Promo image for season three
The first in a series of posts examining the women of the popular AMC drama Mad Men, from my feminist lens. Note: Mild spoilers from earlier seasons below!

Joan Harris, the office manager of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (and formerly the office manager of Sterling Cooper) is often described in terms of her looks: voluptuous, bombshell, curvy, sexy, etc. According to Wikipedia, the actress who plays her is 5’8” and 140 pounds – which I totally do not believe as a woman who is 5’7” (when I round up), although perhaps they add padding to her costume. Joan is played by Christina Hendricks, who was voted the “best looking woman in America” in a 2010 Esquire magazine poll of female readers.

During season one of Mad Men, Joan is living a carefree, single-gal-in-the-city lifestyle. You could consider her the early 1960s version of Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones. She lives with a female roommate, has a successful job (for a woman of the time), and makes no apologies for having an affair with her older, married boss – nor does she pressure him to leave his wife and ‘make an honest woman’ out of her. She’s assertive, smart, witty, confident and doesn’t try to act as if she needs a man. Joan quickly becomes a favorite character of fans.

Unfortunately, in season two, Joan gets engaged to a man who quickly became a villain to fans. Greg Harris seemed like a charming almost-doctor when his character is first introduced – but then he date rapes Joan … our Joan, as many fans feel connected to her in some way.

In season three, Greg, now her husband, is supposed to become a doctor. Joan even quits her job in anticipation for life as the doctor’s wife. Unfortunately, Greg fails to land a job as a doctor, and Joan’s embarrassment and sense of disappointment is obvious. In the finale of season three, Greg announces he has enlisted in the Army as a surgeon. It’s the end of 1963, and history gives Joan’s Number One Fans the hope that the villainous husband will meet his fate in Vietnam.

In season four, Joan is back to work as the office manager of the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. This time around, she has her own office. She is waiting for word that Greg will ship out to Vietnam.

Joan is an interesting character. At first, she seems to be the poster child for sexy feminists. She doesn’t have a husband, and doesn’t seem to care. She has a good job. She sleeps with whoever she wants. She has a brain and isn’t afraid to use it. Personally, I was disappointed in seasons two and three when she seemed on the road to life as a stay-at-home-wife. Especially when it seemed like that’s what her character wanted. What would have been the point of introducing such a strong, independent female character just to “clip her wings” into stay-at-home-wifedom?

Regardless, the most noticeable thing about Joan, especially as a relief to 2000s audiences, is that she has a figure! A beautiful, curvy, voluptuous figure.

However … in much of the coverage of her character, it starts to feel like that’s ALL she is … a curvy figure. Fixating on one woman’s curves to such an extent is almost as bad as fixating on another woman’s perfect, slim, girlish shape. In the end, they are still just their bodies.

And apparently, even Christina’s voluptuous figure isn’t safe from airbrushing. Photos of her modeling for London Fog (one time client on Mad Men) reveal that she’s been airbrushed down a few curves. It’s interesting to compare the coverage from feminist (and female-authored) with fashion bloggers (and gay males) Tom and Lorenzo at Project Rungay. Granted, Project Rungay is about fashion and style and not social commentary, which is Jezebel’s territory. However, they do point out that “it's always a good thing when a woman who isn't starving herself to death gets hired for this sort of thing.” Yes, yes it is. However, when the photos are edited to make her appear thinner, what’s the point?

Either way, the focus is still on her body. I honestly don’t know much about Christina Hendricks, but I’ve watched every single episode of Mad Men (minus last night’s, I don’t have cable so I usually don’t watch new episodes until the Monday or Tuesday after they air), some episodes two or three times, so I know a lot about the character of Joan Harris. And many other female television characters. It takes intent to write a funny, witty, smart, confident female character. It does make sense that a smart woman of her time (well, any time) would understand how to use her looks to get noticed and get ahead (the character of Bobbie Barrett did as well, if you’re a fan, you might remember her advice to Peggy Olsen on making it in a man’s world: “You can't be a man. Be a woman. It's powerful business when done correctly.”)

