make femaleness and femininity appear subordinate to maleness and masculinity... [F]emale and feminine attributes are regularly assigned negative connotations and meanings in our society. An example of this is the way that being in touch with and expressing one's emotions is regularly derided in our society...

[T]raditional sexism also creates the impression that certain aspects of feminity exist for the pleasure or benefit of men ... After all, feminine self-presentation tends to highly correlate with a more general desire to surround oneself with beautiful or aesthetically pleasing objects and materials - whether in decorating one's home or adorning one's body. (Whipping Girl, 326-328)
Sometimes, the article hits on those points:
As a card-carrying "feminine-ist," I am here to tell you that feeling sexy is what helps me to be my most powerful and successful self, and being powerful and successful also helps me feel damn sexy! As "feminine-ists," we definitely don't need to make the choice between feminine or powerful and successful. We should and must try to embrace both choices simultaneously.
But then it shames women who aren't feminine:
I see too many women these days rushing around trying to do it all, but meanwhile they're not being it all! They're not being their fullest, best feminine selves. Instead, they're being tougher than they'd like to be as well as more exhausted, strident and irritable, thereby feeling unattractive inside and out. All while suffering from guilt over the stuff they did not manage to squeeze into their over-booked schedules.
And tries to center the women's movement around men:
With the word "feminism," it might have been embarrassing for a man to say he was a supporter because it might sound like he was admitting to supporting of a group of controlling, bitchy women. But with new pro-sexiness, pro-sweetness, pro-balance words like "feminine-ist" and "feminine-ism," what's not for a man to love?
So, to re-cap: feminine is "best". Feminism is about "controlling, bitchy women" who are not sexy, sweet, or balanced. Advocacy for women's rights is only significant when it reinforces norms and caters to men.

Let's see.... what are we missing? Can't forget some good old transmisogyny:
True story: My friend David got mugged at a bank machine by a beautiful, leggy, sexy woman.
"Actually, it might have been a transvestite," David corrected himself.

"It's okay if you were mugged by a woman," I told him, smiling.

Now embarrassed, David said, "The more I think about it, the more I'm sure he was a transvestite."

I laughed but was also intrigued by why David would be so embarrassed to be mugged by a beautiful, leggy, sexy woman, but not a man.
So, the writer devalues and dismisses and others folks on the trans feminine spectrum, and implicitly essentializes femininity as the sole domain of cis women. Oh, and some ungendering thrown in there for kicks. Awesome.

"Feminism" has a great deal of baggage and issues in too many areas to mention, and femininity is devalued. But, let's not center it around traditional femininity in an effort to shore up oppositional sexism and cissexism. Thanks, though.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lima Beans [Tasty Thursday]

Photo: Green lima beans.

Everybody hates lima beans. I mention them to my mom, she says ew. I mention them to my friends, they say ew.

"Ew" was pretty much my default response to vegetables in general before I moved into my own place last year. I decided that a radical shift in my living style that would necessitate a radical change in my diet, and to begin cooking for myself. Actually eating fruits and vegetables was the biggest shift I made from my previous diet of Mom and College foods, so I tried everything, and was surprised by what I did and did not like when I sampled them as side dishes. Okra? Sounds cool, but definite ew. Mushrooms? Rad texture.

Lima beans? Mind-blowing. I really don't get limaphobia. I have lima beans two to three nights a week. I thank lima beans for a solid digestive system.

Preparation suggestions: I only eat the frozen lima beans. These take 20-25 minutes to boil. In the last five minutes, I slowly melt some butter in another pan, and add a moderate amount of basil and garlic powder. I also add lemon pepper, but very sparingly. Add the lima beans, and cook at low (1 or 2) for ten minutes or more. I add more of the flavors above to taste.

Why the term "ally" is not mine to apply

A stripey grey cat puts its face in its paws while a solid grey cat looks on. They sit on a wood ledge. Below, the text reads: "Tell me. Maybe Iz help."

When I was in a mostly-lesbian social circle in college, I claimed the label of ally to support my friends.* The term ally was fashionable - enough to be honored in the already-problematic acronym LBGTQ in most of our GSA’s publications. But one day, I began to wonder why the experiences of a heterosexual cis woman with a heterosexual cis boyfriend should be included in that acronym. Why should this conversation be about me, too?

My privilege socially elevates me above my peers, and the term ally centers and dismisses that privilege. If I claim the term, I’m saying that my privilege is no big deal, I’m in it to win it too! But I’m not in it to win it the way my trans, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer friends are. I’ve already won it. In the context of a conversation that should center oppressed folks, the very privilege that oppresses my friends is not just neutralized but beneficed with a special title.

