Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sarah Palin is a feminist, actually - because she works against women.

Image: Sarah Palin stands next to a smiling soldier, aiming a gun. From Wikipedia.

Recently, Sarah Palin’s recent pronouncements of feminism have been attacked by quite a few major feminist writers. Their argument is basically that Sarah Palin works actively against women, which I guess is fair enough.

I do not like Sarah Palin myself - she's detrimental to this country. But I think that Sarah Palin is a feminist, because she enforces a long-held feminist tradition of hurting women.

None of the posts above consider s.e. smith’s awesome rebuttal on this very topic. If you haven’t, please go read it now. Here is my favorite part:

Liberal feminists are asking why Sarah Palin, a conservative feminist, should be allowed to call herself a feminist. They also ask why so many people want to distance themselves from feminism. Well, I think the parallels I’ve outlined here answer that question pretty thoroughly, and perhaps will open a few eyes. People who are outraged by Sarah Palin’s rhetoric and demand to know how she’s feminist now have an inkling of how people in marginalised classes who don’t identify with feminism feel. Because, let me tell you, many of us are surprised to see you calling yourselves feminists too.

Is Sarah Palin a feminist? Well, I’m afraid that I am not holding the Orb of Office this week and thus am not allowed to issue a formal ruling on who is (and isn’t) feminist. But I view feminists a lot like ducks. If an animal walks up to me and says ‘hey, what’s up, I’m a duck,’ it’s a fucking duck, ok, people?

Feminism is for everyone, as bell hooks put it – and that includes bigots.

I define feminism as working against racism, cissexism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, sizism, colonialism, sexism, and all those other innumerable implications of the kyriarchy.

And yeah, Sarah Palin doesn’t live up to that.

But you know what? Neither does the fucking feminist movement. Neither do I.

So my definition includes the problems, the baggage, the failures of this crucial movement. I am subject to these failures, and I am part of them. They are inextricable from feminism, and trying to bar Sarah Palin dismisses our baggage, our failure, when we should own it and admit that she is a feminist who hurts women, like many feminists, like every feminist.

We don’t do it all in the same ways, on the same stage, at the same level. Sarah Palin is hurting women on a more global level than I am when I fuck up, but privilege is a necessary and sufficient condition for hurting people (which includes women) and she is just a very famous example of a well-honored and still-continuing feminist tradition.

She is a feminist because she identifies as one. Trying to pretend that she isn't is trying to pretend that the movement's history of hurting women who are not white, not cis, not rich, not het, not able, not monogamous, not right. Because like Sarah Palin none of us are right, and all of us are wrong. We are trying to bar her because we see that she is like us, that she reflects the worst of us. But she is like us, and we are like her. Feminists, all.*

We, feminists, work actively against the rights of women because we use “lame” regularly, or create bills that restrict reproductive freedom, or appropriate and erase the work of WOC, or play host to ableism, or deny trans folks humanity. And I don’t see anyone getting up in arms about why Amanda Marcotte or Mary Daly aren’t feminists. Instead, I see women questioning feminism, and often abandoning or rejecting it.**

Maybe the question to ask isn’t “Why isn’t Sarah Palin a feminist?” Maybe it’s “Why does Sarah Palin want to be a feminist?”

*Though I use the plural first person here, I want to note that I know that you, reader, are not necessarily a feminist, and may have abandoned the movement for these very very valid reasons.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Comics and disability: XKCD and dyslexia, Natalie Dee and Tourette's syndrome

XKCD's humor is often tinged with messages endorsing social justice. But in today's installment, I was quite disappointed by their joke at the expense of folks with learning disabilities.

Image: A T-Shirt with the words "Dyslexics of the World, Unite!". The caption reads: "The dyslexic support group ran into difficulties when they tried to make a joke fundraiser t-shirt."

This joke is a reiterated version of a fairly old joke: "Dyslexics of the world, untie!" It's meant to make fun of the spelling difficulties some folks with dyslexia have. The joke above implies that folks with dyslexia have SO MUCH trouble getting letters of words in the right order that they cannot even manage to get this joke right!

I'm not sure what the joke is, exactly. Why is this funny? Dyslexic people...don't have spell check? Dyslexic people...can't double-check for spelling errors? Dyslexic people...are incompetent?

Oh, and look, here's some more casual ableism from a comic I usually love, making me type more furiously since I'm already on the topic rather than head to bed:

Image: A stick figure says "The KFC DoubleDown Star Wars Meal is full of win!". The caption reads: "What she means to say: I do not have an opinion on the KFC DoubleDown meal, but I read about it on the internet! I am going to disguise my lack of anything to add by just saying the first thing that comes to my mind. It's kind of like Tourette's, only the stuff I blurt out is totally boring and meaningless."

Sigh. Though disability is not the point of the joke here, it's an unfortunate reinforcement of common joke at the expense of folks with Tourette's: they are unable to control themselves, voiceless; their words are meaningless because of their tics.

In a post from Bitch week before last, I set up a condition for a kyriarchy-reinforcing joke:
IF a character on a television reflects or reinforces the kyriarchy through problematic/loaded language or actions.
AND the joke is ignored, applauded or otherwise validated by another character
THEN the joke constitutes a reinforcement of kyriarchy in society.
I believe both of these jokes fall under this category. The first reinforces stereotypes and tired tropes about dyslexic folks without doing anything to counter it or give any kind of social meaning or message. It's a lazy joke making fun of people who are already marginalized because of the thing that it marginalizes them for.

The second instance? It uses Tourette's to make a small joke, to make fun of someone else. It reappropriates without any kind of critique of the comparison.

I'm not an expert in either of these disabilities. But I know enough about ableist jokes to recognize it when I see it: jokes that appropriate experiences and conditions without thought, without care, without any kind of redeeming value beyond a short laugh from a likely mostly able-privileged audience. And that is what both of the above instances look like to me.

I like both of these comics, and I'll continue reading them. But this synchronicity of ableism was pretty disappointing.

What do you think? Where do you see casual ableism in comics?

Please check out the comments for a valuable counter-argument from Cessen!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Transgender is an adjective. Not a noun. Or a verb!

What does the word transgender lack?*

It is not a noun. Or verb. It describes an aspect of a noun. But like other adjectives in formal language– green, strong, female, etc. - it describes the type of noun in question, and explains something about a noun that’s relevant to the context.

Transgender describes folks who were assigned a sex or gender at birth incongruent with their actual sex or gender. Transgender is an adjective – it cannot stand on its own, but must be attached to a noun. Like other adjectives, transgender exists to modify and clarify some aspect of the noun at hand.

Transgender is a word that modifies, but when I open up my Google alert for “transgender”, it’s rarely attached to a noun; instead, cis journalists (out of ignorance and fear bred of cissexist society) often use it to dehumanize their subjects when reporting their lives and all too often, their deaths.

I notice the misuse of these words most glaringly in titles. Here’s a sample from May:

Transgender is not a noun. It is an adjective, and reducing people to just one of their qualities is necessarily reductive and denies their gender and their humanity.