But is it feminist or anti-feminist for a woman to use her looks to get ahead? Clearly, as we can see in Mad Men, all woman of that era, both career women and housewives, knew the importance of their looks. Was it fair? Of course not. But it’s how they got ahead. For women who aspired to be stay-at-home mothers, they knew their husband wanted pretty, put-together and presentable wives to come home to and take out on the town. Heck, these women wore pearls and did their hair to go to the grocery store. Career women knew they had to look professional in the work place, but also attractive, if not also sexy. But not too sexy – remember when Jane showed too much cleavage? Or maybe she was just butting into Joan’s territory as the office sexpot. Regardless, anyone who has examined that era (even just by watching Mad Men) can clearly see the emphasis on women’s appearances.

But is that anti-feminist? I sometimes struggle with my daily application of make-up and heels for work. Why do I feel the need to do so? I think regardless of gender, appearances count. That opinion is probably largely affected by the fact that my full-time job is in the field of public relations. But appearance sends a message. Taking the time to look professional at work tells my colleagues that I take my job seriously. Wearing a sexy dress to go out with my husband tells him that I want to look good for him, and I’m sure he doesn’t mind being able to “show off” his sexy wife. Likewise for me; I appreciate when he takes the time to look nice.

Getting back to Joan. I wonder what the show would be like if she wasn’t the voluptuous character, but rather Peggy (the young, single, doing-a-man’s-job career woman) or Betty (the stay-at-home-mom) was. Would it have the same affect? Would it seem out of place? Does it work on Joan because her role at the office is one of authority and support – authority over the secretaries (women) but support of the partners (men)? She’s in the middle so you don’t suspect that her looks have gotten her too far, but you don’t feel bad about fixating on them because she’s not too important.

So, we can’t argue that looks mattered then, and they matter now, but is that bad? As long as the looks don’t overpower what’s really important – intelligence, personality, morals, drive, work ethic, etc? I feel that as long as looks support those things – draw you in to learn more – instead of overshadow or replace those things, they’re a good thing. So what do they do for Joan?

( the full post)


Pink and Green

This past June, 20,000 other activists and I (including binaryfairy), ended up in Detroit at the US Social Forum. And one of the things that experience highlighted for me was how little we talk to each other cross-movement. Binaryfairy pointed out that there was little understanding of queer issues from non-queer organizers of the USSF, but in the queer community we tend not to reach too far outside our own borders either. Although I'd like to hope that most of us who identify as queer or feminist activists have at least a basic understanding of how those struggles tie into race and class and worker's rights, even that's probably overoptimistic. Right now, though, I'm going to jump past those obvious allies and talk about what queer/feminist movements and the environmental movement can learn from each other.*

My first exposure to activism was when I was 11 or 12, working with a volunteer organization to restore local forest preserves to health, which included cutting invasive brush as well as planting seeds, and so on. A small but vocal group of concerned trolls calling themselves “Trees for Life” (I know you're thinking, WTF, anti-choice trees?) got worried about the children (are we teaching them to kill trees?) and the 'racism' of weeding out non-native plants, and convinced the county to put a moratorium on the work we were doing. I testified before the county board, helped my dad start up a counter-organization (Citizens for the Responsible Use of Public Land, with the unfortunate acronym of CRUMPL), and wrote letters calling out sloppy, biased reporting and challenging a particularly self-righteous columnist to a plant ID contest to demonstrate his (lack of) authority on the topic. The columnist never responded to me, but I learned something anyway: when the world around you is wrong, channel your anger into action.

So maybe I'm speaking from my own biases when I say that the environmental and queer movements could learn a lot from each other. And maybe I'm being unnecessarily pessimistic when I predict that unless we figure out how to tackle environmental issues like global climate change and resource depletion, all our other struggles aren't going to mean much. But that's the way my brain works: I make connections, I throw together unlikely bedfellows, and I wonder why group X is trying to reinvent the wheel if group Y already has something workable. In other words, I want to see a unified, cohesive Left working for an all-around better world for all. I know, I'm a dreamer.

