So about a month ago I started playing on my city’s women’s rugby team. I had never played before and knew little about the game, but I wanted to get some more exercise and meet new people, so this seemed like a good fit. While I knew that it was a rough game, I didn’t quite put two and two together of how important it was to be in good shape, and that depending on the position you play, how strong you are can make the difference between getting hurt or not. Because I am not very strong and relatively small for the sport, I was made a back (a wing to be more specific) and am basically in charge of ball-handling, running, and tackling when necessary. I had been nervous about the tackling part, thinking that that was the part of the game where you got hurt. And while there can be some danger in tackling if you aren’t doing it correctly, it wasn’t until after being thrown into a forward position (the ones who make the scrum and have most of the heavy contact) one practice that I realized that’s where people can really get hurt. After a little while I had to step out because I either felt my back breaking or my neck snapping with ever attempt. And while part of this may be that I’m just a wimp, another part is that I am definitely not in the physical shape to safely be scrumming, especially not against some of the girls on my team or some of the girls that we would be playing against.

What does this have to do with gender and binaries? Well while I have not been lifting weights and gaining muscle mass, there are lots of people who identify as women who have been, and have been very successful in doing so. I have always believed that women can be just as strong as men, and that the reason that men tend to be stronger than women is that men are encouraged to build muscle and are “supposed to be strong,” while women are not. And I told this to a girl friend of mine and her boyfriend, and said that I wondered if there are any co-ed rugby leagues, and if not that there should be. Her boyfriend (who happens to play rugby) said that while he understands that there are definitely societal expectations at play, that even the strongest woman would still not be stronger than the strongest man, and that there would never be a professional or seriously competitive co-ed rugby team (or any sports team really). He went on to say that when you’re dealing with that level of professional sporting, everyone is going to be near their full strength potential and that it wouldn’t be a fair fight because the men would undoubtedly be stronger than the women. I argued with him for a bit, still trying to hang onto my nurture above nature stance, yet I found myself just fighting for the sake of fighting and not wanting to admit that there is a real difference between men and women.

In reality, the argument here is not whether there’s a difference between men and women, but between males and females. And while I wish that it truly could be that simple, that if all female-born persons started lifting weights and were told from infancy that they should be strong and muscular that they would be just as strong as male-born persons, I know that that’s not true. While there are definitely some females who are stronger than some males, I do have to admit that on average the male body builds muscle differently (and often in greater quantities) than the female body. I remember reading some articles in undergrad about scientific differences between the sexes, and they explained how these differences do exist. Yet even after reading them I still find it so difficult to swallow that there are proven, tangible differences between males and females. Part of this may be that I don’t fully trust science and feel like scientific studies come with a lot of binary baggage, so that they can’t really conduct proper studies to examine these things because they already have it set in their mind what they’re looking for.

But I think the main thing that bothers me about these differences is because I know where the train of most people’s thoughts are going to go when they read them. They use “sex” and “gender” terms interchangeably, and all of a sudden “males are usually stronger than females,” turns into, “men are usually stronger than women,” which then jumps to, “men should be doing all the things that require strength and women are weak.” There may be some more steps in between there, but basically that’s how I see it go. If there were no social consequences that came from sex differences, I wouldn’t have a problem admitting that they existed. But because I fear of what these sex differences lead to, I feel the need to fight them, even if they are blatantly staring me in the face.

This issue has definitely been front and center in the world of sports recently, and when I heard from a friend of mine that all female athletes at the Olympic or other highly competitive levels need to undergo gender testing, I researched some more on it because it just seemed so ridiculous and sexist, especially because they don’t test male athletes, only females (because who would care if a woman snuck into a men’s competition, right?). I put some links at the end of this article if anyone’s interested in reading more about it, but the gist is that up until 1999, gender verification testing was required of all female athletes. The International Olympic Committee then said that it can only be done when specifically requested when there is suspicion of a female athlete actually being male.

The fact that this is still done at all still infuriates me, and while I understand the desire to have things as fair as possible in competitions, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a better way to structure sporting events in general if these sports committees really want their events to be fair. In boxing or wrestling there are different weight brackets. Why can’t there be similar distinctions in other sports, getting rid of the different gendered leagues but instead having different weight leagues? Or if weight isn’t the main indicator of performance level, perhaps a test of strength in a different way; just a different method of comparing people so that it was no longer solely on gender. And even if most of the women and most of the men ended up in the different leagues anyway, at least you could get away with the witch hunt of figuring out if someone’s sneaking into a different competitive bracket to increase their chances of winning.

I bounced this off my friend’s boyfriend, the one who played rugby and is also studying sports medicine, and he said that it’s not just weight or strength that effects performance level; that male and female bodies are still structured differently in terms of bone alignment, how weight is distributed throughout the body, how the body moves and what effect that has on running, tackling, shooting or hitting a ball, etc. I did not do research on the different ways male and female bodies move and the effect that has on sporting performance, but that part of me that does not want to admit that these differences run on solely a sex level still says that you could find a bunch of males whose bodies all move in different ways and a bunch of females whose bodies all move in different ways, and surely that has an effect on how their perform yet they are able to stay in the same league anyway. But besides all of this, if these competitors have made it to the Olympic level they are still obviously some of the best athletes in the world, no matter how they build muscle mass or the way their hips move when they run. Can’t they just play?

I want to note that I know I’ve put a lot of weight on what other people have said and there is a good bit of ze-said/she-said, and obviously there is a lot more that goes into this issue and much more sophisticated research around then what I’ve delved into in this post. And I may be wrong that there are no co-ed rugby teams anywhere or that there aren’t some sports that do break up the leagues on levels other than gender. So if anyone has heard of these things or knows more about it, please let me know. But it’s the fact that, for the most part, it’s automatically assumed that sports, especially contact sports, would unquestionably be split by gender that bothers me. I would be nervous playing rugby against some men because I am smaller and have not properly strengthened my muscles. But I’m nervous to play against a lot of women too because they are bigger and stronger than me. And there would be many men that are not much larger than me that I would feel totally comfortable playing against. There is so much variation in sex and gender, so is there a feasible way to take these binaries out of sports?