"Transgender" is also, as you'll notice above, the catch-all for many different kinds of people. Dyssonynce wrote on this earlier this year:
Especially since while I am one of those trans people, I am not a transgender person. I am a transsexual person. This is why I don’t use transgender. This is why I do use Trans. If you can’t see that there are serious differences in just the letters used there, please, learn something about us.
Using transgender as a noun is occasionally an ignorant, symptomatic mistake made by a careless writer. But more often, it's an indicator of more issues: transgender or cross-dressing male to describe trans women, a she where a he is needed. It is indicative of a pattern of dehumanization, of degendering. How can a writer too lazy to check the AP style manual or question their own use of nouns and pronouns be trusted to write about trans issues? (The answer is systematic cissupremacy.)

Transgender is also not a verb because gender is not a verb. I do not cisgender every day when I put on a skirt or wash my genitals. I do not gender when I do anything, because gender is not a verb. Using transgender as such reflects a lack of understanding and avoidance of research on the part of the writer.

Transgender can modify “woman” in the case that the woman in question was assigned male at birth. Transgender can modify “man” in the case that the man in question was assigned female at birth. Transgender can modify “person” when talking about (particularly though not exclusively) nonbinary folks on the trans spectrum. Transgender can modify “people” when talking about a community, and “issues” when talking about issues of concern to the trans community.

Transgender can modify whatever nouns can be used to describe a trans person. Trans mother, trans father, trans political candidate, trans writer, trans blogger, trans journalist, trans veteran, trans student.

Transgender even as an adjective is not always necessary. Woman and man describe trans woman and trans man just fine, and in fact, that's probably better unless the story is somehow about them being trans. And it almost always is about the person in question's trans status, because that is what folks without cis privilege are reduced to.

Describing a person as "a transgender", article and all, is dehumanizing because it makes the person in question less than a noun: it defines them as not a person; they are not even a thing**, a place, or an idea. They are an adjective: one aspect of their life that has been pulled out of context of their humanity to mock and to shock.

Devon puts it this way:
Nouns are the primary components of speech, and they possess greater power and more potential for abuse than any other element. Consider this example: "a black man" versus "a black." The second construction strips the individual of his status as a man, an insidious thing. However, when the same word is used as an adjective modifier the problem disappears; "black" then simply describes the noun "man," the most important component of the sentence. Similarly, when "transsexual" is used as an adjective the implicit meaning changes -- the emphasis is placed on person, man, or woman first, transsexual second.
These words as a word doesn’t exist on its own. It is an adjective, a word used to further describe a person, a noun. Transgender is a quality, not an entity.

Also of importance:

I hate MTF and FTM
Put the Goddamn Space in: “transwoman” “transfeminism” “transmasculine” etc (language politics #1)
"GLBT" newspaper's transmisogynistic framing of assault erases Janey Kay's gender

*Ironically, I’m often using these words as nouns. In their capacity as words, they are nouns, as “run” or “exciting” is a verb or adjective in most contexts but a noun when discussing their qualities and construction as words.
**Describing trans people as "things" is degendering and no better than describing them as "transgenders".

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bras: Expensive, hard to find, hard to fit.

Image: A woman from the late 19th century wears a bra and long skirt. A fan covers her face.

I’ve gained a bit of weight in the last year or so, which means that my breasts have gotten bigger. Boobs are awesome, and I’ve always felt a bit deficient in the boob department compared to my more generously endowed friends (for whom titties are a common topic of conversation). So, I’m happy about having bigger breasts. I liked them before (36 b/c), and I like them now (not sure, but bigger!).

Here is what I do not like.

None of my goddamn fucking bras fit right.

None of them. I am spilling out and under and sideways. Not even the boob part for the most part – more the side.

Usually I work at home and thus I am in a position to wear no bra. But I am currently at my part-time job and with the shirt I’m wearing, I cannot remove it. I am distinctly uncomfortable, making it difficult to concentrate.

Before, my bras have not fit particularly well. They always fall from my collarbones; I don’t find underwire comfortable. But I’ve always been able to work it out okay. I was a 34/36 B/C – a size that bra manufacturers seem to like to make a lot of - and I never had trouble finding inexpensive bras in my size.

Bras are not easy to buy, even with conditional class privilege. While bottom underwear is relatively cheap and easy to find, a bra is $10 for one cheap one, and at least $50 for a well-constructed one. I don’t think I’ve ever spent $50 of my own money on a single article of clothing, and to buy one that few see.

This is not just something that happens. Breasts are unique, and different, and hard to fit. But there are millions of women in the US, and we shouldn’t be suffering, or uncomfortable, or forced to wear ill-fitting garments simply because we have a bodily feature common (but not exclusive to) to women. It’s not enough that we’re shamed for their size or visibility – too big, too small, too slutty, too prude – we must also spend a disproportionate amount of our clothing budget to outfit them attractively and

It’s indicative of sexism, because women usually have breasts. It’s indicative of sizism, because the bigger we are, the harder it is to buy them. It’s indicative of classism, because finding a bra that fits is expensive.

This seems somehow a small injustice. And it is, in a way. And it’s been better articulated by better writers. I am still writing from the perspective of an overall size-privileged body, and my breasts are still, comparatively, quite small and within the range where it would not take a lot of extra effort to get a couple of decent bras, or at least find some that kid of fit.

I suppose it is one of those things I will just have to spend money on. Money that should go to my debt, or my rent, or my groceries, will go towards buying an overexpensive item of support for my simple, lovely, body.

Inspired by a post from Cat of Little Miss Listless

Kittens, and links!

Image: Three precious kittens in with white faces and brown and black markings on an arm in a row.

Hi all! I’m sorry I’ve been less than prolific this week, but there are currently some kittens in my life demanding a lot of attention.

Here’s what I’ve been writing elsewhere:

At Bitch: The Numbers: Lost and Race and Death On the Island and Off the Island. Thanks so much to Renee of Womanist Musings for her help on the second.

At Critical Drinking: Microwaves, Coffee, Laundry, Gardening Porn.

And now, some linkage:

Native Appropriations: Random Appropriation of the Day! (International Pow Wow)

Questioning Transphobia: Men of good character

stuff white people do: pay little attention to terrorism directed against minorities

FWD/Forward: In Which Rape Makes Me Angry

Female Impersonator: Celebrating Law Firm Diversity!

Siditty: RIP Aiyana Jones

The Abortioneers: In Memorium

I Fry Mine in Butter: Meet the New-clear Family

Womanist Musings: To Malcolm X on his 84th Birthday

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Vancouver Sun tries to create context for Jonathan Rhys Meyers' racist language

Trigger warning for discussion of racist language.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who has been in and out of rehab and is now back in rehab, recently got drunk and was subsequently thrown off a flight. During the commission of the ejection, he yelled the n-word at a United Airlines employee. The Vancouver Sun explained it thusly:
Now however, further details have emerged about Meyers' JFK incident. RadarOnline report that the Irishman used the 'N' word during the scuffle. It's still unclear whether Meyers directed the comment at someone in particular or simply blurted it out with no specific target in mind.
I’m sorry. Is this ever a word to be “simply blurted with no specific target in mind”? What could be simple about it? N----r is a word that is, in most cases, very specifically directed at a specific racial group. It’s an extremely taboo word around the world for a reason.

N----r is not fuck. Or shit. Or Christ. It is not an exclamation out of nothing, out of frustration, out of context.

It is not something that slops over the lip of our mouth accidentally when our vocabulary is stumbling through alcohol. Even in anger, it’s not a word that just occur without a target. Even among racists. I’ve been around drunk and unrepentant racists, and it most certainly does slop over and out. In a joke, about specific people, the people in nearby cars, a service worker. It is always used to specifically prove their supremacy as a white person.

