Coming, Part III

That first night together ended up being our last. As quickly as Chu’s interest in me had materialized, it had disappeared—and not for reasons that I’d have ever imagined.

There were never any clues that anything was wrong—or maybe wrong is too judgmental of a word. There were never any clues that anything was not right. His passion seemed clear and true. The evening we met, we made out on my couch and moved to my bed; there were no doubts about it: I observed physical proof that he was—well—moved. He had worked hard for this, had been forward with expressing his interest and flirtatiousness for more than a month prior to the evening we locked lips. Finally, at our serendipitous meeting, he was getting what he wanted—and I, well, I was reaping the benefits: a Friday night frolic for my sheets, the attention of a guy who seemed to have a good head on his shoulders, enough sparks to hint that butterflies could’ve been waiting at the end of this moment.

I don’t know how long we were there or how long it took me to come to my wits. After his scruff brushed against my clean shave and our hands began to wrinkle our clothes, he positioned himself atop me, both of us still decently dressed, but with our minds wandering elsewhere. I hadn’t found this in months; a resident of rural Arkansas, he hadn’t found this in longer: the sought-after temptation of lingering fingers and tongues, lost to reason, surrendered to “Why not?” It would be easy to keep going, to feel good, to make him to feel good, to light the easy lust of here and now…

That’s when I did the unthinkable: I said stop.

Wary of moving too quickly and the potential of the moment to be a simple vent for the unsexed, I drew back. I opened my mouth and let my rationality dribble with hesitation and righteousness: I liked the promise of this situation too much to let it explode on the night it first began. We had to slow down. We had to stop.

I thought about the excuses that he’d use to retort: A fear of risk. Prudishness. Blue balls.

Instead, he reciprocated perfectly with an equally reasoned, “You’re right.” We brushed our wrinkles off our clothes. I drove him back to his hotel and let our respective Jiminy Crickets cut our night short… but not without a final kiss goodnight.

The next day, like any evolving crush, he texted. He called. We talked on the phone for an hour. By Saturday night, I was convinced: the butterflies were coming. Although he was boarding a flight back to Arkansas the next day, I knew he’d be back in two weeks for another conference. This was not over yet.

At work on Monday, I was completely distracted. The possibility of something fun, flirty, and maybe even meaningful on the horizon was one that I couldn’t shake off. In the middle of the day, I decided I’d take a page from his playbook and email him something completely raw, honest, and forward, a simple line to echo the sentiments I perceived from him during the weekend: Hey Chu, Can’t stop thinking about you. Give me a call back and let’s plan a date for your next visit. I figured this was something he’d appreciate. He had been transparent over and over again; it was my time to try his strategy. Maybe my walls of shyness and safety had been wrong all along.

4:30pm. Cell phone rings. Caller ID: Chu.

I pick up. My voice: careful to be nonchalant.

Me: Hey.
Chu: Hey, how’s it going?
-Good, just here at work, still—working.
-Yeah, I’ve had a long day too. I got back in late last night and still made it to work today. Sorry I didn’t call you last night like I had said I would.
-It’s okay.
-I just got in too late and didn’t want to wake you up.
-I was up, but I understand: you’re still recovering from that big conference. You need your sleep.
-But hey, you’re calling now, so it’s all good. Oh, and hey, I sent an email a few hours ago.
-Yeah, I saw—
-Did you read it?
-Yeah, and that’s why I wanted to call you.
-Uh oh.
-Don’t give me that uh oh.
-Well you sound like you’re about to say something important.
-Just say it.
-Well, okay. I thought about everything we talked about on Friday night and on the phone on Saturday. And I had a lot of fun hanging out and talking with you. I think you’re a great person, and I really look up to you with everything you’re doing your life…
-But, um, I think that when we decided to slow down—
---that was the right decision.
-Yeah. I’ve been thinking about what you said—about making sure I don’t do this because I don’t have anyone here in Arkansas…
-…and, I think you were sort of right.
-What do you mean?
-Well, I think—that—I’m not quite sure—that—I think—I’m more – into women. And… it’s complicated. I’m sorry.

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Please join me in welcoming intellectualjailbait, addition to the team!


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As aggressively vitriolic and hurtful as radical feminist criticism of transexuals often is, I believe that transexuals do themselves a grave disservice by dismissing that criticism as entirely rooted in blind transphobia. There is certainly a very strong element of transphobia in certain quarters of the feminist movement, but even a broken clock is right two times a day. It is hardly surprising that the majority of transexuals are heteronormative in terms of their chosen gender presentation and behavior, but this becomes exceedingly problematic due to the extremely loud and highly active minority of transexuals who are militantly heteronormative.

Due to the disparity in visibility between different types of transexual, there is a very unfortunate illusion that female-to-male transexuals don't exist at all and that male-to-female transexuals are mostly overcompensating super-macho males transitioning into oversexed, hyperfeminine females who insist on absolute conformity to patriarchical norms and the "Madonna-Whore Complex". Given that perception, it's no wonder that radical feminists tend to brand transexualism as nothing more than a particularly crazed attempt to invade and subvert the women's rights movement. This ugly misunderstanding is exacerbated by the small but extremely vocal minority of transexuals who condemn nontraditional gender expression as "perverting" or "diminishing" the meaning of gender itself. While the vast majority of transexuals do not agree with this militiant conformist position, many of them also do not speak out against it because they are personally comfortable with traditional gender roles and often fear the lack of structure involved in a gender deconstructionist world.