Links on Gender Verification Testing: (Some of the language here is problematic, and I don’t know much about the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, but parts of it were interesting to look at).

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I am almost terminally unhip when it comes to popular music. It's not that I have snobbish pretensions, or at least I try not to--I'm a firm believer in Duke Ellington's maxim, "if it sounds good, it is good," and there's room for both Mozart and Garbage on my iPod, Radiohead and John Coltrane, Bjork and Kanye "I'm going to interrupt this playlist" West. But the fact is, I don't watch MTV--not that they have much to do with music nowadays, but I'm dinosaur enough to remember when they did--or listen to much top 40 radio, so I almost never have any idea of what those kids, thesadays, are listening to. (And they need to get off my lawn, too.)

It's so bad that about the only way I hear popular songs is when they're background music for a TV show. (When my ex made me watch "Smallville" or "The O.C." with her, I used to parody the way that they would have a constant churn of hot bands: "Hey, I hear {BAND_OF_THE_WEEK} is playing at the club tonight! I love {BAND_OF_THE_WEEK}." Of course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is immune from my scorn, since a) it's awesome and b) all of those bands are safely a decade behind us.)

But even a pathetic stick in the mud like transfeminist has heard of every queer's new best friend, The Lady Gaga. Bursting on the scene with the ubiquity and, dare I say, calculation of the early Madonna--I submit to you, the last woman to burst on the music scene with such self-assuredness, popularity, and raised middle finger to society--she's still carved out a space that preserves her conceptual artist bona fides while serving up some of the tastiest dance tracks since the Voguing early nineties. And even more so than Madonna (who always seemed to pull back just a little from doing the full Midler in her acceptance of her enormous gay fanbase) she's been queer friendly to the extreme, embracing her roots from the burlesque, performance art, and drag scene in New York, talking about her own bisexuality. She's hot, popular, and a social phenomenon.

Anybody with a passing acquaintance with feminism or queer theory could see the backlash about that coming since, oh, late 2007.

Now, those who've been more than half-awake while passing time in this Best of All Possible Patriarchies are used to the takedowns successful women always have directed at them--can't be more popular than the boys! It almost never takes long for such women to be maligned, usually sexually, and usually as being "sluts." AndIwon'tdragyouthroughanotherdouble-standardspeech. Sometimes, however, you have artists that are even more threatening: they write music that makes people--even straight men--want to dance! That women seem to really enjoy! And gay guys too! Which might make you--if you are, say, a straight dude of the usual insecurities--gay! Such women have their sexuality attacked in another way, especially if they've given any sign of being anything other than strictly heterosexually monogamous: they're called lesbians, as Madonna and Whitney Houston both have been.

But Lady GaGa--ah, Ms. G! She's already admitted to being queer! She clearly doesn't give a flying cat about what people think of her sexuality, which in her shows is a malleable tool deployed to make just about any point she wants to make! There must be something worse than gay we can call her! I've got it! We'll call her...

...a man.

Well, no. That might be odd enough, but we need something really "freaky." Howabout an intersexed person? Or a transsexual! It's sort of the ultimate in "this music will make you gay"--by making Lady GaGa "male" (I know, I know, bear with me, I'm following the "logic"), ergo, if you are a guy who likes her music and finds her attractive, then--wait for it--you are gay!

Now, as a trans person I am obviously thrilled about this--the return of the "trans is the freakiest thing you can be" meme, which had quieted down a bit of late. Not to mention that once again it's a way of using trans folk, and specifically trans women, as synonymous with male, unattractive, sexually undesirable. (See, for example, this lovely "joke" by David Letterman.) A-and it's a quite subtle bit of backlashery (she's successful! and popular! therefore she couldn't possibly be a girl!) All in all, well played, Patriarchy, well played. You've managed to combine homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, and, oh, dislike of dance grooves (historically carrying a big racial burden) all in one nice neat package. I'd take my hat off to you, had you not planted your foot so firmly on my throat.

Fortunately, the solution presents itself quite obviously: just listen to her music. A couple of rounds of "Bad Romance" and you'll wonder why the heck anyone cares about this shite to begin with. You'll be happy, they'll still be miserable, and as paltry a victory as that might be, staying happy and whole when the powerful want you to be miserable and torn is itself an act of resistance.

And if that fails, you can always do as The Lady does:


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I am not known for having thick skin. In fact, I don't think I'm known for anything. I'm just another disembodied spectre of opinions and “Which Death Note Character Am I” quiz results ceaselessly encircling the blogosphere. I consider myself first and foremost a pop culture commentator/humorist, a butt-fuckingly ironic choice of occupations for a trans woman. Queers, especially trans people, are the free condom bowl of the humor community. You can take as much as you want and nobody ever questions your need or intent. This is nauseatingly common in the “adult animation” racket, where the veneer of illusion and animation allows the creators to (literally) dress up their targets as irritatingly over the top and one dimensional as their punchline demands. And we, as a marginalized community othered by even the most progressive and “well-meaning” of our political allies, will almost always fit the bill.

The secret word of the day is “Why Do They Have To Pick On (Insert People)?” Saying this will inevitably throw everyone around you in a frenzy, screaming “BUT THEY RAG ON EVERYONE!” If you haven't heard this tagline before, you will in the next couple of days. It's like the song “Christmas Shoes”. Once you've been made aware of its existence, it feels the need to make friends with you. This modus operandi, that is, shitting on every bare chest you can find (metaphorically speaking, of course, I wish not to speculate on what it takes to get the minds behind Team America: World Police off) has been nothing short of magic for the creators of South Park. Now, before I continue this journey of adventurous naysaying and exposing self revelation (yes, sometimes even I get to the end of these posts and wonder who the hell this idiot thinks she is), I wish to make two points Crystal Pepsi clear: 1) I love South Park and 2) I realize that, as a hipster liberal who attends protest rallies and actively tries to limit her consumption of beef and high fructose corn syrup, I bear a striking resemblance to the portrait they bear in mind at brainstorming sessions when they ask “how can we piss those people off the most?” Parker and Stone's distaste for liberals is well documented. But so is my Dad's. I try to do my best to find what we have in common and move from there.