The wording above on the part of the Sun is probably a conscious attempt to give Meyers the benefit of the doubt. But used by a white privileged man towards people he considers beneath him (airline workers), there is no room for that benefit. This word choice reflects a choice to minimize the seriousness of this slur. Author inserts doubt about whether or not it was an act aimed at a specific person where it is unnecessary; the usual conditions for using the word make it clear enough that there was a target. This is an act of white privilege in action.

I suppose I could be wrong. I suppose the Sun could be right to give him the benefit of the doubt. I suppose it could be that there were no black people around at all, but while it is n----r is not limited to black people. I guess it is possible that everyone around Meyers was white.

But even under these rather unlikely conditions, it’s still horrifically fucking racist. Honestly, all that needs to be reported is the presence of this word in his rant. That is very well enough to tell me how to view Meyers in the future.

There’s not a lot more I have to say about my distaste for Meyers and the idea that this word is something that could just slip out (even if that’s what it is). But I'm going to turn it over to Siditty , who wrote on the still-present use of the word by white people last year:

White people still use the word. They don't always use it out in the open, but some do use it, and often. You should read my emails and the comments that don't make it on this blog. I can remember the 1st time I heard the n-word, my family and some of their friends were called the n-word by a man when I was a little kid at a carnival, not too far from a "sundown town". I was born after the era of Jim Crow, and my blog and email address were established after Jim Crow as well. I know this is shocking, but in the year 2009, racism still exists. I say this often, but people tend to forget this all the time, and it concerns me.
This is a disgusting act from Meyers, a sign of his considerable privilege as a white, rich, famous man. His language is already being erased in other accounts of the incident and his return to rehab. The presence of this word is reprehensible regardless of context, and the attempt to create one is indicative of the Sun’s privileged point of view.

Further reading:

Womanist Musings: "Go Ahead Say Nigger" & "The Power of Nigger"
What Tami Said: "About 'The N Word'"

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ableist Word Profile: Crazy

This is cross-posted at one of my favorite blogs, FWD/Forward as an Ableist Word Profile (a series I love).

Like every ism, ableism is absorbed through the culture on a more subconscious level, embedding itself in our language like a guerrilla force. Crazy is one of the most versatile and frequently used slurs, a word used sometimes directly against persons with mental disabilities (PWMD), sometimes indirectly against persons with able privilege, sometimes descriptive and value-neutral, and sometimes in a superficially positive light.

As a direct slur against PWMD:

Crazy as a word is directly and strongly tied to mental disability. It’s used as a slur directly against PWMD both to discredit and to marginalize. If a person with a history of mental illness wants to do something, for good or bad, that challenges something, that person’s thoughts, arguments, and rhetoric are dismissed because that person is “crazy”. If a PWMD is going through pain because of something unrelated to their mental state, culpability for the pain is placed solely on their being crazy. Even if their suffering is related to their disability, it is, in a catch-22, dismissed due to their “craziness”; the PWMD is expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they want to be viewed as a valid human being.

“I can’t believe Britney shaved her head. Crazy bitch.”
“Not only is Dworkin cissexist, she’s fucking crazy!”

As a way to discredit neurotypical people:

Crazy is also often used to describe a neurotypical person that the speaker disagrees with. It’s used to discredit able-privileged persons by saying that they are actually mentally disabled – and what could be worse than that?

“Tom Cruise is fucking crazy. Seriously, he’s batshit insane about Prozac, yelling at Matt Lauer and shit.”
“Did you hear that Shirley broke up with Jim? She thought he was cheating on her.” “Yeah, she’s crazy, Jim’s a great guy.”

As an all-purpose negative adjective:

Crazy is often used – even, still, by me and other feminists – to negatively describe ideas, writing, or other nouns that the speaker finds disagreeable. Conservatives are “crazy”, acts of oppression are “crazy making” , this winter’s snow is “craziness”. This usage makes a direct connection between mental disability and bad qualities of all stripes, turning disability itself into a negative descriptor. Whether it means “bad” or “evil” or “outlandish” or “illogical” or “unthinkable”, it’s turning the condition of having a disability into an all-purpose negative descriptor. When using crazy as a synonym for violent, disturbing, or wrong, it’s saying that PWMD are violent, disturbing, wrong. It’s using disability as a rhetorical weapon.


“They took the public option out of the health care plan? That’s fucking crazy!”
“Yeah, Loretta went crazy on Jeanie last night. Gave her a black eye and everything.”

Crazy as a positive amplifier:

On the flip side, crazy is often used as a positive amplifier. Folks say that they are “crazy” about something or someone they love or like. But just because it’s positive doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Crazy as a positive adjective still mean “overly” or “too much”. It’s meant to admit a slight lack of foresight or sense on the part of the speaker. Furthermore, a slur is a slur is a slur, no matter the context. Crazy is mostly, and overtly, used to mean “bad”, “silly”, “not worth paying attention to”, “too much”. Persons with mental illnesses are none of these things as a group. The positive use is not that positive, and it doesn’t absolve the mountains of bad usage.

“I’ve been crazy busy lately, sorry I haven’t been around much.”
“I’m just crazy about ice cream!”

Crazy a destructive word, used to hurt people with mental disabilities. It’s used to discredit, to marginalize, to make sure that we feel shame for our disability and discourage self-care, to make sure that those of us brave enough to publicly identify as having mental disabilities are continually discredited.

Alexis Lusk fights transphobia in high school through the Dallas Voice

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and in recognition of this day, I'd like to bring you readers a saddening story that caught my eye on Friday.

Above is Alexis Lusk, a trans teen girl in Texas [photo has been removed]. Alexis, a junior at Whitehouse High School in East Texas, is out to her supportive friends and not-so-supportive parents. She has been slowly changing her presentation for the last three years by wearing unisex clothing. Recently, she edged into more presentation by wearing a bra, a blouse, and a pair of ballet flats.

Her bravery was not met with violence or harassment from students. But her slow, unobtrusive transition apparently made the administrators quite uncomfortable, enough so that she was reprimanded by the principal and told that she was creating a "distraction". Their cissexism was successful: Alexis has repressed her identity and presentation in the interest of preserving her academic career. She's an ambitious young woman who hopes to be a pharmacist or computer programmer, but as with many trans teens, this may be a matter of life and death: Alexis says that previous attempts to give up presenting herself as she wants to have led to thoughts of suicide.

Alexis, however, is a little bit tougher than administrators at Whitehouse High may think. Instead of bowing to their bullying and going back into the closet to protect herself (as would be her right), she's taking her fight to the media and the law.

She's contacted LBGT newspaper the Dallas Voice, and they've written an article on her situation that is, with an exception, a model for portraying trans folks respectfully and sympathetically. In most mainstream (and even in LGBT) news coverage, trans people are systematically misgendered or degendered or worse. Sometimes they are referred to with slurs, other times they are reduced to their trans status by turning the adjective transgender into a noun. Other times, there is inordinate focus on their transition status or sex assignment at birth. But this article by John Wright is almost entirely respectful of Alexis' body and identity, and focuses on reporting on the situation at hand.