While I’m not going to claim the term ally, I’m also not going to reject it. If an individual without cis or het privilege wants to apply that term to me, then that makes me happy. If they want to call me a bad ally to imply that I mean well but fuck up regularly, I’m not going to police their language with regard to harm on my part. My whole point is that it’s not my language to decide. The language that folks without privilege use in discussing their lack of privilege and others’ use of privilege is theirs to determine.

Are there cases where I see it as appropriate? Sure. My standards with regard to language are not universal, and I'm not saying you can't call yourself an ally. After all, it's not my word to apply or not apply to anyone. It can still be provocative in some contexts, and everyone has their own comfort level with regard to language. And I definitely think that people of privilege who are intimately impacted by lack of privilege – cis people in het relationships with trans partners, het cis children of non-het or non-cis parents – have enough of a stake to claim a special term. They are doing the daily, IRL work that I am not. I write or think about it on a daily basis – but I don’t have to.

Ally is not my word to apply – I can’t say that I am a good ally because I don’t feel the effects of my own actions. If I fuck up and don’t realize it and keep on calling myself a good ally, it’s another assertion of privilege. It’s saying that I am the one who gets to pat myself on the back, I am the arbitrator of effective support. And I’m not.

However, not claiming the word is also a bit of a privileged move on my part. It’s washing myself of the hurt and the harm of other well-meaning people of privilege. “Ally” carries weight that I need to recognize and remember – that I’m constantly able to fuck up and weaponize my privilege.

Working to support folks who are oppressed is not something that I see as enough to earn a trip to the cookie jar. I don’t get a special title – this isn’t feudal England, I’m not “The Goode Ally RMJ”. I’m just a cis, heterosexual, white woman who’s trying to be a good person, who’s not trying to fuck up – but who still has privilege that can’t be neutralized.

*Ally is used in other contexts, but since my experience with the term has mainly been in discussion about cis/het privilege, that’s how I’m framing this discussion.

A new direction for Tasty Thursday

A black cat with a white nape sits with an attentive expression on a wooden chair, in front of a white plate with food on it on a wooden table. The plate of food includes red onions and green spinach with yellow olive oil. In the background is a white stove and refrigerator.

I've gotten some great reactions to Tasty Thursdays in the past, and I generally really enjoy writing them. Food is the stuff of life, and though it's as problematic as anything else, I think that it's something that we can coalesce around and bond over. Talking about eating, foods, meals is a common experience that can usually avoid drama and join us in a celebration of the key parts of life.

This is not universal (nothing is). Meat can ignite a firestorm. Prescriptive feminism (thanks to meloukhia for the terminology) with regard to food can also involve a lot of classism, regionalism, ableism, and sizeism. Telling people what they should and shouldn't eat when you have no idea if their stomach will take it, if they can afford it, and what they need nutritionally will never end well.

Recipes are too narrow and prescriptive for my cooking and my feminism (though unlike feminism I don't think that recipes are problematic in being prescriptive). I will look at a recipe for guidance, but I generally go by instinct with regard to seasoning and proportions of most dishes I cook.

So, I'm taking Tasty Thursday installments out of focus a little bit. Instead of offering recipes, I'll write more generally about different aspects of food. Maybe one day it'll be about a specific spice, or a vegetable. Maybe it'll be a method of preparing food. Maybe it'll be about drinking. Maybe it'll be about bodily processes with regard to food. Sometimes it'll offer tips for cooking, but it's not going to offer prep time, proportional ingredients, etc. I don't measure those things unless I'm baking, and everyone has a different palate, after all.

Any thoughts? What food/drink related topics would you like to see addressed in this space?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Have a happy Wednesday. A slightly re-tooled Tasty Thursday returns tomorrow with....lima beans.

ETA: Photo is of a black cat with a white nape looking at the camera and a white cat with brown spots looking at him. They are in a green chair. There is a bookshelf against the white walls.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

To be safely thus: my efforts to create a safe space

Picture: A reproduction of John Singer Sargent's "Miss Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth." A white woman with long brown-red hair in green robes hoists a golden crown above her head.

Trigger warning for depiction of ableist/cissexist/abusive language.
"To be thus is nothing,
But to be safely thus."
-Macbeth, 3.1.48-49
Right now, I'm reading Macbeth. Though it's bloody and not particularly feminist, the quote above struck me as quite relevant to progressive conversation - particularly the idea of "safe spaces".