It is important to point out that those who are not familiar with the psychological treatment protocols for transexuals often fail to realize that a lot of the gender policing in the trans community originates from behavioral requirements imposed on transexuals by the medical gatekeepers who control our access to treatment. The Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders mandate that transexuals go through a "real life test" to demonstrate their gender identity prior to recieving hormone replacement therapy and sexual reassignment surgery, and the majority of psychologists use this requirement to demand and enforce gender policed behavior throughout the transition period.

Those who have completed the gender transition process are largely free of the mandates of psychologists, but the intense social and legal discrimination against them often pushes them into continued gender policing as a defense mechanism. The safety provided by "stealth" status is in many ways only an illusion, but its very fragility tends to make "passable" transexuals extremely reactionary towards anything which has the slightest possibility of outing them. Exercising passing privilege is a double-edged sword in that living in stealth is living in constant terror of discovery, and that terror may cause transexuals to betray everything they should believe in. This is why stealth transpersons often hypocritically adhere to social conservativism or the transphobic flavor of radical feminism; in their persecution-induced paranoia, they decide that no one would suspect an outspokenly transphobic man or woman of being a transexual.

The fearful silence of the "stealth majority" has given the militiant conformists a disproportionate voice within the American transexual community, and this has produced an distinct tendency towards both internal and external gender policing behavior. Relatively few step forward to challenge the conformists' dogmatic assertions that that anyone who exhibits gender variant behavior is "not really transexual", that only transexuals merit treatment because they are "normal", and that transexuals who cannot pass should "be realistic" and not transition because it would trigger witch hunts against those who do pass. To be perfectly blunt, the militant conformists have chosen to sell out to the very society which oppresses them, spurning the deconstruction of rigid gender roles which would set them free, and instead embracing a traitor's thirty pieces of silver in the form of passing privilege.

Most transexuals are distinctly uncomfortable with the extremism of the gender conformists, but they also seem to be unwilling to completely distance themselves from it. This is probably because the clear lines and standards drawn by the conformists are reaffirming to those who are themselves comfortable with gender normativity in the first place; they may not necessarily agree with excluding others, but they still feel reassured of their own "belonging". This is extremely unfortunate because as long as moderates do not clearly distinguish themselves from extremists, they will inevitably be smeared with guilt by association. As long as the bulk of the transexuals who make themselves visible to outsiders are the militiant conformists and those conformists have (or are perceived to have) tacit support from the majority, it is going to be nearly impossible to refute the assumption that all or most transexuals are the same way.

The long term solution to these issues is for the current generation of transexuals to reject the vicious orthoxody of conformist gender policing and to embrace in its place the freedom of gender deconstruction. This does not mean that all of us must reject traditional gender expression or stealth concealement as personal decisions, only that need to cease imposing them on others as moral imperatives. Just as a feminist may choose to be a housewife while fighting society's attempts to force all women to be housewives, so also can a transexual chose to be gender normative while fighting misguided attempts to force all transexuals to be gender normative. The bottom line is that there is no one "correct" form of gender expression which all males or all females should be required to adhere to; gender expression is a choice, and no form of it is more valid than another.

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Karnythia joins us from The Angry Black Woman:

“Sexual assaults are frequent, and frequently ignored, in the armed services.” I have this insane urge to email Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA)and say “Duh!” This is old old news, but every few years someone rediscovers the reality that rapists join the military and we get a bunch of op-eds and exhortations for the military to do more to protect women. The military isn’t all that interested in taking care of male soldiers (see Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome and those LSD experiments on unwitting soldiers) since we’re really just here to protect everyone else. I’m a disabled vet that has spent years going back and forth with VA over my leg injuries despite it being documented by a stack of tests from military doctors that gave me a medical discharge because “the damage is too extensive and it will just get worse as you get older” and that was at 19. I’m 31 now. I’ll let you guess how my leg feels now.

Want to hear something shocking? Putting on that uniform does not automatically make the person in it a decent human being. Much like active pedophiles seek out positions that give them access to children? Rapists, abusers, and your run of the mill misogynistic assholes seeks out the military because it’s a place where being hypermasculine is rewarded. And as long as you’re not too careless you can get away with hurting women every day without fear of repercussions. The Army cracks down harder on drug smuggling than it does on rape and spousal abuse. I was a soldier. I married a soldier. As some of you know he hit me the first time for the crime of being pregnant and not wanting to deliver my child alone in Germany while he was slated to be deployed. I told him that I wanted to come back to the States in my last trimester and all Hell broke loose. A neighbor called the MP’s when she heard him kicking down a door to get at me. His command gave him less than a slap on the wrist (I don’t think he even got extra duty) and I was admonished to be more understanding of his stress levels and encouraged not to do anything hasty like leave him. We were sent to counseling (Did you know on every base there’s a group for batterers and their spouses?) and he made all the standard moves (complete with flowery promises never to do it again) and that was the end of that as far as command was concerned.

A friend of mine was attacked by a guy she liked hanging out with while I was stationed at a base in Texas. Despite the fact that she was covered in mud and bruises, our command initially acted like she’d somehow provoked the attack (while wearing that oh so sexy set of BDU’s) and when it became clear that she wasn’t going to let this slide (So as to not ruin his career. After all since they’d been friends before the incident didn’t she care about his future?) they made a desultory show of an investigation and he wound up on extra duty and losing a few weeks pay. Mind you, she didn’t shower, he’d torn her uniform and she’d put up one hell of a fight judging from the bruises I saw and the blood all over her fingernails. But, somehow there wasn’t enough evidence to merit pursuing a criminal case. Meanwhile the guy that drove down to Mexico and got caught crossing the border with a kilo of coke? They threw the book at him. AFAIK he’s still in Leavenworth and won’t be going anywhere in the next 5-10 years.