One of the best panels at the USSF was on "Race, Gender, and Climate Change", organized by the brilliant Nia Robinson, Director of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative (EJCC.) I spent the first half-hour talking with a small group of mostly women, mostly of color, about our various experiences of the intersections between those three axes.

“It makes me angry that it's poor neighborhoods, Black and Latin@ neighborhoods, that always get hit with the worst pollution,” said one participant.

“As a woman, I feel like the environmental movement is always telling me to buy things and spend money,” said another. “Especially as a mother, I'm made to feel like a bad parent if I'm not buying all of these products I can't afford.”

Look at the mainstream Western environmental literature, and it's full of line-dried laundry, and bushels of fruit home-canned at the heat of summer, and home-cooked meals, and cleaning methods that trade harsh chemicals for time and elbow-grease. Unless these activities are decoupled from femininity and women are no longer responsible for the “second shift”, women will bear the brunt of the “green living” movement. Yet the predominantly white, male figureheads of mainstream environmentalism don't seem to consider that feminism falls within their purview.

Most of the small farmers in the world are women. So when conservationists talk about saving the rainforest from encroachment by farmers, it's mostly women's livelihoods that are threatened. But when “green jobs” are created as park rangers and eco-tourism guides, who do they go to? Gold star if you guessed “men.” And this doesn't even touch on the heteronormativity of both of those models.

On the other hand, queer movements could learn something from the transition towns initiative and the success environmental activists have had in building communities from the ground up. There are strong networks of people who are living the world they'd like to see, engaging in skill-shares to train each other and creating micro-infrastructure such as local currencies, community gardens, or food co-ops. Environmental legislation that surpasses any national effort has passed relatively easily at the city or county level due to effective local organizing. If the environmental movement has perhaps bought a little too heavily into the idea of individual responsibility (um, even if we all replaced our lightbulbs and carried reusable water bottles, we still wouldn't save the planet), the queer and feminist communities have gone the opposite way. I'm not denying the need for massive systemic change, but it is our own actions that define the world we live in, and we can build a queerer world starting with what we already have.

So what, you ask? Here's where I see the overlap. If we want to reduce our footprint on the planet, environmental activists have a vested interest in promoting systems that support all sorts of cohabitation. At the same time, working toward a work culture that gives more time off to (all) people allows people to rely less on environmentally costly “convenience”, and tends to foster investment in meaningful activities rather than quick-fix consumerism. There's a lot of room here for environmental activists and queer folks to work together on both of these goals, and in the process to create a society that encourages doing more with less and distributing resources more equitably.


*I certainly don't want to imply that the feminist movement is entirely queer-friendly (it's not!), that all queer movements are feminist, or that any of these movements are monolithic entities. I'll try to highlight the splits – between mainstream environmentalists and environmental justice activists, between GLBT organizations and queer organizers, or between traditional second-wave feminists, third-world feminists, and womanists, for example – whenever they're relevant, but you'll have to forgive me for speaking in generalities.

( the full post)

Spoiler Alert: You picked a bad week to start reading my work, Mom.

A few nights ago I dreamed I was painting a picture with my own blood. Because I'm currently employed I had all fucking afternoon the next day to think about it and decide that I really liked the idea of it and pitched it to some friends of mine, one of whom is hosting an art show in November that I'm scheduled to perform at. If this were a vlog or photojournalist essay, I would try to replicate the faces that my friends made in response to my plan, and then you would comment “OH GOD I CAN SEE FOREVER” and then I'd find you on Facebook or Twitter and by the time we realize that neither of us read the fucking book and thus our entire friendship is based on a lie it'd be too late to get a refund on the tandem bike rental. Oh, did I mention that Lisa Harney, queen of all cosmos over at Questioning Transphobia, was in that room? Of course I didn't.

A friend who had the very best intentions and certainly could not have known at the time that their insight would be used to further postpone my job search day made the comparison between my concept and that of a glorious tradition in feminist art communities. Stretch out the reveal that my friend was referring to menstrual blood art for awkward comedic effect? Don't mind if I do!