Still, no amount of salt (and/or Colt 45) makes any of the frequent jabs at LGBT people made on the show any more pallatable. I'll give them this much, though: despite our political and social differences, Stone and Parker go out of their way to make griping about their show convenient for liberals, especially queer liberals. Rather than pour through years worth of episodes trying to find random one-shot characters or punchlines that could be interpreted as problematic, all I have to do is bring up one main character that manages to embody every negative stereotype of LGBT people. I'm talking, of course, about Mr/Ms. Garrison. For those of you whose superior “bigotry sense” tingled years before this show became mainstream and have thus avoided it, Garrison starts out the series as a belligerent closeted homosexual, comes out, takes on a slave (leather, not Roots), comes out as trans, undergoes SRS (saying “I'd rather be a woman than a fag”), comes out as a lesbian (and proceeds to proposition every woman s/he encounters for sex), reverses his SRS (claiming “if you can't have babies, you can't really be a woman”), and last I checked, went back into the closet. There is so much wrong with this that to dissect and critique it with any sort of justice I would need to go back to school and get a Master's in Queer Studies.

Some have mentioned that Garrison's constant shifts in identity and frequent naysaying parting shots with each transition are indicative of his personality and his alone, and don't necessarily reflect the views of the creators. This brings me to, perhaps the true target of my editorial wrath; The Issue Drift, destroyer of comedy and decimator of fandoms. Issue Drift, as we in the pop culture peddler biz call it, is when a fiction (often animated) starts out as inane comedy and over time is modified to serve as a soap box for the creator's views. South Park would be the picture for this entry in the dictionary, if we weren't already in the process of evolving beyond books. Other examples of this trope are Family Guy (I see your hand raised, I'm getting to you...), The Boondocks, and Penn & Teller: Bullshit! The problem with issue drift is that once your fiction has a political or social message, every character becomes a tool for that message, which becomes problematic when you can't figure out what the fuck they're trying to say. Am I supposed to assume that Garrison's irrational hatred and absolutism is meant to be funny, and that when he says that only real women can get pregnant, a comment that has been said to my face by teachers, friends, and even other queers, that's my cue to say “haha, that Garrison, he doesn't understand how the world works”, even if you haven't gone the extra two feet it would take to present a slightly more realistic representation of gender variance? Or am I supposed to take this at face value, assume that that's what you really think of trans people? I mean, why not just say that? Why leave the episode with some random character trying to refute Garrison's claim by mentioning his wife has Ovarian cancer? That doesn't give us a clear enough idea of how indifferent you really are to people who are not like you, that is, smug, white, well to do Libertarians? You know that the lack of solid, impartial portrayals of LGBT people in mainstream fiction allows you to feed us as big a shit sandwich as you can fit in your toaster oven of privilege because nobody can reasonably complain about it when there are no other options. You throw your rotten little vegetables at everyone, saving the biggest for those who can't throw back.

And anyone who says South Park is “progressive” because Satan is a homosexual needs to be strapped to a chair and read “How To Please Your Man” articles from Cosmo every fifteen minutes for three days. There is nothing progressive about sodomy in hell. Men being forcibly raped as penance for their crimes is so old it could vote (see also: Hitler's Pineapple butt plug in Little Nicky). I won't even mention Saddam Hussein being his boyfriend and the rat's nest of problems that mentions, because if I do, I'll never get out of the house today and spend all my food stamps on organic Trader Joe's food.

Wipe that smile off your face, MacFarlane. At least the smug Libertarians had the sense to make the sensible main characters their mouthpieces. Your rational, reasonable liberal messages come from an alcoholic dog that fucks people. And your only main black character, the one that you gave a spinoff to, is voiced by a fucking honky.

I don't mean to front here. I'm a radical leftist. I believe in free speech and information, especially when it can cause riots and bickering and fighting in the streets. But when you make your little cartoon into a multimedia op/ed piece, you have the potential to inspire bigotry, because the stone cold truth is that nobody spreads a message unless they want people to believe or agree. You do it to tell people what you see, and why they should see it to. So Garrison invalidating all queer people through their marathon of identity shifts is really you saying to your smug libertarian audience to do and feel the same. While it's the controversy that puts you in the paper and keeps you on the airwaves, it's your followers and believers that buy your merchandise. You can buy a plushie of Cartman, perhaps the most racist, anti-Semitic child in all of animation, and cuddle with it. I know this, because I own one. For all my finger pointing and crybabying, I in some way have contributed to the marginalization of my community. And I really wish, more than anything, that this was an experience unique to me. But it's not. In the end, we all framed Roger Rabbit.

I have come to the point that geeks of all spectrums and fandoms encounter: the event horizon where our fandom no longer our moral or intellectual needs. This is not to suggest that I have morals. I believe in human rights, but not in achieving them legally or even civilly. If I could find the facebook groups where people as Danzig as I am frequented, I would host megaphone karaoke on the lawns of religious leaders in the middle of the night and blackmail politicians until they gave in to our demands. I didn't protest the war because I believe in peace, but because in the hiddenmost reaches of my reptilian brain I sense that there is nothing more than this, and no amount of human lives lost can justify the pursuit of oil or the expansion of a nation's political influence. Nonetheless, I can no longer in good conscience trust what is left of the frail and brittle twig that is my sanity to cartoons that talk like adults but still haven't graduated into their big boy pants.
What is that pedantic moose shit line our friends feed us when our brief surges of irrationality compel us to lament our single status and long for a nice cozy ampersand? “When you stop looking, that's when you'll find it” or some nonsense. Well, it happened to me. No, I didn't find a girl who paints my toes and beatboxes while I lay my phat rhymes. But I did manage to find two cartoons so vulgar and so overt in its technicolor sadism that in the ensuing carnage I feel some twisted eleven-toed cousin of acceptance and inclusion. Don't let my poetry betray the truth, as it so often does: I didn't “discover” these shoes. I've been watching them for years, and that is perhaps what's so singular and special about them: my queer awakening has not left me feeling othered or alienated by the creators and characters of these shows. When you just shut the fuck up with your ideas of how the world should work, you would be amazed at how much time for fun and laughter opens up for you.