I don't guarantee a safe space on this blog - everyone's needs for a safe space are different, my privilege obscures my linguistic messups, and I don't promise things I can't deliver. But making Deeply Problematic a safe space is a goal I'm constantly working towards.

If someone points out a word that seems innocuous and that I use - I change it. Yesterday on Twitter, I saw Arwyn's note that "brat" is hate speech against children. This doesn't fully connect for me, but I don't have to use the word brat. There are so many words in the English language; if one hurts people, I take that as an opportunity to be a better, more specific writer. Even if I like it.

If there's something in my post that's the least bit disturbing, I tag it with trigger warning. Even if I'm writing about myself, and it doesn't trigger me, if I'm writing about any kind of violence/compulsion, I put on a trigger warning.

If I have an image, I describe it below so that visually impaired persons are not barred from experiencing the content that I put up (a measure I need to work on doing better).

If someone critiques me and I don't find it to be fair, I let it through the mod queue and try to hold my tongue and let the critique stand so I don't silence another's good faith point of view. If someone echoes that complaint, I work to unblock my privilege so I can apologize and not do it again. If someone critiques me in a way that I find fair, I acknowledge it publicly so that I and my readers can avoid future hurt.

If I feel like some word - dumb, lame, retarded, stupid, crazy - that I know is offensive is the best word to really describes what I'm trying to express, I don't use it. I use another word, and it usually makes my writing clearer.

If someone writes an abusive comment, I stop it in the queue.

If I'm writing about an oppressed community I'm not a part of, I center the experiences of the oppressed community and try to remove the first person. If I'm writing about me and myself, I use the first person so that I don't speak for or silence others.

If I'm writing a post, and there's specific terminology that makes me think, "I might be called on that," I change it. Maybe there's something that I miss. That happens. But if there's anything I can identify as a possible sticking point - I change it. In a draft a few months ago, I referred to a trans woman's "biological sex". But on re-write, that seemed off in a way I couldn't pin down. So I did some research and found a more appropriate term - "assigned sex". Took about five minutes. I am not on deadline, no one is relying on me to bring them all the news, I am not getting paid. I can take the time, and do it as right as I can, rather than seeing something and thinking "no one's gonna catch that".

Do I always do it right? No. I fuck up a lot, and badly, and hurtfully. It's part of speaking, of living.

And some of it is about taking care of myself. If I'm too tired, I don't post. If I don't have anything interesting to say, I don't post. If I feel triggered, I don't make myself write about it. If my circumstances change, I take a break. If I see flaws with a piece that I like, I don't beat myself up about it.

But I don't dismiss ways to be more sensitive, and I don't dismiss critique, and I don't tolerate abuse. To write as a feminist is nothing, except to write so others may feel safe.

Bloggers: What do you do to create a safe space?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Trans man sues for custody of son; former lover misgenders him in defense

Trigger warning for misgendering language

A trans man and a cis woman ("Sam and Melanie") who had been married since the mid-1990s (legally in New York before a late-90s annulment due to cissexist and heterosexist marriage laws) broke up in 2007. During their marriage, they had a child, "Sam Jr.", together. At first, they shared custody, but now Melanie is seeking custody, and taking the high road to get there:
"When the judge gave him standing to sue for custody, I thought, 'What's happening? She voided the marriage, she knows he is a woman.' It's ludicrous," the boy's mother told the Daily News...
Melanie says she is straight and didn't even know Sam was a woman until the relationship got serious.
Citing the "strong emotional and psychological bond" between Sam and Sam Jr., Morgenstern noted that Sam "is the only father that the child has known."

Marie NDiaye wins top French prize [Success Sunday on Monday]

French writer Marie NDiaye has won the Goncourt Prize, France's top literary prize:
Her latest novel, "Trois femmes puissantes," is the story of characters Norah, Fanta and Khadi's fight to "preserve their dignity in the face of humiliations that life has inflicted," according to her publisher Gallimard.
Norah is a French lawyer with roots in West Africa; Fanta is a Senegalese woman living in France; and Khadi is a young Senegalese woman who tries to immigrate illegally to Europe.
"They are in very difficult situations," NDiaye said in an interview with Mediapart news Web site. "(But) they have a hard inner core that is absolutely unbreakable."
I've heard of NDiaye before, though not by name. She wrote a 200-page novel made up of a single sentence, Comédie Classique, and I'm pretty sure it was bandied about as an example of successful experimental writing in writer's workshops I was in back in the day.

I thought that this would be of interest to my readership since I regularly cover women writers and writers of color. However, I haven't read her presumably fascinating work. Anyone a fan of NDiaye?

Source, via Jezebel.
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