Much to my alarm, I had never heard of this phenomena until that day. How do you miss something like that? I went to art school. Is this something cis lesbians make a point not to tell trans women? Am I going to walk into a room one day to see Julie Bindel waterboarding my friends out of the corner of my eye right before Nancy Grace tears my tongue out of my head with her bare hands? And what is Nancy Grace even doing in this nightmare scenario? She's neither a lesbian nor on my list of people I suspect to be body snatchers. Must not display male privilege. Must warn others.

Like when I came out to my father, I knew nothing good would come out of researching this, but I felt I had no choice; it was either that or endure another .02 seconds of peace and quiet.

To be honest I'm surprised I made it out alive. You see, while looking at pictures of menstrual blood paintings, I triggered a defect in my genetic code. I believe that squick and envy are never to be experienced at the same time, for evolutionary reasons. It's what keeps us from going “What? Todd got fucked by a horse and now he's in the hospital? Ugh, that's terrible, oh my god, I can't even begin to imagine that...know where they keep the horse at night?” Nonetheless, while gazing upon these disasterpieces, the streams crossed in my head, and I was both disturbed by what I saw and jealous of the cis women who had the anatomical means to produce such twisted wonder.

There is a misconception (more common than it should be which is really just my way of saying “I could have gone my whole life without hearing this said to me ONCE”) that I am lucky, or at least feel lucky, that I don't get a period. I have tried, on six seperate occasions, to write an intelligent negation of this very broken and very cissexist point of view without using language that could be interpreted to mean 1) I'm fetishizing something that, in my limited capacity as a MAAB person, I understand to be very unpleasant to those who have such biological processes and 2) like I'm insinuating that my lack of this process makes me less genuine or authentic of a woman, which is USDA approved bullshit. But image and ego must a backseat take. The longer I try to voice this eloquently and without creating problems the longer it festers in me. So if you'll be quiet for a minute, and promise not to make any sudden movements towards it, I'll take my radical honesty out its terrarium and you can look at it. No petting. Okay. Here goes.

To suggest that I'm grateful or feel I've beaten the system by not having these bodily functions that our culture deems vital in experiencing and understanding womanhood is so profoundly and thoroughly ignorant that it almost qualifies as depth. SRS and HRT are not a fucking mindwipe. Even if I can afford the surgery one day, and I retain my sensation, it will be a long time before I can peace with the fact that my vagina was man-made. So slavish is my desire for “female functionality” that I've been researching the inducing and lactation, and asking various people who should be in the know whether or not it's possible for a trans woman under the right circumstances to breast feed a child, because even though I'm years and years away from that reality, I know when it comes, if it comes, I will feel left out if I can't participate in that activity. I even asked my doctor, which in hindsight was far from an appropriate response to “keep up with the weight loss, you're looking great!” I sometimes whimper and cry during physical intimacy because of my discomfort and awkwardness with my factory-installed equipment. So, I forgot what the fuck we were talking about, but fuck you, you're wrong, I don't need your help rubbing my face in it.

Okay. That was enough honesty for one day (or...month).

I must clarify that I'm speaking solely of my experience and not those of other trans folk. In a way, I hope others don't relate, because I wouldn't wish these feelings on like, 88 percent of the people I hate. Seriously, who gets their dysphoria triggered by looking at pictures of menstrual blood? I can feel your disappointment in me, mother, and I accept it.

Also, I don't find the concept of painting with menstrual blood gross. No more gross than say, drawing small quantities of my blood over a span of time until I have enough to smear a treble clef or melody to a song I wrote on a canvas and then trying to get someone to pay me money for it. It just seems less hygenic in practice, which makes less sense the more you think about it. A great alternative to losing your fucking shit, if you can't afford a cult.

I know what you're thinking: Despite my reservations, would I make menstrual blood art, if I could? I think we both know the answer to that. We wish we could un-know, but we can't.

I'm rather uncomfortable with how personal this post was. I feel I should play us out with some words of wisdom. If you take nothing else from this article, keep this in mind: if you include stuff you've made out of duct tape in the portfolio you submit when applying to teach at an art school, go ahead and click the “receive notice when this e-mail is read” option because that's the closest thing to a reply you're gonna get.