There is one problem in the source that I noticed, which is the reference to "cross-dressing" in the third to last paragraph. Alexis is not cross-dressing: she is trying to represent her true gender through her clothes. Referring to it as cross hints that she's being deceptive. But unless my cis privilege is keeping me from seeing some problematic construction or statement, this is otherwise an excellent article.

Alexis has contacted some lawyers, Lambda Legal, and Youth First Texas, but the outlook is not particularly rosy. Her parent's lack of support means that she would have to emancipate herself. Alexis' juvenile diabetes makes her dependent upon her parents for this support, and emancipation would be a likely death sentence, as it is for many trans teens lacking support.
“All I really want to do is be myself,” said Alexis. “I understand that in today’s world that’s complicated, but there’s a point where it’s not that complicated.”
It's not that complicated. Every woman, every man, every person, cis or trans or genderqueer or otherwise, deserves and needs the right to present themselves as they see fit. This is what hateful rhetoric like Barney Frank's references "full beard and a dress" gets our country: women are restricted from full expression of themselves as they see fit, teens are kept from blooming in the stage when people blossom. The world is a hateful place, and teens like Alexis Lusk deserve admiration for being willing to blaze the trail.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Blogiversary, Bitch, Facebook, Housekeeping...

Image: RMJ at her 24th birthday party, smiling at the camera.

Last week was my blogiversary! I'm excited that I'm back to posting a year after I began blogging in earnest. I've learned an incredible amount, read some fantastic writers, made mistakes, and done some writing I'm proud of. I'm so glad I started on this adventure - it's an ever-shifting, ever-fascinating challenge.

I’ve been thinking about it in the context of what I want to do in my next year of blogging, and I’ve come up with a few goals, both feminist and selfish:

-Make more of an effort to write about oppressions I do not experience in a fair and feminist way. I want to raise my knowledge and consciousness of the language I use, and how I can be better and less oppressive in my use of that language. I want to find more words like dumb that I use all the time, that hurt people, and exterminate it from my language. I want to find more words like cis that I can use to describe my privilege without making my body standard.

-Read more feminist theory, and finish 50 Books for Problematic Times.

-Double my readership.

-Centralize the voices of people who experience the oppressions I do not face but do write about. I’m planning on a big post about this in the future, but this is simple: when I write about race in this blog, I want to quote more authors of color. When I’m facing word counts in writing on race outside of DP, I want to link more to authors of color. The same applies to other forms of oppression: centralize trans voices when talking about cissexism, centralize GLB voices when talking about heterosexism, centralize mothers’ voices when writing about mothers. I need to read more, and learn more, and link more, and quote more.

-Get more paid writing work.

-Write more consistently. Even if I’m not able to write as often as I am not, or as often as I did last August, I want to write every week.

-Comment more, promote other blogs more, make new Internet Friends.

I’m also excited to share a few new ventures with you!

Image: A wall with 16 Bitch Magazine covers arranged in a rectangle. Also, there are a couple pictures of Janis Joplin above them.

I’ve just this week begun blogging about television for Bitch Magazine! I’ve been a huge fan of Bitch since I was a teenager – I love them enough to display their covers as art in my house (above)! I am a little giddy about this particular instance of teenage wish fulfillment. The series is called TelevIsm, and I’ll be writing there on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. My introduction to the series is here, and this is from my recent post on The Office and socially responsible jokes:

Jokes that can be interpreted as critical under this condition are not, generally, the strongest critiques of the kyriarchy, no. Because it’s not fiercely anti-kyriarchy , some folks are going to laugh at these jokes for the wrong reasons, and possibly appropriate it in the service of whatever ism the joke is critiquing.

But racism and other isms should not be erased in popular culture, and there’s a way to responsibly portray oppression without an oppressed person as the butt of the joke. Mainstream culture – widely popular television that does not use social justice as a guiding point of the show – can communicate to the audience that active oppression is harmful and unacceptable.

And from today's upcoming post on what a socially irresponsible joke looks like:

Now, here’s what I guess a few of you are thinking: "it’s just a joke, it’s not a big deal, there are more important things.”. These are jokes! And there are a lot of other, probably more serious issues! But, you know what? Violence against women, ableism, transphobia – these things are big deals, and they do hurt people. And these shows perpetuate that. Kyle’s, Stan’s, and Cartman’s constant and uncritical use of ableist language makes people think that that is funny and okay to use. Rape jokes make people think that rape is okay. Racist jokes make people think that racism isn’t a real problem. Presenting an episode devoted to showing how silly and fake trans people are helps people justify hatred, discrimination, and even violence against a lot of marginalized people.

In other news, Deeply Problematic is now on Facebook! Become a fan! Get updates there! Suggest it to your friends! We need more fans so that we can

We are also on Twitter, though that is currently just for site updates.

I’ve also begun a new blog, Drinking Critically, where I will write about various things I do or do not like and why I do or do not like them. I’m basically using it for writing warm-up. It’s pretty heavy on the first person and not very serious – so far my topics have included Crocs, cucumber plants, dirty dishes, and cheesecake. I am not positive I will stick with it, but it’s fun – a place to blow off meaningless steam. Or less-meaningful steam.

Also, I think I’m going to start doing fairly-regular link roundups. So, if you have something you’d like to see linked on here, send it to me!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fashionable racism in Interview's "Let's Get Lost"

You know what industry is pretty racist? The fashion industry! Here's the latest evidence, courtesy of a Mikael Jasson shoot in Interview Magazine:

Here's the description of the images above:
"Let's get lost. The hour is late, the air is thick, and the evening is charged with a steamy sensuality. What works? Tone-on-tone swimsuits, slithers of silk, and plenty of skin, as flesh meets flesh, body meets soul, and Daria gets lost in the heat of the night."
In this feature, people of color are used literally as background material, like they're a cloth backdrop, or the color-coordinated car. They are framed as inconsequential: many bodies, limbs are draped about her; their dark, striking faces are mostly blank; they wear hats to cover their aberrant hair. The bodies of people of color in serve only as contrast for the beautiful white woman, Daria, the only person worth mentioning by name.

Though people of color, for once, outnumber white people, they are not the focus in this spread. They are models, doing their jobs well - all of them are quite striking and make the clothes look as interesting as anything Daria wears. But Daria is the specific focus of the camera, the lighting, the composition, the male model's bodies, are situated to frame Daria. Their clothes are universally earth tones or muted, while Daria wears bright colors.

Black people, here, are not people. In the context of this shoot, Sedene Blake is not a woman. Oriane Barnett is not a model. Raschelle Osbourne is not a woman. David Agboji is not a man. Salieu Jalloh is not a beautiful individual. Neither is Armando Cabral, or Carmalita Mendes, or Manuel Ramos, or Kelly Moreira, or any of the other models. They are framed instead as props.

Though this is in a fashion magazine and they are models, they and the clothes they wear are reduced to acting as part of the framework of the scene; you're supposed to look at the pretty white lady, not the pretty people of color.

In these pictures, people of color are equated with night; they are metaphors for a period of time. This is worse than animalization; this is dehumanization. People of color represent an abstract force, a concept. Not people. Beautiful, perhaps, but that's besides the point. Simply the environment in which a white person exists. Something a white lady falls back on. Something a woman in a swimsuit sits on, to make the swimsuit and her white skin look better.