The first of my belated valentines goes to Comedy Central black horse Drawn Together. A brief 101 for the noobs (a term that I explained to my therapist this week, much to her amusement): DT is an animated faux reality show (like Total Drama Island, also on Cartoon Network...actually, that's even more obscure than my original example...shit...) in the Big Brother style that follows the adventures of a cadre of cartoon archetype caricatures, like Princess Clara, the racist, anti-Semitic knock off Disney Princess and Ling-Ling, the psychotic dime store pokemon. It is a veritable checklist of shit you should not find funny. Suicide. Incest. Drug addiction. Self-mutilation. The muppet babies being torn apart by feral pitbulls. It was everything that South Park came just shy of in their “gross out sex and fart jokes” phase before they went topical. I fear expanding any further, lest you make the rational, reasonable decision to avoid this show and save yourself the brain bleach and white liberal guilt you will experience laughing at such intensive racial humor.

But on my topic I will further pontificate. Queerness is a frequent subject of the show. While one character is openly gay, the entire cast have at one point (save the pokemon, I think, but I may have blanked that out) engaged in homoerotic or bisexual sexual activity, and this is not done to demean, belittle, or other them, though it does provide chauvinist sweatshop superman Captain Hero a significant amount of character development as he tries to explore his bisexuality while maintaining his veneer of masculine stoicism. One scene in particular that I've made a point to remember in the haze is one where Captain Hero, Wooldoor (mickey mouse Spongebob), and Spanky Hamm (downloadable internet cartoon) are playing spin the bottle. Wooldoor cheers on his turn and his chided by CH for “being gay about it”. The three then enjoy an enthusiastic “triple kiss”. There's a sincere cleverness in that vulgarity. None of the characters have been brainwashed to be gay or are trying to make themselves gay (plots for a Family Guy and American Dad episode, respectively). It's just three guys making out. For no reason. There are many illegal activities I would give up to be able to say “I dress/act this way because I like to. No real reason.”
Drawn Together is about jokes, most of which require a certain fluency in ignorant racial and sexual humor. You might have to be a bigot to find all the jokes in Drawn Together, but watching it won't make you into one. We as queers are forced to justify so much of our identity. We don't get that privilege of just shrugging our shoulders because we're so hesitant to accept media that does the same (as you might have predicted, this show has had abyssmal reception, despite three seasons and an upcoming direct to DVD movie).

It succeeds in the field of “satirizing everyone” where South Park and Family Guy and that pedantic Michael Moore parody made by the asshole who did Airplane by not having a message or point in its episodes. It does not have to justify people's very very insane actions by fitting it into a moral. And by not stooping to this level, they manage to include everyone in on the laugh. A black joke and a gay joke in an episode about black jokes and gay jokes is far less toxic and problematic than a black joke and a gay joke in an episode about illegal immigration or the futility of strikes. Yes. I just compared trying to make a point to a low blow. You read that right. I wish you hadn't, either.

My second paramore in this abandonment of my intellect is Adult Swim's Superjail! Alright, real quick, I don't want to spoil too much because if you definitely pick one of these shows it's gotta be this one. Superjail is about a fantastical (possibly pan-dimensional) prison run by The Warden, a top hat donning sociopath whose schemes and shenanigans more often than not end in the murders of hundreds, if not thousands of his prisoners. Rinse and repeat. The supporting cast includes Jared, the accountant and recovering alcoholic, Jailbot, the trigger happy android, The Twins (sort of self-explanatory), and Alice, the guard (yes, one guard for possibly millions of prisoners), who just happens to be a transsexual woman. Unlike the dodginess of The Venture Brothers' creators about Dr. Girlfriend's history, the creators of Superjail openly admit that Alice is trans (even including a sad and oddly touching Word of God backstory about her losing her job and reputation after transitioning and being brought on to Superjail by The Warden because he recognized her talents...and wants to bone her...we'll get to that in a bit). The show is famous for its violence (every episode culminates in an elaborate fight scene where people are brutally murdered in the most comical ways possible) and surreal art direction (vegetables arguing, gingerbread men whipping forced laborers, everything you could want in an acid trip without actually having to make a friend). Despite the many spiritual/metaphysical themes potentially explored (the idea that Superjail is actually Hell and the reality-defying Warden is Satan is a popular fan theory), there is no message other than “holy shit wouldn't this be awesome if I cut you in half with the broken nose of a swordfish?”

Queers figure prominently in the cast, even for an Adult Swim show. Among the recurring prisoner characters who somehow manage to avoid being eaten by merfolk or punched to death by robotic fists are a gay couple who share a cell. With the exception of predictable prison violence (“here's your promise shank back!”), they appear to have a loving albiet argumentative relationship. It is never implied that their (possibly situational) homosexuality contributed to their winding up in prison nor are we led to believe that it is an example of power play or status. Compare that to the “grown up” Oz, with its sexual extortion and caste system. Not everyone who performs fellatio in a prison cell is doing so involuntarily, and it makes me a little sadder than I care to admit to see that more apparently in a cartoon about prison than a grown up live action show about prison.