The only time I saw any real justice meted out for a guy assaulting a fellow soldier it was done by another guy that was friends with the woman that had been attacked. Of course he just beat the shit out of the would be rapist and dared him to report it to Top. It wasn’t (obviously) the best response, but we all knew that it was the only way anything substantive would happen to him. Note, I am not saying that every male in the service is a rapist or that every woman is going to be victimized. Your MOS will make a huge difference (my 1st MOS was the equivalent of being a stevedore so I was with a lot of males and very few females) as will your appearance and your willingness to drink. Those of you that know me in meat space are well aware that you’ve never seen me drunk in public. That was a habit I picked up as a petite woman in a male dominated social environment. Mind you, I can drink more than the average woman my size (courtesy of a flirtation with a drinking problem in high school and hanging out with women that drink whiskey), but unless I’m in a situation that’s completely safe (like my house) I’m not getting sloshed.

Women that look feminine (think nice clothes, makeup, doing your hair, smelling good and all the other frilly things that you can start to miss after three weeks of running around in the mud and muck) and fall into specific gender roles (what better way to feel feminine than to flirt a lot and play wife to the guy of the moment?) in their off time get a lot of attention in the military. Some of it is good. A lot of it is not. Women who serve become aware very quickly of all the ways that shit can go wrong. If you happen to be exceptionally lucky at your first duty station someone may well run down the facts of life for you. What are they? You need to avoid getting drunk, avoid drinking anything you did not pour for yourself, and avoid being alone in a room with a bunch of guys no matter how well you think you know them because that is always a bad idea. You may get warned about which members of command to avoid at all costs and what guys have already engaged in some ugly behavior. Is it fair that the onus is on the women to protect themselves? No. But this idea that the military will actually protect them is so ludicrous all I can do is laugh like a hyena at the thought. Unless we’re planning to overhaul our entire society, women that sign up need to be aware that the predator concentration is much higher in the closed environment of the U.S. military. It sucks and I’d love to buy into the delusion that military = hero, but I knew too many assholes in uniform to lie to myself that way.

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So, like the responsible little human I am, I showed up for my annual physical, health card in hand. Like (too) many people, I've been without a family physician for some time. I did a little homework and tracked down my local Planned Parenthood (which, much to my surprise and happiness, is also a general primary healthcare provider). I was given a bunch of forms to fill out, so I grabbed a pen and a handful of condoms (you can never have too many!) and got started.

And there it was. The box that confronts me in every survey, on every doctor's visit, in everything government-related or anything that requires me to identify myself--the dreaded Gender Box. Except that, because this is Planned Parenthood, my local community-minded feminist healthcare provider, there was an extra box where there is usually only two. Beside the standard M and F categories was a shining beacon of hope--a box marked TS/TG (that's transsexual and transgendered for those of you not in-the-know). And while my heart sang with gladness for trans-identified folks everywhere, I was also confronted with a question I'd been kicking around for awhile. Where do I, as a cisgendered woman who is constantly interrogating the concept of "womanhood", fit?

It feels wrong for me to simply check the lady box. And I feel no desire whatsoever to check the man box. Yet selecting TS/TG seems far too close to claiming an identity that I have no place in owning. I understand that to do so would be an appropriation; for me to check that box would be to assert an identity that carries experiences I will never have. Still, when I think about it, identifying as a woman feels like a compromise. This may just be my doctor's office needing to know what kind of anatomy they're working with, but to me it's much larger; the implications of an unproblematized identification with gender runs much deeper.

Whether I like it or not, this gender assignment I was given at birth has led me to a whole host of experiences that likely could not to be replicated were I to inhabit a different body. Though I'd like to think that our bodies are not necessarily determinants of how we experience the world (and that, by the same token, this experience can be shaped/modified by the way we present and adorn these bodies) I recognize that to some extent our interaction with the world is (quite literally) out of our hands. It is for this reason that I see value in a strategic identification with gender categories. As a feminist (albeit a postmodern one) I understand that there can be huge drawbacks in the realm of gender equality when we choose to eschew so-called "womanly" characteristics. While on the surface this may seem like a progressive move away from things that have traditionally defined us, this same move often works to the detriment of those who choose to embody these qualities (see my last column for more on why I feel it is dangerous to devalue femininity).

To problematize this further, I wonder about the inaccessibility of this kind of mucking about with gender identification. But why do I feel like talking about gender in this way is a privilege? One the one hand, I suppose it's because I wonder what business I have questioning my gender identity when there are many who ache to feel at home in their bodies. But do I feel that sense of comfort in my own mortal vessel? Not really. Not with the meaning that's assigned to it by things like media, religion, etc.

Without conflating gender and sex, I recognize that the two are intertwined. I don't want to let go of or discredit the amazing things I've gained from having a feminist community--something I've come to largely because of my experience of the world as a cisgendered woman. And while I recognize that, like bell hooks says, feminism is for everybody, I also love and feel nourished by woman-only spaces and the safety I've felt and gained from this community.

Thus I feel it's important to acknowledge that while to some extent we choose these communities, it is also true that they choose us. While checking that "F" box on my health forms may mean signing on to a whole lot of mess like essentialism and cis-privilege and a whole whack of other things I feel uncomfortable with, it also means acknowledging the ways in which those very things have contributed to my place in and experience of the world, and hopefully allows me to continue to question exactly what that means.