Sonja Uwimama commented on this at Africa is a Country:

You would think that if they’re going to keep using Black people as the exotic background on which white people get to project their fantasies, they’d at least be more original with it. In the heat of the night? Really? Sorry, Interview, but the joke’s on you.

This is just the most recent incident of blatant racism in an industry with no shortage of it. Renee recently wrote on the topic:
The Black woman has long been seen as the ultimate un-woman and despite the supposed advances, race and gender continue to leave Black women at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Fashion is but one manifestation of the ways in which we continue to be “othered”. Black women are called angry when they rightfully lash out against blatant racism, because we are expected to accept our second class status without complaint. That it is exhausting to constantly wage a battle to be recognized as human and therefore valuable, is not considered. We are constantly told that our tone is why Whiteness does not listen; however, Black women are well aware that White supremacy is dedicated to maintaining the race and gender divisions, because it serves to cement power.
"Let's Get Lost" is evidence that gender privilege is not a shield against the racism of the fashion industry (or any other context). Even when models of color make up the bulk of the shoot, they are often treated as little but fodder for contrast and controversy. In this issue of Interview, men of color serve little purpose beyond "pushing buttons" and "being edgy".

Men and women of color, in this shoot, are little but something exotic in which a white woman can get "lost". This reinforces the idea that black men prey on white women by leading them astray.

What I've written above is just the introduction to everything that's wrong with this. This clearly and thoughtfully racist. It's trolling with fashion photography.

Further reading:

Tom and Lorenzo (an excellent fashion blog and my source for the shoot details)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Disability and birth control: part three

This is the final part of a series for Blogging Against Disableism Day. Part one and part two ran previously. See more of BADD 2010.

After I tossed my birth control in the trash, things were pretty okay. My mind was in line, condoms and withdrawal (a tip from another friend) served me just fine, and when it didn't, Plan B didn't knock me too far out of line (at that point).

But after intercourse one night, I had some nasty gas. Or cramps. Something that made me double up next to my partner on the twin bed in his dorm room for an hour. It passed, I went to sleep, and didn't think about it much the next morning. The next day, at work, I doubled up again, on a couch this time. I could not walk it off. A student who had an appointment with me came in, and I had to beg off. I waited a few hours and then called my roommate to take me to the hospital.

After several boring hours at the hospital, pain going in and out, the verdict was returned: ruptured ovarian cysts.

"Could this be caused by birth control?" I asked a nurse. "Certainly, honey!" she replied. I was relieved - I threw that stuff away.


I recovered well and went to a male gynecologist whom I was comfortable with, even when he described the discomforting image of my ladybusiness filled with blood from the ruptured ovary. Months passed. In the late summer, I went back in for a check-up. Things were fine until Dr. Man called me into his office. "So, what are you doing about birth control?"

"Well, we've been using condoms and pulling out, but I'd really like to talk about maybe getting a diaphragm or an IUD?"

"Oh no. I only prescribe non-hormonal methods to people in stable relationships."

"Well, I've been with my boyfriend almost two years now, and we're pretty..."

"No, I'm talking like... mortgage, kids together. You're not ready for that yet. I think hormonal methods are much more appropriate for you." He smiled.

"Well, you know, I think that the pill might have caused the ruptures? - "

"Oh, no, that's not possible. This will actually prevent them!"

"But didn't like it that much the first time around, it didn't make me feel good, you know, mentally?"

"Sometimes you have to try several different kinds. It takes a while to get the right fit."

"But I'm not good at taking pills - "

He smiled, and pulled up a NuvaRing, and talked me into it.

Never mind that I said I was uncomfortable. Never mind I said I was looking for a non-hormonal method of birth control. Never mind the strife and pain and suffering that trying hormonal methods, of searching for the "right" (read: hormonal) fit. Never mind that I researched and requested specific other methods. Never mind that I already had a reliable and effective method of birth control.

I was judged too young, too immature, too unstable. I am a woman and a person with disabilities, and for that reason, my input on my own body was dismissed, and another method that had already proved harmful was pushed upon me.

Now, I should say this: I'm sure that HBC can help people with ovarian cysts. But they don't help me - every time I've taken and gone off HBC, I have had ruptured cysts within a few months. I had never had them before I started HBC, and I don't have them when I'm not on it. In some women, HBC and ovarian cysts are unrelated, or helpful. For my body, it's a causation.

Ruptured ovarian cysts are one physical, temporarily disabling ramification of hormonal birth control for my body. But the major tremors were, as I've belabored, mental.

In the month I was on the NuvaRing, I was anxious. I was angry. I was out of my head. I couldn't concentrate, on anything. My sex drive plummeted and I couldn't climax. I deal with OCD on a daily basis, but this was different, meaner. The obsessions and compulsions were full of rage. The trichotillomania was almost violent.

The tipping point finally came when I screamed at a close friend and broke my phone in a rage...brought on by a lost puzzle piece.

(I think this is funny, in retrospect.)

I took out the ring the next day.


Things were good, for a year or so. I wasn't on any kind of hormonal birth control, and I didn't get pregnant. I was busy. I wrote two honors theses, graduated with honors, got a temporary job with health insurance, found the perfect apartment with my partner. One afternoon, though, our usual methods malfunctioned, and I had to take Plan B. It most likely wasn't necessary, but my anxiety surrounding pregnancy was only relieved by being extra-careful.

A month later, I went into an anxiety tailspin - deep enough that I am still dealing with its ramifications. I had health insurance, so I got therapy and went to a female gynecologist who encouraged me to look into non-hormonal methods. Getting service from her was too expensive, but another friend recommended a local abortion clinic, who fitted me for a diaphragm for only $25.

I had to try two different sizes. Figuring out how to fit it was frustrating enough to inspire a tearful phone call to my mother. The tubes of spermicide are expensive. It's a pain to remember to take it out the next day.

But getting a diaphragm was the best decision I've made regarding my fertility.

For the purposes of curious readers contemplating different methods of birth control, I'll describe my system with my partner. After foreplay and before intercourse, I insert my diaphragm (it's easier when I'm aroused). We go for a while without a condom. I am comfortable with because withdrawal is 97% effective when used consistently and correctly, because we have both been tested and neither of us have STIs, because we have been monogamous and stable for four years and I trust him, because it feels pretty awesome, and because I have a diaphragm in in case of early ejaculation. When my partner feels that it is necessary and after I have climaxed, he puts on a condom, and finishes.

This is satisfying, exciting, and I feel comfortable and confident in my methodology. Mistakes are rarely made, and there is always a safety net in the case of an accident. We are able to plan our family and our life without worrying about unexpected conception. I have little to no anxiety, even when my (often irregular) period is slightly late.

This is the right method of birth control for me. It was hard won, but you know what? It's an accomplishment in self-care, and I'm proud of it.


In concluding this series, I want to reiterate that hormonal birth control can be wonderful and liberating and healthy for many women. This is not a diatribe against hormonal birth control in and of itself. If this works for you, I am so glad.

So, what are the lessons I want to communicate to readers facing choices about their method of birth control?

As with any other decision we make regarding our body, our choices are judged and policed. This is not okay. You should not have to use birth control. You should not feel that you have to use any particular method of birth control. While doctors and partners and friends and mothers are worth listening to, it is your body and your health, and you can do what you want with it. Your body and your reproductive system are yours, and you and no one else knows what is best for you.