Also, it's pronounced “Mish fest”, not “Mitch fest”. Stop that. The neighbors can see you.

( the full post)

I really didn’t want to like “The Kids Are All Right.” I should be a huge supporter of it. A mainstream film about a lesbian couple, with the gorgeous Julianne Moore playing a bohemian femme? Sign me up. Yet something felt off about it. It felt almost too cookie cutter, too normal, too wonderful. Hollywood couldn’t get this kind of film right without some major issues. Maybe it’s some of that queer protectiveness, always needing to have our guards up, always needing to be ready with the critique. Daisy Hernandez gives a great review touching on some of the race issues with the film at Colorlines, but surely there must be some problems with how sexuality is presented as well, yes? However, I wanted to see it myself before passing any major judgments.

(Warning: some spoilers. Skip ‘til I tell you to read again if you want to be surprised).

The Kids was good. Really good. It was incredibly entertaining, well cast, and funny (awkward as hell, but funny). Because I was on-guard going into the film, naturally I found some problems with it. In what appears to be a women-focused film, the plot still centers around a man. The movie’s tagline especially gets under my skin: “Nic and Jules had the perfect family, until they met the man who made it all possible.” Ick. (Here’s an article on the Hathor Legacy explaining why the film “had” to be like this.)

Also, in a film about a gay couple, there are still more revealing and steamy sex scenes between a man and a woman than there are between the main couple. Yes, part of the plot is that Nic and Jules are going through a kind of mid-life lull in their sex life, but seeing what appears to be a lesbian woman boringly going down on her wife and then getting all freaky and alive again with her kids' biological father isn’t exactly what I’d like mainstream America to see of queer women’s sex lives.

Yet as I sat down to write this article, one I thought would be mainly a critique of the film, I couldn’t help thinking that I was falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy. I had hesitations about the movie, thus I searched for the problems I already assumed were there, and ta-da! I found them. Time for my oh-so-objective critique. So I thought about the movie more. I read interviews of director Lisa Cholodenko describing her thoughts while writing and creating the film. I considered what changes I would have liked to have seen done to the overall message. And while I still stand by the issues I described above, I realized they weren’t big enough to merit a negative critique. Overall, I really loved the movie.

One of the reasons I loved it was I feel it’s honest. Very honest. Honest like lesbians-watching-gay-male-porn honest. Honest like Jules eloquently and legitimately explaining to her son why some lesbians like to watch gay male porn honest. Believable conversations, realistic issues, and genuine outcomes. Do I have a problem with one of the moms sleeping with a man and feeling relief from the change? Yes. As a pansexual, do I understand and relate to it? Hell yeah. Do I want Jules and Nic to have marital problems, fight, and portray a strained relationship? Not necessarily. Is it accurate to the realities of life? Of course. Do I like the fact that the straight guy gets dumped on his ass and left to fend for himself at the end? Ok yes I do very much like that. Major props to Cholodenko for not going all L-Word on us and having the girl end up with the guy at the end of the film.

(No more spoilers! Come back!)

In a sense The Kids Are All Right mirrors a point theycallmevroom brought up a little while ago of not wanting their personal story to be the narrative of the trans community. Is this the narrative queer women want of their community? At first I thought not; there are one too many sexuality complexities for a mainstream audience to handle. But when I looked at my life more, looked at my friends lives, looked at lives I looked up to, they’re all complex. This film isn’t trying to fit into any box, it isn’t even necessarily catering to any particular audience. It is just portraying a believable story, which is more than most movies can boast. And yes, there are huge race and class issues at play here and they should have been better handled in the film. Even if it is “real-life” to ignore or sugar-coat race and class structures, it is racist and classist to do so and there’s already enough of that in the world – we don’t need it to be glamorized on-screen and an alternative, positive example of dealing with these issues would be nice to see.