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Coming, Part II

A half hour from midnight, I peered into the back seat of my Toyota Camry and thought that if anything could be more of a turn-off to a hyper-organized, almost-OCD workaholic like Chu, it’d be this: a portable dump of file folders, broken backpacks, old Playbills and magazines (with the occasional scattering of uncapped pens and—more dangerously—markers). I could not let that be my first impression. I scrammed into my bedroom and stole a sheet to cover the whole thing up.

Ten minutes later, I pulled alongside our local Holiday Inn and called him down. In the next minute of waiting time, I set the scene I wanted him to see: I looked away—out my window—instead of waiting to see him at my passenger side door (so that I didn’t look too eager); I programmed my iPod to a playlist of a mellow Sufjan Stevens selection (his Facebook page claimed he was a fan); and I checked my back seat one more time for anything that remotely gave away my messiness (just in case the sheet shifted). All was ready.

As I was looking in the other direction, he arrived at my passenger door. I acted sufficiently surprised that he was there. I unlocked the door, he sat down, and we pulled away from the hotel..

On his part: Small talk. Hesitant eye contact. Nervous laughter. At the time, I didn’t know whether to attribute the awkwardness to him, to me, or to the overall furtive aura of our rendezvous; it even could’ve been the reasonable shakiness of a first live date from an online friend. Heck, the probable truth was that this was a case involving all of the above. All I knew, as I searched for a place to get midnight ice cream, was that we needed to get out of the car, get something to eat, and shake the shakiness off. ASAP.

And then we got caught by a train at a railroad crossing. Stuck in my car. For a good—oh—ten minutes.

And in those ten minutes, he spilled.

“So… is this a date?”

I froze. What was I supposed to say? I laughed out loud, while my mind screamed, “WHO SAYS THAT?!”

I continued with my shrugging, and he continued: Over the past month and a half of conversations, he found himself getting more and more attracted to me. He clearly had been thinking about it: he knew he’d be working in my area this summer; our professional goals were very much aligned; and the conversations we had in the past—although they were online—flowed quick-wittedly. It was a good match to at least explore. His intentions for this random late night ice cream trip: to gauge whether or not the chemistry he perceived online carried over into reality.

With this out of the way, the balloon of tension and unease deflated. His bout of transparency pointed out what should’ve been obvious: our earlier awkwardness was because we had never acknowledged an attraction between us. The lack of definition in whatever it was we were doing—talking online without direction, then meeting up in real life without explicit purpose—left us to inferences. Yes, it was fun to flirt on the internet without relenting to pressure or worrying about risk, but when our LOLs became audible, when there were physical consequences that couldn’t be clicked away, the need for honesty became not only necessary, but also palpable. His confession—as abrupt and forward as it was—was what we needed to get anywhere.

The railroad crossing gate lifted, and with some of the weight removed from the whys of our late night meeting, we had a more comfortable ride to my nearest 24-hour Starbucks (decidedly the closest thing to ice cream). There, I neatly evaded answering his earlier question of whether or not this was a date, deflecting discussion instead to my newly-acquired knowledge of his interest. His willingness to be open opened the door to my own: How long have you been thinking about this? What experience do you have meeting relative strangers on the internet? How do I know you just need an outlet for your homosexuality—something you clearly don’t have in rural Arkansas?

After our drinks were ready, we couldn’t find a seat at Starbucks, so we brought our conversation to the next most convenient place: my apartment. And there, on a loveseat across a table from me, he returned to his question: “Is this a date?”

“Well… I paid for you drink.” As much as I had learned about the evil of forcing inferences, I couldn’t help—out of nervousness or fear or lack of clarity of thought—but be indirect.

He probed further. He was very clear about being interested in me, but what did I think about him?

And I had to admit: I enjoyed this—the back and forth banter, the surreptitiousness of whatever it was we were doing, the interest of someone who actually was pretty much on the same page as me as far as work ethic and goals.

There was a smile of satisfaction.

“So… would I be crossing the line if I kissed you?”

As I did earlier, I laughed and shrugged. But this time, I was able to utter out a small, secretly-confident, “No.”

And as he came over to my couch, I thought about the junk in my car, our awkwardness at the railroad tracks, and the Java Chip Frappucino in my breath. And when he leaned closer, it made sense that I didn’t need to make sense of any of those things at all. He wanted me. He wanted the me that he got to know and not the circumstances surrounding it all.

A half hour after midnight, within hours of meeting Chu for the first time, there it was—our first kiss.

To be continued…

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Ubergratz to tokenstr8dude for his post; please welcome him to BTB!


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Jaclyn joins us from her blog:

Despite its high profile, the cause of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights continues to stand out as the one major area of civil rights in which relatively little progress has been made. Fanatical opposition on the part of the religious right and uneasy apathy on the part of much of the liberal left play a major role in this, but I believe the root cause is a deplorable lack of solidarity among the members of the LGBT community.

This was made painfully clear during the ENDA fiasco last year. When passage of a critical federal anti-discrimination law (H.R. 2015, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) appeared to be in jeopardy due to strong conservative opposition, Representative Barney Frank substituted a stripped-down version (H.R. 3685, "ENDA Lite" or "SplENDA") which banned discrimination against gays but permitted discrimination against transexuals. Ignoring the unanimous opposition of a broad coalition of over 150 LGBT advocacy groups, Frank argued that transexuals have no right to hold back gay rights and need to wait -- "maybe in fifty years" -- before seeking legal protection. He also claimed that it was important to allow the House to stand for gay rights alone because forcing the issue might damage the image of the Democratic Party or jeopardize the positions of moderate Democrats in swing states.