Doctors are not the only source of information on the topic, and they cannot dictate what you should do. They are prone to bad advice. Doctors do not know everything and are subject to biases that can block you from finding the method that's right for you. Diaphragms are a valid choice. So is withdrawal. So are condoms. So is the sponge.* So are hormonal methods. There are other methods than hormonal birth control, and hormonal birth control is not right for everybody.

Only you have the right to make decisions about your reproductive health, but that doesn't mean that you don't need help. The words of other women are powerful. Your mother, your friends, your mentors, may very well have information and stories to share. Ask women you trust about their experiences, and talk to them about your options and feelings.

*Thanks to Liss for reminding me of this method!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dan Fanelli's racism, and Alan Grayson's common sense

On the heels of this racist mess of an ad from Alabama would-be Governor Tim James comes this incredibly racist ad from Congressional candidate Dan Fanelli, who is running against Florida eighth district Congressman Alan Greyson (who is surprisingly awesome for a major-party politician):

Transcript: I’m Dan Fanelli with a little bit of common sense for you. Does this [motions toward older thin white man in a white shirt and tie] look like a terrorist, or this? [motions to a heavily muscled young man of color in a black shirt] It’s time to stop this political correctness nonsense and the invasion of our privacy. Let’s face it. If a good-looking, ripped guy without much hair flies an airplane into the Twin Towers, I’d have no problem getting pulled out of line at the airport. I’m Dan Fanelli, and I approved this message.

An older white man is totally fine to get on a plane. A younger Arab-American man is not. There is no other reason other than race that Fanelli thinks people of Arab descent are terrorists – because terrorism is very far from unique to the Middle East. These are racist scare tactics at their worst and most blatant, posing as “humor”. I’m not sure what privacy has to do with it – I guess he is saying that white folks deserve it at the airport, but people of color don’t?

This is what the recent changes to Arizona law have brought to political discourse. It is now officially okay to advocate racism – straight up, blatant, racism, there is no other word for it – in order to get elected.

He is saying that if you get him to Congress, he will make sure that white men are given legal privileges over folks of Arab descent.

He is saying that equal treatment under the law – as provided for in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution – is silly.

He is saying that the security theater is more important than the rights of American citizens whose skin is not white.

He is saying that racism is common sense. He is saying that preferential treatment for one race should be just a simple fact.

I'm editing to include the Council on American-Islamic Relations' reply to this advertisement:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling on national Republican leaders to repudiate the ad. From their release (via the Washington Post blog):

"These outrageously racist and Islamophobic political appeals indicate that Mr. Fanelli falsely believes his constituents are as bigoted and intolerant as he obviously is," said CAIR Legislative Director Corey Saylor. "Local, state and national GOP leaders must speak out strongly against such racist and un-American campaign tactics."

Saylor said a number of recent terror incidents -- including the suicide plane attack on an IRS facility in Texas, the shooting of Pentagon guards and the alleged Christian militia plot to kill police officers -- disprove the crude stereotypes promoted by Fanelli's ads.

He said the anti-Islam hostility generated by the ads could result in ordinary Florida Muslims being targets for discrimination or even hate crimes.

Fanelli is arguing that voters should choose him over Congressman Alan Greyson, a Democrat who is in his first term, because of Greyson’s unwillingness to promulgate racial profiling. Grayson's reticence to perpetuate legal racism makes him a “bum” (which is, by the way, a rather classist slur.)

I talked to Greyson’s press secretary on the phone and through e-mail earlier today. He alerted me to Fanelli's regular participation in Tea Party demonstrations, and offers this rebuke from Grayson's campaign ads:
Scratch a teabagger, find a racist.
As Grayson points out, Fanelli's ad and involvement in the Tea Party movement are unapologetic. His pride in racism is indicative of the kind of rhetorical racist nonsense that's endemic to the Tea Party movement. As Monica of TransGriot puts it:
[T]hey have views and have acted in ways that put them in alignment with people who like to wear white pointed hoods on the weekends or play domestic terrorist soldier while spouting pseudo christian rhetoric or anti government slogans.
After reading Greyson’s response, I read up on his record. He’s pro-choice, voted for the Lily Ledbetter Pay Act, supports hate crime laws, and has fought tooth and nail for a more equitable health care system – he was the one who said “The Republican health care plan is this: 'Don't get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”. He started a website remember those who died because they lacked health insurance. He has also continued to press for a public healthcare option, refusing to be content with Obama’s compromise.

I doubt he has a perfect record, and if you let me know about his more problematic attitudes and actions, I’ll be happy to edit this post to include them. But he’s working harder for people than many Democrats, and he’s got a lot more common sense about racism than his opponent.

Today, I donated $5 to Grayson’s campaign. I rarely give money to political candidates, and I don't live in Florida, but I think fighting racism in public discourse and supporting worthwhile candidates is worth a little pocket change. If you feel the same way, click on over here.

(I also wrote to Fanelli's campaign to register my disgust. The contact email is:

via Latin in America

M.I.A. [Music Monday]

M.I.A. is the featured artist for this week's Music Monday. She is a "British songwriter, record producer, singer, rapper, fashion designer, visual artist, political activist, and artist of Tamil Sri Lankan origin", as defined by Wikipedia.

I'm actually not that familiar with M.I.A. I've known of her since early in college, about five years ago, when a much cooler friend would play this incessantly:

But I haven't sought her out much since. I tend to be a passive music listener - my partner is music-obsessed, and I'm far less articulate and defined in my own musical tastes. I often end up listening to what he's listening to and doing little exploration on my own.

I began listening to her last week when Racialicious published a post querying the feminist hype about Lady Gaga and positing a comparison to M.I.A.:

[w]hile the spectacle of Gaga is dazzling, ironically as a singer, her music is the least progressive thing about her. Especially when you contrast it with M.I.A’s bonkers rhymes and bold call-outs to volatile political conflicts.

Personally, I love Gaga because I have really poppy sensibilities and she writes excellent pop songs. And though the post linked above mentions M.I.A.'s claim that Gaga "mimic[s]" M.I.A., I actually don't really agree. Both are dance-y, but Gaga is straightforward singer/songwriter romance-oriented pop - not challenging, but extremely well-constructed and sung. M.I.A. has less vocal emphasis, and her beats are more aggressive and less rote.

Nonetheless, I'm enjoying MIA a great deal even though she's more of a challenge. Her videos are aesthetically pleasing and act as a direct challenge to systems of power. Gaga's videos are also nice-looking and engaging on a visual level, but I really have to look pretty hard to find any political meaning. Not so much with M.I.A.'s video for "Sunflowers", below:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Kristen Stewart: smiling is not an obligation, professional or otherwise

Image: Kristen Stewart at the Adventureland red carpet, wearing a peach dress, not smiling. Image from Flickr

Kristen Stewart plays Bella in Twilight, which is the hottest franchise around right now. Thusly, she is invited to a lot of events. She stands out on the red carpet because she does not smile broadly or pose; she usually looks slightly uncomfortable. Of her red-carpet experience, Stewart said:
People say that I’m miserable all the time. It’s not that I’m miserable, it’s just that somebody’s yelling at me…I literally, sometimes, have to keep myself from crying…It’s a physical reaction to the energy that’s thrown at you.
Stewart is often a target of a specific kind of body policing: the “smile, baby” requirement. When she appears on the red carpet and does not assure us with her teeth that she is simply thrilled to be reduced to a presence, a dress, a posture, she is often the target of harassment for her expression. There is an expectation of women in general and famous woman in particular to always assure the onlooker that they are happy to be looked upon through smiling, and Stewart rejects this.