Now, on to Alice. I heart Alice. So much so that I have considered going as her to a costume party. Admittedly, she's a bit comically masculine in the Joanie Laurer vein (lots of muscles, body hair, gender-inappropriate voice), but I let it slide because 1) she has a reason for that, having once been a hardened prison warden herself, and 2) as a 6' ex-linebacker and wrestler, I am more readily equipped to relate to a woman who asserts her identity in spite of a traditionally male body form than the limber, mincing, boy-crazy trans women so readily available in the current media. Also of note is that nobody, save for one female prisoner who subsequently gets her arm broken (the episode “Ladies Night” details the cast's interactions with alternate universe, gender-swapped versions of themselves and their prisoners), challenges her female identity, and she is somewhat of a figure of desire, especially for The Warden. This of course could be read as t**** chasing (I'm meeting you halfway, PC police), except that The Warden's only other sexual encounter was with the gender-opposite version of himelf. Oh, and the same episode featured an FTM version of Alice. I defy any non-reality show that features both sides of the trans spectrum in an unparodical manner (Rick and Steve doesn't count, she's a drag queen, not a transsexual). Damn, MacFarlane. The show about mass murdering prison inmates is already five to ten steaps ahead of you.

I admit to having some mixed feelings about the setting of Superjail! I don't believe in conventional prisons, and my biggest fear in life is incarceration. Merely visiting my father in a psych ward was enough to unravel my nerve, and I threw up and cried in that order, and then reversed. I didn't visit him in prison. It might have done me good to do so, both for our relationship and to further deter me from any bullshit I may be planning in the future, but attending a prison even in the capacity of a visitor might have been enough to trigger me. But when you think about it, life is full of prisons. If you're a lower class American, this country can be a prison, if you can't afford a passport, or your recent gender transition has made any identification you may carry on yourself an awkward conversation starter. Our body's can be a prison, especially for the disabled and invalid. Our jobs. Our relationships. Human existence and society revolves around placing ourselves and each other in confinement. Maybe all the world is just one big Superjail, and all of the differences that we separate ourselves and each other based on (color, creed, sexual orientation, etc) are tools for keeping us down and quelling any cosmic uprising.
Or maybe I need to go back to school, get my Master's, get a real job, and learn to appreciate Heroes.

All this and more can be true.

Alright. We've exceeded the 3300 word mark. I'm going to try and wrap up everything I've said in a concise paragraph, bake a lasagna and drown my inability to decide whether to accept my family's indifference to me or simply cut them from my life in a bottle of perrier with a twist of lime.

When a show strives to make a point, it only serves to other and marginalize minorities, particularly queers, because more often than not we end up being the one liners and throw away characters that make the message “funny” and “biting”. Shows that seek not to make a point, like the ones I've just mentioned, can and will provide queers with less problematic and still humorous portrayals and representations of themselves because there's no self-important moral to justify the stereotype. We have been known to scour all of media to find shows and movies and comics that adequately and positively feature us and our identities, but like the content single who meets their future partner in the coffee shop, perhaps we will find our validation when we stop looking for it. So do yourself a favor, and pick up some random, meaningless television show or movie without message or reason. You might like what you find.

Or, you might not.

That's what you get for listening to me, fools.

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I had my birthday last week, which beyond the reminder that I am a) one milestone closer to ultimate mortality and b) so much older than so many of my internet comrades, was a true blast: I took the day for myself, finally caught "The Hurt Locker," and had dinner with the hardest core of my friends. And friend gave me "Leonard Cohen: Live From London," which takes me back every time I listen to it (which is constantly) to the concert of his we both had the good luck to be blown away by last year.

So, hey, yay for transfeminist. Pass you some nachos and maybe you'll care, right?

But wait, things are going to get complicated.

Now, I said this was my birthday. And it literally was: the anniversary of the day I was born. But not every trans person celebrates that day as their "birthday" anymore.

There's a certain logic to it, after all: I'm hardly the person I was when I was born, to a much greater degree than most of the people I know. In a very real sense, am I the person that was born thir--well, a long time ago? Do I have the right to claim his birthday as my own? (But then again, was he a he who could have "his birthday"?)

Other folks who are stealthier than me sometimes abandon their birthday because it links them to the unpleasant pre-transition--or as I like to call it, Pona Time. Fair enough; not like I can't understand the impulse to achieve that kind of separation; the desire to shake the person you were is at the heart of many people's transness.

Other folks celebrate a certain--other day as their real, second, true, whatever birthday. Again, fair enough: the surgery is a big deal even when it's not; I made it about as much of a not-big deal as you can and still have it, and even for me it was a Big Deal. (Ask my significant other of variable and often fabulous gender, who found me crying in the swimming pool at our hotel in Cambodia during the run up to my appointment in Bangkok.) It's not my cup of tea, but then again the main reason I'm even able to remember when the surgery was is that a) it's the day after my niece's birthday, and b) after two years my surgeon has told me I can stop dilating every day. But that's me; I certainly understand the impulse to celebrate the day that your body finally moved into alignment with your gender.

I suppose that if I were looking to fill my calendar with remembrances, I could celebrate the day my name change became official, which for all intents and purposes is the day I finally went fulltime: it was my last day at work presenting in my old gender, and I was leaving the next week to get plastic surgery done on my face to undo too many years of exposure to the wrong hormones. As a funny coincidence, the confirmation that a newspaper had published my name change notice came the day before, so I was able to swing down to the records department on the way home and get the stamped copies of the name change. Now, frankly, if I were to celebrate another day, this would be the one: that is really the day I became the person you know as transfeminist in a very real sense.

Except, the thing is, I honestly never remember the date, even though it was only a few years ago. I had already been presenting as a woman everywhere but the eight or so client visits I needed to make per month, so it was pretty much an anticlimax. Generally speaking, I don't remember that it's been another year until I glance at the calendar, do some quick calculations, and realize that the date passed last Tuesday and I didn't even notice.

So I'll keep my birthday, I guess; at least, I think of it as mine, and who's going to take it from me? Not the sainted Leonard, that's for sure:

I asked my father,
I said, "Father change my name."
The one I'm using now it's covered up
with fear and filth and cowardice and shame.

He said, "I locked you in this body,
I meant it as a kind of trial.
You can use it for a weapon,
or to make some woman smile."

Though who knew I'd be the woman that would smile? Now that's a birthday present.

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Last month a brand spanking new semester of college started up for me, hot of the presses and ripe with possibility. Despite far too many of my classes being scheduled at 9 am, they seem interesting and come with a generous amount of queer content. And as a second semester junior, I’m officially more than halfway done with my college education. In theory, it should be a nice downward coast toward graduation. (I’m not counting on that, but it’s nice to dream.)