All of the arguments which I have heard from both Frank himself and from those who support his "Great ENDA Backstab" can be summed up in three basic lines of thought:

1. Gay rights should take priority over trans rights because there are more gays than transexuals.
2. Gay rights should take priority over trans rights because gays are more socially accepted than transexuals are.
3. Gay rights should take priority over trans rights because transexuals have not been involved in the LGBT movement as long as homosexuals have. A more extreme variation of this argument is that transexuals are unwelcome interlopers who have "hijacked" the gay rights movement.

Whether or not they are honestly offered (I have my doubts, but I am not a neutral party in this matter), all three of these arguments fail to stand up to even the most basic logical and philosophical scrutiny. Let us consider them one at a time:

The first argument is rooted in an oversimplistic application of the principle of maximum utility -- that the most ethical course of action is the one which benefits the greatest number of people. The overlooked point is that this only holds true when benefits to the majority are not achieved through harm to the minority; if it was ethical to harm a minority in order to benefit a majority, things like slavery and gang-rape would be perfectly ethical. In this case, the "gay rights first" argument fails to consider the fact that the passage of gay-only antidiscrimination laws is actively detrimental to transgender rights. It not only provokes backlash which is guaranteed to increase discrimination and violence against transgendered people but also strips existing protection from transgenders by setting a precedent legalizing discrimination against us.

My counterargument that failing to include transgender persons in anti-discrimination legislation effectively endorses discrimination against them may seem far-fetched, but it has in fact already come to pass. Even though it has not yet passed into law (and probably never will, given the lack of Senatorial support), H.R. 3685 has already been accepted by federal courts as proof that Congress never intended to include transgendered persons in existing anti-discrimination laws. The existing case law supporting transgender rights has been thrown out, and discrimination against transgender persons has effectively been legalized except in states which have anti-discrimination laws of their own.

The second argument is based on the same blatant misapplication of the principle of maximum utility. It is basically saying that because gays are more accepted by mainstream socity, the same investment of political capital would create more benefit for gays than it would for transgendered people; hence it is more "profitable" to invest primarily or even exclusively in gay rights. Again, this argument from utility can only be validly applied when you can make one group better off without making any other group worse off. As convenient as it would be, that hidden assumption simply does not hold up in the case of LGBT rights.

The third argument is both fundamentally juvenile ("I was in line first!") and demonstrates a profound ignorance of the history of the LGBT movement. Transgender persons have been part of the civil rights movement since its birth at Stonewall; indeed, it was transgender persons rather than gays per se who bore the brunt of the police brutality at Stonewall. The accusation that transexuals are "Johnny-come-lately" interlopers only seems valid because the involvement of transexuals in the movement is often made invisible; transgender persons who are "passable" are assumed to be cisgender, and transgender persons who are not passable are assumed to be genderqueer. These misconceptions minimize the visibility of transexuals within the movement; it's not that we're not there, but that people don't recognize us.

As much as I generally dislike conspiracy theories, I am forced to conclude that the LGBT movement's willingness to throw transgender people overboard at the slightest hint of trouble is based on a combination of selfish greed and personal transphobia rather than any sort of logic. It is unlikely that such hypocritical sentiments are pervasive among lesbians and gays -- only among the "nobility" of highly influential upper class heteronormative gay white males who control the major LGBT advocacy groups through their network of political and social connections. These already tremendously privileged few apparently feel entitled to make their personal welfare the sole objective of the entire LGBT movement.

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The Pregnant Man

On April 3, the Oprah show featured Thomas, The Pregnant Man. Thomas and his wife of five years, Nancy, are expecting a baby girl. Thomas was born Tracy, a female, and during his 20s went through certain physical procedures and treatments to become a legal male. If Oprah is featuring a transgender individual on her show, what does this mean for pop culture?

Honestly, my first reaction to seeing The Pregnant Man was “finally, science is on our side!” Meaning, sweet, now my husband can carry our future babies, and not me. Yes, this is just my own wishful thinking clouding logical thought. Based on the response of the audience on the Oprah show, a lot of women were doing some wishful thinking too.

Once Oprah explained how it was possible for a man to be pregnant (by being born a biological female), she introduced Thomas. Oprah discussed Thomas’s past, why he decided to become a man, and how, exactly, he became a man.

Oprah got into a few issues of gender. One issue that was briefly brought up is the difference between gender and sexuality. When Thomas was a teenager (and still living as Tracy), she dated males. Eventually Tracy began dating females, and then realized that when she woke up in the morning, she felt like a man. So she decided to physical become a man, because that’s who she felt she really was.

Oprah asked Thomas why he didn’t just live his life as a lesbian, and stay a woman and date other women. He politely pointed out that this is a gender issue, and not just a sexuality issue. It’s not just that he wanted to make it more convenient to date women by making his outward appearance masculine, but he was a man in a biological woman’s body. I think this is something that many non-transgender individuals don’t always understand. And it makes me wonder – are there any female to male transsexuals that are attracted to men? Next topic for Oprah?

Another interesting moment came when Oprah talking to Thomas and Nancy’s neighbors, a 40-something married couple. They knew the couple was expecting, they just figured it was Nancy who was pregnant, and were surprised when they found out it was Thomas. The male neighbor explained that he couldn’t quite get his mind around it at first – it was a “sexually dyslexic moment” for him. Interesting way to put it. I think he meant well, but unfortunately comparing someone’s sexuality (and ultimately in this case, gender identity) to a learning disability didn’t seem quite as enlightened as Oprah made it seem. Perhaps he meant he (the neighbor) felt sexually dyslexic, but perhaps a better word could have been used.