Her expression is an affront to the patriarchy, it seems. Stewart’s expressions do not go unnoticed among those who write about celebrities.

From OK!:
Kristen Stewart Actually Cracks a Smile - Twilight’s leading lady Kristen Stewart isn’t exactly known for her cheery disposition.
From ONTD members:
You know, I used to not mind her and actually thought she was just kinda misunderstood in why ppl think she's bitchy and ungrateful.

Then I kinda realized that no, I think she really is just like that and means to be that way.


Her life. It is so HARD.

God, stop bitching for half a second and recognized you are one of the luckiest people that will ever be born. I mean, yeah, fame has it's own problems attached to it, but they will never outweigh the good.
The hell of it is that Stewart often does smile – just not broadly, or without opening her mouth:

Image description: Kristen Stewart, with her hair pushed back and wearing layers, smirks at someone to the left of the camera at an event. From Flickr

And this is not enough. Despite the fact that this attention is often negative and always demanded, despite the fact that it drives her to tears, appreciation of this harrassment is demanded. Graciousness is an obligation on Stewart's part because people are looking at her. The implication for women is that attention is a sign of our value; if we are not attracting it, particularly from men, we are worthless. If we're harassed and ordered to smile, we're lucky. We must be grateful for all attention, even that which we find unpleasant. Or we are bitches.

I myself am a rather smiley person, and have only gotten “Smile, baby! It ain’t that bad!” once in my memory, when I was pissed off and cold. It was infuriating though, and I still remember feeling humiliated.

s.e. smith recently wrote about this expectation for folks read as women:

People order each other to smile because they feel uncomfortable around people who are not smiling, especially when those people are women (or are read as such). Women are expected to be nice and sweet, to make other people feel comfortable. A woman who says ‘hey, I think there’s a problem here’ is being ‘negative.’ A woman who doesn’t smile while she’s being harassed is ‘humourless.’ A woman who prefers to stay focused on tasks is a ‘cold bitch.’ Significant gendering is involved here; women have an obligation to look and act a certain way and when they don’t, they need to be hassled until they do.
Some folks construct smiling on the red carpet as a professional expectation. But why is that a professional expectation? This is the same argument applied to weight for actors. As with weight, it sends the message to female fans that thinness/smiling is mandatory. Placing expectations on the body is always an act of the kyriarchy, whether it's for movie stars or flight attendants. Some people do not care to smile constantly. They should not be expected to in their work.

This professional/social expectation is often applied to problematized bodies, as Renee points out:
I get that Gabby is a celeb, but she is also a person -- and if she does not feel like putting a fake ass smile on her face to satisfy some guy, that is just fine. Too often men will expect women to hide their feelings and become little automatons, because it makes them happy --never mind that it may be in direct conflict of how we are currently feeling. This is not a celeb thing, this is a woman thing. I have been told on more than one occasion that I should smile and all it inspires me to do is give the person the finger. You know, if I felt like smiling, I would smile.
This "professional expectation" is applied mainly to movie stars who are women. Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, and even George Clooney (who is known for being goofy) usually do not broadly smile, and I've never heard a word about their lack of appreciation for their fame.

Stewart’s lack of a ready smile isn’t really indicative of anything. Her supposed disposition does no manifest itself in anything other than some ruffled feathers among those demand a specific expression from women. She is not violent or cruel. She seems to be nice to the fan community. She doesn’t beat up photographers.

She just doesn’t like smiling. And in a culture of pop where it is the responsibility of women to make everyone comfortable, to put everyone at ease, this constitutes a grave affront.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The importance of the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative; and introductions

I wrote about my problems with the language used to describe possible cuts to the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative, but in doing so, I neglected the important work that the Initiative is doing and the San Francisco citizens who will suffer if it is cut.

I learned more about the Initiative when this article on it popped up in my reader. This Initiative provides vital services to the trans community in San Francisco. Beyond connecting members of the trans community with friendly employers, the program also offers job-training services – resume-writing classes, mock job interviews, and “legal help, mentoring and vocational services”.

The success of the Initiative is vital in a world where trans folks are not only violently oppressed, but consistently and legally denied employment based on their trans status. Its success has inspired a similar program in Los Angeles, and similar programs across the country are in development. The program relies on city funds, and in the current economic situation, its future is far from secure.

You can read more about the initiative here:

The article linked above is itself is a subject of interest for how it does and does not respect the people and organization it profiles. The article I slammed last week (which appeared in the San Francisco Gate) did not consider those who use the services of this organization to be anything more than a punchline. In comparison, this article (appearing in the LA Times) is much better simply because it does not dehumanize or slur its subjects. The article profiles actual trans people and takes their concerns seriously and respectfully.

Unfortunately, it gets off to a real rough start:
Michelle WallowingBull was born a boy. But growing up on Wyoming's Wind River Indian Reservation, she knew from age 5 that she was a girl inside.
It’s great that this article starts with the actual name of an actual trans woman of color. But saying that a woman was born a boy invalidates her gender and necessarily questions the authenticity of her gender. To quote Lisa Harney at Questioning Transphobia:
It’s more accurate to say that nearly everyone has an assigned male or female sex. This is something that is done to nearly everyone born in the global north. You’re born, and the first thing that gets said is “it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl.” There you go, a significant part of your life already defined for you right as you’re taking your first breath.
Furthermore, this beginning sentence is just not relevant to the article. The circumstances of WallowingBull’s assigned sex at birth are not directly relevant to her issues in finding employment. An article about employment shouldn’t begin with unrelated details about one of its subject’s backgrounds. It’s not particularly interesting – it’s just making the subject of the article into an object of curiosity rather than a person with relevant concerns worthy of serious consideration.

I'm focusing so heavily on this fraction of the article because an introduction sets the tone for any piece of writing. I’m a writing tutor, and this facet of writing is a daily topic of discussion with my students. I think that the first part of a piece of writing should define the topic and let the reader know how the writer plans on looking at the topic. This article’s introduction is unfortunate – in no small part because it doesn’t really reflect the rest of the article. The second paragraph would work very well as a first paragraph:
As a teen she bounced from the reservation to a South Dakota town to foster homes and back. In these remote communities, with a family steeped in addiction, she said, it was difficult to openly express the gender she deeply felt. Substance abuse and economic uncertainty followed — travails all too common for transgender people.
This is relevant to WallowingBull’s employment background. Though it's not attributing her past problems to systems of oppression, it recognizes that those issues are regularly felt in the trans community and presents that pattern as problematic.

The rest of the article is similarly well-constructed. The concerns of trans men and women are framed as valid and worthy of attention. Several different trans folks give input on the situation, and their words are centralized. In explaining the problem, the writer gives specific examples of how trans folks are forced into marginalized forms of employment such as sex work and drug dealing. Furthermore, she avoids victim-blaming by connecting high rates of illegal employment among trans people to the systems of legal oppression that keep trans folks from more traditional employment. [Sex work is great and I am all for it, but sex workers have few rights or protections and trans sex workers are particularly vulnerable.]