This semester is an interesting one for me, in large part because it’s the first time I’ve really felt like I’m at a place of knowing who I am and having a tentative idea of where I’m going. Last fall was the big time of self discovery, when I stopped avoiding the hard questions I needed to ask about myself and looked those bastards square in the face. I came out on the other end with this new word, trans, attached to my identity. Because of this, it’s also the first semester where I could actually stop and take some time to think about who I wanted to be.

The night before school started, I found myself sitting in my dorm in my underwear, labeling my notebooks, sorting through my folders, and idly wondering what I was going to wear on the first day. (Yes, I am the kid who plans outfits the night before.) And I had this strange moment of realizing that in twelve hours I would be walking into my first classes where the professors had never had me before and the students didn’t know me. I had a chance to present myself however I wanted.

In a sense, it’s a little bit of a dumb realization because I’ve done small reinventions every semester as my interests and self-perception changed. But, then again, realizing that that monkey on my back all these years is being trans is a little more fundamentally changing than deciding a new favorite band.

I believe that first impressions very often leave an indelible mark on everything else. I’ve had long conversations with friends and, hell, even my mom, about how “you never get a second chance at a first impression,” is a lot truer than I think most people would like to believe, because it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for human error, mistakes, or even simple bad days. But for college at least, in classes of six to forty-five people, first impressions are that important. They dictate which people I’ll end up chatting with before class, which people I’ll never remember, and how a professor’s going to treat me from now till they punch in the final grade.

Deciding who I wanted to be this semester (and how much of myself I wanted to put out there for wider consumption) became a balancing act between the awesome freedom of knowing who I am and fear tickling at the back of my mind warning that not every is going to like that. It sucks and it’s one of the more unfortunate truths of society, but we all know just what kind of flak gender variant people can pull, to say nothing of potential for violence.

It’s a nice, cheerful counterpoint to the elation of having found my place.

The funny thing is, when I looked in my closet, hanging next to each other were my favorite purple fall dress and the awesome argyle sweater vests I got for Christmas. I know that both pieces of clothing have a place in the complicated and amorphous thing that I call my identity, but I also know that identities are passed on in a glance. If I wear the dress, then I’m a hipster girl. If I wear the sweater vest, then I’m a dyke. The rub being that they’re both identities I’ve had on the past, ones that I was very proud to wear, but neither of them are me anymore. It’s a little bit odd to realize that the person you are isn’t someone others will see.

A first day probably isn’t really enough to spur this kind of existential semi-crisis, but I’ve never tended to do things small. I’ve figured out who I am on the inside, this boy-ish human, but the packaging is still very female. And I’ve reconciled myself to that as a temporary situation that I am lucky enough to likely be able to do something about. But until that happens, I’m left wondering whether it’s better to dress to match my brain or my body?

The moral of the story ended up that it poured rain on the first day of school, so I ended up in my jeans and rain boots. But the next day, I rocked my sweater vest in the two queer classes I have this semester. And the day after that, I shimmied myself into tights and wore the hell out of my favorite dress. In some sense, I feel like I’m two different people this semester. But hey, I’m having fun.

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I don’t particularly buy a lot of the worry out there about the overuse of the Internet and youth. Some have claimed that if kids are spending so much time online that they’ll become pathologically antisocial, their intellectual growth will be stunted, or that they will lose the ability to do one thing at a time (e.g., read a book) and do it well. I admit my experience is my own, but if I didn’t have digital spaces growing up I’d have felt even more isolated than I was already. And I think I turned out pretty well.

I’ve noticed, over the years, that people – authority figures in particular – are kind of weird when they talk about youth. While I think a lot of the worry about overuse of technology is directed to people of all ages, there’s always, without fail, a moral panic about how it might affect adolescents. Why? Sometimes there’s a feeling that if something bad happens during those formative years, the child will be irreparably harmed. Sometimes the anxiety stems from the idea that kids are not “mature” or rational like adults, and therefore cannot be exposed to potentially harmful content. But mostly, I think, it’s a worry that kids aren’t going to turn out the way we want them to.

I am frequently reminded of Lesko’s Act Your Age!, an elaborate exploration of how we conceptualize children and youth, how most parents and other authority figures are in a constant state of worry about the “health” of adolescents. My health growing up, by most people’s standards, was pretty poor. Until 8th grade I was literally at the bottom of the curve for average height, and I remember hearing doctors talk with my parents about taking growth horomones. Further, I hated sports and had no ability to do well in any of them. And by middle school, when I missed the memo about acceptable ways boys can perform their gender, I became subject to not only the whispers of my teachers but also the verbal and physical abuse of my peers. While I was a good student, this mattered little in the ongoing dialogue about my health from pre-K until I left for college. It’s fair to say that authority figures who crossed my path were in a constant state of concern.

Back to technology. Is our worry about kids’ overuse of technology about the erosion of their ability to communicate? I think, in fact, that kids are learning how to communicate in ways many of us have to struggle to understand. Is it that they’re not going to be able to sit down and read a book? Something tells me they’re doing a much more intense amount of reading, if not from paper than from (eco-friendly) computer screens. Or is it that since this is a scary new medium that adults don’t quite understand, we’re worried such experiences during youth could prevent kids from becoming the adults we need them to be? Will they still go to law school, meet a nice girl and get married? Or could the corrupting influence of the Internet make them gay or trans, hate God and America, or even result in a life alone in their house with ten cats? Is it, in fact, that adolescence – as a technology to produce specific kinds of adults – is being modified beyond our control?

So am I worried about anything? Yes, definitely. We’re all becoming keenly aware of how the Internet is changing as it has endured a digital industrialization of sorts. As content is modified in the interest of efficiency, the Internet is quickly becoming a place where norms are constructed and reinforced in ways reminiscent of other kinds of media (think commercialization and identity). And further, where there are more opportunities for everyone to present the self and be scrutinized for such presentations at a moment’s notice, I worry about peer review and resulting anxiety. Not only do kids have to worry about meeting acceptable norms at home, on playgrounds, in schools…but they also have to worry about how they present themselves on Facebook and what they talk about in chatrooms. They will quickly learn that there are repercussions for stepping out of line both in person and on the Internet, for they will realize they are under surveillance, constantly watched by peers, authority figures, and what may feel like God zirself.