In the end, Oprah asked Thomas and Nancy if she thought the world was ready for them – ready for a pregnant man, who also happened to be a former biological female now male. On the one hand, Thomas and Nancy were just like any other couple – preparing for a new baby, eager to raise it in a loving household, and just trying to live a normal life. But on the other hand, is the world (or at least, the US) ready for them? A country where large pockets want to legally ban gay marriage – even though Thomas is legally a man and thus their marriage is legal, there are certainly some individuals that would object to their marriage, or even Thomas being a legal male. Or consider that in the US, some states have banned gay adoption. Technically, Nancy and Thomas are not a gay couple, and they’re not adopting, but certainly the attitudes shown in the US regarding gays and lesbians, especially their right to marry, adopt and raise children, serve in the military, and many other things, can shine a little light on what kinds of attitudes might be displayed against them.

However, as they pointed out, Thomas and Nancy went on the Oprah show (and shared their story with People magazine), because they wanted to tell their story, from their view, and not be exploited. And, as Oprah pointed out, there were very courageous to do so. I only hope that the love and support they have for each other, and from their families and friends can far outshine any negative backlash they receive from others.

And who knows how many other Pregnant Men there will be in the future.

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Why do we harp on ad nauseam about things being ‘socially constructed’? Why is ‘social construction’ so essential to gender and sexuality studies? The answer to these two questions lies in the activist and progressive effects that constructivist thinking can produce. Asserting that something is socially constructed means that it is changeable. It is created out of human interaction and can eventually be undone. This is opposed to an essentialist world view, which does not question the origins of social phenomena, but takes them as bio-psychological givens. Essentialist formulas for change usually occur within established power structures, while social constructivists perceive those power structures as open to change.

For instance, some scholars have lauded the modern Muslim practice of veiling as feminist because it can free women from the scopophilic gaze of men. By ‘covering themselves up’ women will not allow men to judge them based solely on restrictive beauty standards. They will not have to visually prostitute their bodies in order to get jobs, relationships or marriages. This policy is the result of an essentialist view of men and masculinity. Men are taken ‘as they are’ (superficial scopophiles) and women must adjust to that in order to make life better for themselves.

Social constructivists would resist this kind of framing of gender. Men may judge women based on standards of ‘physical beauty’, but there is nothing necessarily permanent about this. Men are collectively ‘like that’ because society makes them that way. It encourages them to behave in ways that are degrading to women. Popular culture, parents, the media and schools all promote a ‘beauty’-based valorization of women; boys are taught that being a ‘real man’ implies this kind of attitude to the so-called ‘opposite’ sex. Therefore, under a social constructivist framework, patriarchal behaviors are the product of identifiable ‘social doings’ that we can work towards changing. Instead of ‘covering up’ women as a response to male scopophilia, we can change masculinity by altering the structures of socialization that produce it. The media does not have to promote degrading judgments of women, parents can teach their kids to not judge people based on their gender, and schools can encourage gender equality. Under a constructivist framework, there is no reason for thinking that patriarchal social phenomena are permanent: we can all work collectively towards changing them. It is no wonder, therefore, that feminists and other gender progressives depend so much on social constructivist thought. It is generally an optimistic worldview that winks at the possibility of change in society.

But is there such a thing as social constructivist thought? Does this concept not make sense only when defined against essentialism? This is true, to an extent. There are many diverse theories that deal with ‘constructed-ness’ and not all of them are necessarily in fundamental agreement with each another. One of the most basic fault lines within social constructivism is between ‘symbolic interactionism’ and poststructuralism. The former is considered more ‘mainstream’ and generally follows the schema outlined above. The latter is a more pessimistic, and at times, anti-progressive theory that has come up against some resistance in modern academia.

Both symbolic interactionists and poststructuralists conceive of identities as ‘socially constructed’, but differ on the desirability of ‘stable’ identity constructions. Poststructuralists deny the existence of a knowledgeable human nature that precedes socialization and view rigid identity performances as reflective of a lack of stable identity. People stick doggedly to fixed identities because they are afraid of the ‘instability and uncertainty inside’. In turn, the need to maintain a stable identity causes violence towards others because the only way that it can be maintained is through an ‘othering’ process that discredits and despises anything that which the desired identity is not. For example, fixed heterosexuality is inevitably violent because it requires a level of disgust at all other sexual identity options as a way of maintaining itself. Thus, poststructuralists favor embracing the fluidity and ambiguity of identity as the only way that social change can be achieved. In order for patriarchy to ‘go away’ both men and women are going to have to take their identities a lot less seriously. Symbolic interactionists, on the other hand, find nothing wrong with stable identities as long as they are better identities. Masculinity does not have to be destabilized in order to stop being aggressive. Rather, it is possible to change the identity for the better (expunging homophobia & misogyny from it), while maintaining its fixity.

***For More Information***
For a basic introduction to a symbolic interactionist framing of gender, have a look at Candace West and Don Zimmerman’s “Doing Gender” from the first issue of Gender and Society (1987). Since this article may be hard to find on the Internet, you can use this summary to get at their argument. West and Zimmerman examine gender from the perspective of individuals reacting to social expectations, but if you are looking for a more institutionalist perspective, check out Judith Lorber’s “Night to His Day”.

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Believe it or not I can go through the day without seeing a scantily clad woman.

I was confronted recently with a leftist newspaper that featured various female models for fashion and a nude woman advertising an event (with her breasts and vagina covered by items for that event). Shaking my head at another product of manarchists (it’s a great word, use it) I set before myself the following question: as a heterosexual male is my need to constantly see hot ladeez on par with my need for food? Answer: no. It fucking isn’t. So why do I see more advertising and more references to ‘sexy’ women on a regular basis than I do for food? Or for that matter seemingly anything else? I can’t go outside without getting bombarded by marketing pornography.