After a degendering introduction, the article actually does an excellent job (from my cis-privileged point of view) of presenting the work of the initiative as valid and necessary; the author, Lee Romney, is respectful of and sympathetic to the subjects of the article. If it weren’t for the cissexist beginning of the article, I think this would be a fantastic example of how to cover important trans issues in mainstream publications.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Disability and birth control: part two

Image: Two round pink plastic cases of birth control on white fabric. One is open to reveal the birth control pills inside.

This is part two of a two three-part series for Blogging Against Disableism Day. Part one is here. Unlike part one, this is a narrative. See more of BADD 2010.

When I was 19, hormonal birth control was just what you did if you were “good” about your sexuality. The (notoriously incompetent) nurse practitioners at health services of the women’s college I attended asked every patient if they were pregnant at every appointment, if they needed birth control – even if they were lesbians, even if their male lover was trans, even if they weren’t sexually active, even when they'd already said no. But even if students mentioned problems with hormonal birth control, or that they used condoms regularly, or that they didn’t have penis-in-vagina sex, birth control was still offered, even thrust upon us. It was a mandatory question, with a disapproving look or tut if it was rejected.

I was excited about the pill. The pill is (according to cultural narratives) what a responsible lady like myself does when she enters into a sexual relationship with the potential of pregnancy. I didn’t want to get pregnant – so badly that even with the pill, we still used condoms and the withdrawal method. I didn’t have a lot of shame about losing my virginity – which is a construct, but it was the construct I used at the time – but there were certain rules I needed to follow.

And it was great, for two months. My sex life was (and is) just wonderful, a revelation, a joy. The pill, too, seemed perfect. It was $5 a month. There were no mood swings or weight gain. And it relieved to a certain extent my paranoia about pregnancy.

The problems began when I went home for the summer, new relationship still intact but suddenly long-distance, friends suddenly 2000 miles away. I continued taking the pill over the summer. I wasn’t having sex but hey, once you’re on the pill, you stay on it, right?

I remember, very clearly, the morning I went crazy. It was quite a simple moment.

One day, I woke up and thought, “what if I have AIDS?”

And suddenly, I could not eat, period. I could not sleep, period. I could not think or read or write. I could not work. I could not look forward to my trip to see my boyfriend. I could not.

This remains the most terrifying time of my life – when my brain mutinied, when I literally could not think of anything else.

The fear ostensibly came from internalized slut-shaming. A year and a half prior, I’d given a few sketchballs some ill-advised blowjobs. None of these experiences were good or healthy, and some of them were not particularly consensual (you’ll be hearing more about this in a few weeks). But all of them were low-risk, and my fear of being infected was disproportionate and unrealistic (though an HIV test is a good idea for any sexually active person). When I got into a completely awesome, empowering, mutually satisfying sexual relationship, the previous year’s misadventures seemed more and more horrifying, in retrospect. I felt bad for myself and about myself. And when I took the pill that I thought made my totally awesome sexual relationship possible, it warped and twisted that shame into a monster that coated my every action and thought.

Even in the midst of this debilitating, disabling obsession, I still took the pill when my phone alarm went off at 6 pm. I’d never been good at taking pills, but I was rigorous about the pill. After all, I didn’t want to get pregnant, and the pill was the only really safe way to keep from getting pregnant, right?


I told my mom about it, and it got a little better. I got an HIV test (negative), and it got a little better. I went to see my boyfriend in Virginia, and it got a little better. By the time I came back from Virginia, I felt…okay. Not bad.

I kept taking the pill. I didn’t want to get pregnant.

Two weeks later, at some trivial trigger, my mind, suddenly, was off to the races again, and it just all came back.

It wasn’t health related, or an infection, this time. This time, it was my partner’s ex, and my conviction that he would leave me for her.

One of my partner’s exes began leaving some flirtatious messages on social networking sites. When I saw that, I was garden-variety-jealous and threatened. It didn’t seem like a big deal at first. This is what women do in relationships, right? Cheating with an ex is something we’re supposed to be afraid of, right? But instead of waning as I worked through my internalized sexism, these fears did not leave my mind.

In a paradox: I didn’t actually trust him less – my partner is and was great, and has never done anything to pique my jealousy - but the patriarchy assured me that this competition with a woman unknown to me was normal. My conditioning kicked in and helped the hormones in my body nurse an unfounded anxiety, conditioning me to see my inability to sleep and my waning appetite as okay, as normal, as just part of being in a relationship.

I was in love for the first time, and I was made insecure by the message that society sends heterosexual women: “your man, he is going to leave you. He is going to cheat on you, and another woman will steal him away.” My partner is wonderful and trustworthy and extremely monogamous, and I knew that, and I trusted in him.

But I could not, could not, could not, stop obsessing over it. It was compulsive, too: I checked his social networking page and his ex’s pages several dozen times a day, fearful of the next update or a sudden relationship change that would leave me single and heartbroken.

I wasn’t having sex, but I kept taking the pill. I don’t know why. I just thought that's what you did, didn't realize it had anything to do with my suddenly disability.

I lost 15, then 20, then 25, pounds very quickly. I lived for my partner’s expression of love every night, my one reassurance that everything was okay and I would not lose him suddenly. “Love you”, over IM or phone, would coax me to sleep, slowly – and I would wake up too few hours later and race to check his MySpace. On the rare occasion that he didn’t sign off with an expression of love, I went into hysterics. (He had no idea about my Problems, we’d only been dating a few months at that point).

When I went back to school and regained my support system, things got better. I was still anxious – still on the pill, using several other forms of birth control – but my friends could talk me down from anxiety spirals in ways my mom could not, and self-medication was plentiful. And I saw my boyfriend regularly, which assured me to some extent that I would not suddenly lose him.

In an airport on my way home for Thanksgiving, I finally made the connection between the constant anxiety, nervousness, worry, and the pill. An offhand comment to a friend about it turned to a click moment with her help – maybe this worry wasn’t normal, maybe it wasn’t a natural by product.

I threw away my pills, and things almost immediately got better. I had fun. I gained weight back. I wasn’t free of anxiety, or obsession, or compulsion, but it was no longer interfering.

But it was not the last time reproductive choice, sexism (internal and external) and hormones would gang up on my mind.

Sorry for the lateness of this post - this is difficult to write about. Later this week: Part Three!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Laura Nyro [Music Monday]

Laura Nyro – introduced to me by my boyfriend – is an excellent and often-overlooked folk-soul artist from the 1970s.

Nyro is jazzy and weird and awesome. She rejected fame rather than chasing it, hitting it relatively big early (her songs were covered by Three Dog Night and Peter Paul and Mary; she played at the Monterey Pop Festival and the (horribly cissexist) Michigan Womyn’s Festival) and quitting the business at 24.

A Wikipedia-sourced quote from Nyro, who reportedly identified as bisexual: "I was always interested in the social consciousness of certain songs. My mother and grandfather were progressive thinkers, so I felt at home in the peace movement and the women's movement, and that has influenced my music”. Feminist or no, this is an ableist title of an great song:


A few admin-type notes:

This is the return of Music Monday, in which music that I like by marginalized folks is posted. If you have a suggestion or your own music that you would like to see featured here, please email me.

Apologies on the belatedness of part two of my posts on the intersection between birth control and disabilities. It should be up late today!
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