The days of using the Internet to escape from the sometimes harsh realities of real life may soon be over.

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This Sunday brings us Superbowl XLIV (44), the capstone of another season of American football, complete with a barrage of million dollar commercials, the Lingerie Bowl VII (featuring the top two teams of the Lingerie Football League), and, in a CBS first, a controversial "issues" ad from anti-choice Focus on the Family.

I don't know if I should laugh of cry. Personally, I think I would rather hibernate at home and rent Whip It!.

The Focus on the Family ad is said to feature University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother Pam. According to news reports, the ad will feature Pam Tebow telling the story of how she carried Tim to term despite life-threatening pregnancy complications - and doctors’ recommendations that she have an abortion - when she was serving as a Christian missionary in the Philippines in 1987.

Which is all fine and good - it was her CHOICE to do so.

However, CBS (and the other major networks) have always taken a stand against airing advocacy ads. According to the Boston Globe, "In 2004, CBS and NBC rejected an ad from the United Church of Christ welcoming gay and lesbian people into its congregations."

And according to the Huffington Post, CBS recently rejected a Superbowl commercial for ManCrunch, a men-seeking-men dating site, because "is not within the Network's Broadcast Standards for Super Bowl Sunday."

I don't know if the Focus on the Family ad will be as offensive as the reactions make it seem it will be, because I have yet to see it.

But people are still reacting ... and why not? It's a PR moment. Take it:

The Focus on the Family ad will apparently end with "Celebrate family, celebrate life." But what does that mean exactly? I'm guessing it means something different for every person you ask. If you ask my friend who has had two incredibly difficult pregnancies which jeopardized her health (on the advice of her doctor, her husband got a vasectomy immediately following the birth of her second child), she might feel very differently if she found herself pregnant for the third time than another friend of mine, whose pregnancies have been "easy" in comparison (read: didn't directly threaten the mother's life, repeatedly).

Every family is different, and every pregnancy is different. Nobody WANTS to get an abortion and nobody takes getting one lightly (well, if you do on either count, you have far more problems than I can to go into in this space). But the sad reality is, sometimes, that seems like the only option for certain women/families. You can't celebrate life if you die or end up with serious health issues stemming from complications. Or, if having another child would put your existing family (and children) into poverty. Or, if you don't want children and feel you would not be an adequate parent and do not have a decent situation to bring a child into.

Sometimes it seems like the pro-choice/pro-life argument gets into a pissing contest where each side just really really really wants to "win." But what are we winning at? How is arguing and arguing and arguing ever going to solve the problem of unwanted pregnancies? Because in the end, at least both sides can agree that that is a shared goal - preventing unwanted pregnancies. Surely we can join together to work towards that goal. However that brings up an entirely new issue - how to properly prevent them (abstinence? birth control?) and I feel I've already brought up enough issues for one blog post.

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Citizens of BTB, it has been my privilege to serve you honorably and dutifully as your Secretary of Comic Books and Video Games. I will cherish the pride and memories of my duty for all my days. But as we know, change is the mother of progress, and I feel that is in the best interest of both my personal journey and the mission of this blog that regrettable, though beneficial, change is made.

And that is why, as of today, I am promoting myself to Minister of Geekdom & Geek Culture. With a dominion spanning anime to Zork, the informative commentary I will be able to provide our Emp—I mean blog will be unfathomable!

Hear this, ye of little faith: bang bang, pew pew, bitchslap. Any questions?

To prove my bloginess in the face of doubt, I will demonstrate my knowledge and understanding of a powerful and destructive force of internet culture, a nigh-invulnerable brood that has assimilated and subjugated every media fandom. A force that some say is the very backbone of fan community.

Below The Belt...I bring you...slash.

A brief 101 for those of you with some semblance (see also: illusion) of life: slash refers to non-canonical pairings (usually same-sex) of characters from fictitious media in the form of fan fiction, fan art, or cleverly edited video montages. The practice is widely believed to have started with female authors writing Spock/Kirk fiction (the eponymous “/” is used to denote the pairing featured in the fic, as if any of you reading this don't already have folders on your hard drive devoted to this. Get a job! Or better yet, find me one!). According to an anonymous talking head in the documentary Trekkies (which is about as respectable and acclaimed expert on the subject as I care to seek out), the early pioneers of this now ever-expansive trend were heterosexual women who “loved Spock and Kirk, but didn't want to see them with other women”. Sounds vaguely familiar...

With the rise of the internet, a hobby once shared within local fan communities can now be viewed and distributed worldwide, and with great exposure comes great participation. Fanfiction and slash communities boast contributions in the thousands (simply typing in “slash” in the search bar on DeviantArt yields over 8000 entries), running the gamut of literature, film, and television. Starsky & Hutch. Dragonball Z. Harry Potter. The Bible. Pushers of Hot Topic paraphenalia My Chemical Romance. If it exists, there is porn of it on the internet. Commit that to memory, for it is the closest thing to a universal truth we can hope to comprehend in a day and age where Kirk Cameron can make videos of himself trying to disprove evolution with a banana and nobody tries to stop him.

I think that's enough exposition, don't you? If you aren't already filling out the comment box with your favorite slash stories and articles, a veritable ocean of discovery and education (see also: days of your life you will never get back) await you. It would not be fair for me to tell my parents that it is not my job to educate them on trans issues, turn around, and write you a “slash fic 101”, especially given my attitudes and opinions about the medium.

And that's what this comes down to, in the end, the “why” (should you care) of this article.

How do I, as a queer, feel about slashfic?

Spoiler Alert: I don't care much for it.