I can only assume the rainbow of negative effects this has on women which has often been detailed by great feminist writers more talented than myself, but how does it affect me and me fellow str8dudes? Now here I’m going to be really honest and hope to foster the kind of environment that really gets all the shit out. Cuz, in case you didn’t notice, us hetero guys got a lotta baggage. All this constant temptation, all these ludicrously unattainable bodies, sexual imagery, wanting eyes, and subjugated individuals really does a number on my psyche. The relentlessness of it makes me feel lonely and miserable. It reminds me that I’m not currently dating anyone or who I am dating is not nearly as hot as this perfected digitally created courtesan and by the time I see it 100 times on my way home from work it starts to get to me and make me think about three words: women, bodies, and sex. It ingrains in me this need for more, more porn, more women, more ads. That’s a big part of it, the wanting more, the feeling like all these hundreds of women I see daily want me and I SHOULD want them. Maybe I’m weak, maybe I’m just pathetic but you know what? I prefer to blame the corporate empire smothering me in hypersexualized advertising for 24 years rather than blame myself. (And if it seems like I’m exaggerating I’d just like to point out that I live in New York City so no, I am not).

Now, onto more gritty honesty. One terrible thing that seems to be happening to me after such a long saturation of immoral representations of women is that I get agitated when I see the ads. I get annoyed. I think look, I get it, I’ll never date a woman that hot, so why are you fucking shoving this into my face? No one looks like this! They’re all photoshopped! You’re making me become more and more critical of actual people! There’s only so many millions of perfect photoshopped models I can see before the imperfections of real women start comparing and losing. I want to be attracted to real women ok? I really do - but this bullshit is making it harder and harder. I don’t want to turn into an asshole. I don’t want to, 20 years from now, not be turned on by my life partner (if I have one) because she’s ‘too old’ or ‘not thin enough’ or doesn’t have ‘perfect skin’. I don't want to judge women on their looks! This is how hetero men become assholes, people. Take note.

All this stress contributes to the general difficulties that come with all romantic relationships and perhaps my greatest fear of all is that one day, in a fit of anger, I’ll blurt out some subconsciously implanted misogynistic desire for the supermodel aesthetic in the form of an insult to a current partner. Could this happen? I hope not but I’m not holding my breath. Shit, I grew up on Baywatch people.

So what’s the answer to all this? First of all, men need to realize the reality of this situation. We have to love women for who they are, not what they look like. Second of all we need to take a stand in our personal and public lives - we need to not purchase products made by misogynistic companies and we need to reject negative representations of women and the representations of drooling men associated with them. Perhaps most importantly when in a relationship we have to be honest: we have to listen to women when they think we are being assholes, when we're being sexist, and we need to be open to critique.

Simply put: we need to reclaim our gender! I’m not a stereotypical meathead – are you? Are your friends? Are you sold on something because a woman in a bikini tells you to buy it? Do you really want to be that dumb pawn? I doubt it. So just opt out of our sexist society as often as you can. Don't buy into the game. Be honest about your troubles like I’ve tried to be in this post. Just getting it out makes me feel a little bit better but you know what feels really good? Having open and honest feminist relationships to all the women in my life. Feeling real love from family, friends, and lovers. Nothing is more fulfilling than love!

Oh and there's one more thing you can do: get a graffiti marker and fuck up those ads! Not only will it fill you with a justified sense of righteousness (something us guys usually feel, except unjustified) but it will let men and women who walk by feel somewhat less alone in our divided and materialistic world.
Epilogue: well then...epilogue sure is an official sounding word! Anyway, expect more articles from me under the maniker (ha haaa jk it's moniker wow i'm hilarious) of tokenstr8dude in the future! I'll be talking about masculinitiy, male sexual problems, men relating to society and people, men's role in patriarchy, and a variety of other issues that the heteronormative male populace I hail from rarely talks about! Sound exciting? Hell yes it does!

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A big welcome to genderdivercity, our monthly guest columnist joining us from his home publication -- some great photography in store for us.


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Dorothy Snarker joins us from Dorothy Surrenders:

It was the philosopher George Santayana who said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And, after watching season 5, it is L’impresario Ilene Chaiken who seems to be saying “Those who cannot remember the past will wallow in season after season and even make a movie about it because, seriously, they just can’t let go.” Or, perhaps, something a little shorter like, “Hey, I liked season 1, let’s see that again.”

Whether you’re a Tibette supporter or would like to see them quashed Chinese government-style, you can’t deny that it was their storyline drove whatever small amount of emotional growth there was this season. Everyone else, well, they sort of wound up where back where they were in season one. Alice finds herself falling for someone unexpected. Shane finds herself at the end of another relationship and returning to her lothario ways. Jenny finds herself devastated and deceived. Kit finds herself, uh, well Kit never gets much to do, period.

But I don’t want to kvetch for pages and pages about the enigma of Mama Chaiken’s mind (OK, maybe just a little: Why have Tasha give up her entire career if she and Alice were only going to break up? Why did you have to bring Helena back just to be the moneybags? Why can’t Shane grow as a person, ever?) Instead, how about we put a message in a bottle with our hopes and dreams for the sixth and final season and toss it out to sea in hopes that Big Mama C will find it. Hey, if Jenny could find land on her dinghy, then anything is possible.