Much of this sentiment can be chalked up to wiring; I am a queer woman, and the prospect of reading about the sexual exploits of two men appeals to me even less than the having my own sexual exploit with a man does. I am not likely to change my mind about either, unless perhaps there was a lot of money involved. Or doing so allowed me to challenge Paul Scott to a steel cage deathmatch. It is one of my life dream's to wear bright pink singlet and put someone in a Mexican Surfboard without going to jail for it. It's not “cure cancer” but it's kept me in school and off of (most) drugs. I fear the popularity of forced feminization literature in the kink community has convinced many of my female cohorts (both cis and trans) that every gender-variant/transgendered MAAB person secretly craves a sexual encounter with a man, even if it has to be quote forcibly coerced unquote. This is not to suggest that I would be ungrateful if dominatices kidnapped me in the night, gave me hair extensions and had a surgeon from Brazil perform overnight SRS that would fully heal up the next day. Just. Putting that out there.

Despite my personal preferences, I respect slashfic as a viable medium of fan fiction. While on the topic, I think there needs to be a much more critical analysis of what constitutes “fan fiction”. Many television shows, including Star Trek, the franchise that banged the gong for this literary orgy, have an open submission policy in regards to scripts, and many tv/film scripts and novelizations are written by fans of the genre/franchise being depicted. Cosmically, the only difference between an author who writes a Star Was Expanded Universe novel and a Star Wars fanfic is creator approval (see also: royalty checks). No matter how you look at it, I'm still an idiot for waiting an hour in line at an Air Force BX for Michael A Stackpole to autograph my copy of Rogue Squadron. I try not to think of how much rejection, disappointment and alienation from my parents I missed out on in my childhood because I was too busy to read those damn books, lest I go insane with regret and research building a time machine. Again.

Slashfic is often described as a breakthrough in queer visibility/empowerment in fan communities, important to the formation of queer identities, and a defiant struggle against “compulsory heterosexuality”. The aforementioned statements have one thing in common: probably made by heteronormative academics. While I can appreciate how a Harry/Draco story might have a positive impact on a gay teen struggling for a positive and informative portrayal of homoerotic coupling (if there is one thing everyone in the rainbow has in common, it's that we've all been asked “how we”), suggesting that m/m fiction written by hetero women is good for the visibility or acceptance of the commnity is suggesting that f/f porn directed by and marketed to heterosexual men would do the same. Which it doesn't, as mentioned above in the link that you should have clicked because I'm not doing this shit for my health, you know. While there certainly must exist prominent queer slash writers, the fact is that that slash has its roots in heteronormativity and the internet has done little to change that. And, sadly, we must also accept that any medium, no matter how “specific to our interests” it may seem, will have a disproportionate heternormative to queer ratio (if not at its creation, then over time), reflecting the general population. I know straight cis guys who write gay erotica and yaoi artists (underage slash art) who quote Leviticus in message boards and make their own “Yes On 8” posters. Sex does not and never will equal visibility or acceptance. Sex just is.

I see your hand up. Put it down, I know what you're going to ask. While I have perused some femslash in my day, you could by no stretch of the imagination label me a “casual reader”. Most femslash is, like “lesbian” porn, made by and marketed to heterosexual men, the very same who voted against our right to marry and get up in my face and feel my face for stubble at the gas station (I don't have a smoking habit or belong to a gym, so all I have to hold on to are my grudges). On occasion I will read a psssage of femslash written by a female author (but it might just be a man with a female pen name, I know a guy who does that too), though I admittedly do so out of amusement and not out of any sense of literary curiosity or enterprise. I have on occasion MSTK3'd a fan or slash fic (I describe the phenomena in my guest appearance on the Scarlet Betch podcast here), but I don't do this to undermine or demean the medium or the writers, but to fill up the hole inside of me where love or a belief in a higher power should be.

Permit me for playing this broken record one more time, but witnessing the popularity of slashfic, especially amongst my fellow queers, does make me pine for more queer-authored genre fiction. Some slash and fan fic is quite good, and would stand on its own if the names, references, and in-jokes were changed or at least modified to avoid being found out by copyright law (if James Cameron can turn Pocahontas into Avatar you can do ANYTHING YOU WANT). Unfortunately, it is my experience that convincing slash/fanfic writers to create original content is a lot like getting a skeptical Christian to become agnostic/atheist; you become so devoted to your fandom/community/belief that you simply can't bring yourself to apply your talents outside of that arena. Commit this to memory, too. This may be the only time in recorded history I make a FAVORABLY COMPARE ANYTHING TO RELIGION. When I first moved to the Bay, I had just left my job, the drive from Phoenix cost $150, and I was looking at paying rent for the first time. I would not be here where I am today if it weren't for two of friends of mine in Texas, servants of God the both of them, sending me money so I can buy for groceries and hormones. And every time I rage and protest at religion or refuse to “let it go” when someone brings up the topic of God in a queer space, a part of me dies because I fear that doing so is in some way dismissing or negating the love and compassion they've shown me despite our spiritual differences.

Returning to your regularly scheduled program...

I will say this about slashfic, however: I approve of it and the work it does in proving/confirming the many “secret homoerotic overtones” available in seemingly “straight” media that I can be found ranting about in various corners of the blogosphere. While the trend has shifted somewhat from male friendships (Kick/Spock, Starsky/Hutch) to antagonistic relationships (Dr. Who/Master, Harry/Draco), the source of “speculation” remains the same; attraction forming from an intense emotional bond between people. Aren't platonic and romantic relationships different only by degrees, and aren't love and hate different sides of the same coin? Obsession is obsession, no matter what spurs it. Perhaps it's not just the thrill of going behind canon's back for a forbidden tryst, but pursuing the path not traveled but ultimately still stemming from the same road.

Maybe all good slash is made with a spoonful of truthiness. And maybe, just maybe, we're all just a little bit gay (or straight) for someone close to us. If this does not float well with you, I will not only retract this statement but deny under oath that I ever made it.

And that concludes this broadcast from your Minister of Geekdom & Geek Culture.

Thank you for listening.

The Rainbow Prevails.

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