Bette and Tina: Slow it down. Way down. What’s this talk of another child? Can’t all three of you just learn to be a family again without adding even more to your plates? Tina wins hands down for “Most Improved” this season from the neck-vein popping disaster she was last year. As for Bette, she could use a little more Alpha, but not a the expense of New Tina. Balance, ladies, balance. Just, please, not another pregnant lesbian storyline. I’m now officially begging.

Alice and Tasha: Well, that went from cutest thing ever to totally doomed in 3.2 seconds flat. I kind of loathe the idea of a “we’re working though our problems” storyline. That said, I definitely want to see Tasha again so they’d better work something out. Regardless, I want my adorable Alice back. Where was she? Something is seriously wrong when Jenny has all of the best lines.

Kit and Max: How about some storylines? Or some lines, period?

Phyllis: I don’t care as long as she keeps bringing Joyce with her.

Jenny: I don’t know how Jenny did it, but I went from thinking she was the bitchiest narcissist on the planet (not to mention in The Planet) to thinking she was the most heartbreaking narcissist on the planet. Next season, I’m sensing, will be about trust for her. Which is all fine and good, but just don’t make her go back to that freaky circus, OK?

Shane: Oh, Fonz. What madness have you wrought? I’m beginning to lose hope. Are you really nothing more than tight jeans and long fingers? When will you learn to think with Big Shane instead of your 10 Little Shanes? Your season will be all about redemption. Yeah, good luck with that.

UPDATE: Some TLW enthusiasts asked me to mention their Save The L Word campaign with accompanying petition. They’ve got some 7,500 signers so far and are encouraging folks to write Showtime president Bob Greenblatt, too. Best to you, ladies.

Dorothy Snarker is a writer for Dorothy Surrenders and AfterEllen.

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Dear Fannie,

I’m a 22 year old straight girl and I just started dating one of my best friends (I know… smart move). We’ve been really good friends for a long time, but this whole couple thing is new to me. The other night he was over and we started making out heavily. He wanted to have sex but I didn’t have a condom and neither did he. He thought I was on the pill so he asked if we could do it without it... and we did. I mean, it’s totally safe because he’s been tested and everything, and the next day I immediately got a hold of emergency contraception. My question is should I tell him the whole story? And how do I bridge the topic of condoms?

Sex Among Friends Equals Lingering Y-chromosomes


You just proved that even informed people make very very stupid mistakes. Profoundly stupid mistakes. First, it isn’t “totally safe,” because unless your new BF hasn’t had any sexual contact in the past 6 months (which doesn’t seem likely from your trigger-happy description) that test means squat; not to mention the plethora of sexually-transmitted infections and viruses floating out there. Moreover emergency contraception is far from the safety net which popular myth would purport. According to the FDA:

“If one hundred women used ECPs correctly in one month, about two women would become pregnant after a single act of intercourse. If no contraception is used about eight women would become pregnant after a single act of intercourse.” [link]

I’ll put it in really simple terms, SAFELY. Emergency Contraception only reduces your risk of pregnancy by 75%. That means of 100 women who would have gotten pregnant, but took emergency contraception, twenty-five of them still would still have become pregnant. While “effective” by pharmaceutical standards; that’s hardly playing it safe.

I get that it can be hard for women to bring up contraception, and that contraception is largely centered around condom-use and therefore, largely in the control of men. But that just means, SAFELY, that you have to play twice as safe and be twice as strong, because it’s your body on the line. It’s only his checkbook.

The next time your ignoramus incubus tries to get into your insides, here’s a few tips for having a good romp in the hay without creating an heir:

  1. Do something else! If you find yourself ill-equipped for a risk-averse coital connection, there are plenty of low-risk but highly pleasurable sex acts you can enjoy in the meantime! Suck him off, sit on his face, finger each other, 69, dry hump, use toys… the choices are endless.
  2. Blue ball him. Men are dogs, and so… treat him like one. When your BF misbehaves, you gotta train him. A few unfulfilled trips to the orgasmic precipice will get it in his head that if he wants it, he’s got to play by your rules. And if you can’t take the unresolved tension, have Mr. Rabbit ready and waiting when you come home.
  3. Keep condoms on hand. There’s no reason not to have condoms accessible and in abundance. There are plenty of organizations whom are more than happy to drown you in contraceptive paraphernalia. Your local Planned Parenthood or Family Planning clinic is bound to have resources. If you feel uncomfortable make a trip out of it, and solicit a few of your friends to join you!
  4. Tell him! So many couples have such problems when it comes to boudoir communication. Honesty is prime. Because the more you fake it, the less it’s going to improve. So grow a spine and tell him that playing safely is the only way you gonna play!


send your questions to askfannie@belowthebelt.org

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I have often been told, "Real men do _____" or "Women don't do ______." I am sure you've heard similar comments and can easily fill in the blanks for yourselves.

Such ideas are what I ask people to confront with this photo project. To write their gender, or some words about gender on a piece of plastic, and pose with it. I do this so that through my photographs, the world can have a safe space to be, share, and learn. It is my desire that the world become a more welcoming place for all genders and gender expressions. Gender DiverCity is, in some ways, activism through art.

Here on Below the Belt, I will share a photo or group of photos from Gender DiverCity with you each month. This first set is of M. Fire, a beloved friend and author, who had some unexpected things to say about gender. They were all taken in December 2007, at my home in Phoenix, AZ. I must admit, I expected her to simply write "Female." I should have known better than to form expectations. People's gender identities are often much more complex than they may seem on the surface.

Army of Me 01

Army of Me 02

Is this Me 01

Is this Me 02

Sean-Michael joins us from http://genderdivercity.blogspot.com
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