My first instinct when I saw the mainstream doing something LGBT was to criticize it. Maybe I’ve just been disappointed one too many times by the HRC, who knows. But there’s enough internal criticism, battling, and discontent going on for now. Let’s just sit back and revel in an honest and successful effort for a little while.

( the full post)

Most straight people have it easy. It's not too hard to go up and introduce your better half to Mom and Pop when they're the opposite gender. If your parents are queer-friendly, it's usually not that difficult to introduce them to the person you're dating, either. Basically, as long as the person you're dating isn't some hardcore junkie in a biker gang with KISS tattoos, your family isn't going to care much. Even, they'll definitely care about that. The junkie part. Junkies aren't good role models.

I mean, a supportive romantic partner is a good thing for everyone, no matter what combination of genders it consists of, but...what do people like ME do about describing ourselves in reference to our significant others? I'm FAAB. I'm trans masculine. I'm dating a heterosexual cis man. How will we ever accurately describe our relationship to other people? Am I his "girlfriend"? Certainly not. But I'm not his boyfriend, either.

Seriously, can somebody explain this to me? Like, give me advice? 'Cause I'm seriously at a loss here.

I use feminine pronouns for the most part because I'm not really out to most people yet, and the people I'm out to are reluctant to switch to something else unless they're trans savvy. I don't know what else to have them switch it to anyway! I'm not a "he" and "they" is usually incredibly awkward to say out loud. I don't like "ze/hir" because, quite honestly, I don't know how to pronounce them and neither does anyone else. You're on the internet. You can use "they" for me. I prefer it. And it sounds just fine. If you know me in "real life" call me whatever the hell you want, as long as it isn't "it." But most people don't "get" the whole pronoun thing in the first place, so applying it to someone they only know in reference to the relationship they're in can be difficult. I'm my boyfriend's "girlfriend." There's really not a lot I can do about it.

I REALLY don't pass. Actually, when I'm alone, strangers with their magical "OMGQUEERDAR" ask me if I'm a lesbian. I had FOUR PEOPLE, a lesbian couple and a gay couple, ask me if I was queer at a show I went to a few weeks ago (it was The Faint, so assuming I was queer wasn't too far out). One of the women said I "look like a lesbian but am read straight when accompanied by a man." Sigh. And when I was alone on the floor one of the men asked if I was a lesbian. Double sigh. People get the idea that I want to look masculine, but I'm just not manly enough to pass. I "look like a lesbian." Damn these double-Ds.

So, to get back on track and push away my whining about how I don't pass, we'll get back to the original question: how does me boyfriend refer to me in regards to himself? "Girlfriend?" I don't exactly object to it, it's just inaccurate, and "boyfriend" is inaccurate, too. "Significant other" is a weird thing to use in conversation and sounds kind of pretentious. So what the hell does he call me? How can my gender ever be validated by those outside, looking in?

Well, there are a few options, but none of them validate my gender. I've just kind of resigned myself to the thought that that's just not going to happen. Well, at least I'm not smart enough to come up with something that will truly work and resolve this whole dilemma. My boyfriend and I have discussed "companion." It works. Kind of. I'd prefer it to anything else I can think of right now, but it doesn't really represent the depth and seriousness of our relationship. Companion is someone who is with you. That's the basic definition. A "companion" can be transient. So yeah, not a real we're-in-this-for-the-long-haul kind of word.

There's the option of "partner," but I don't really like it. Not for myself, anyway. I think it's because some people believe it should be reserved for same-gender couples, and, well, we're not exactly the same gender. But we're not opposite genders, either. I just don't want people throwing shit at me for using "partner," even though it's probably the best descriptor, because I've certainly heard shit being thrown in online communities at penis-plus-vagina pairs for using that word to describe their relationship. It's really sad that happens, but it does, and I want to avoid it.

Soon-ish I'll be "fiance" and that will be easy. There's no gender connotation when you're saying it aloud. "Hi, this is A.C., my fiance." "Oh such a pleasure to meet you!" they'll say. But when we get married it will all be messed up again.

"Wife" is unacceptable to me. I have serious problems with "wife." "Wife" is just too inaccurate. I can't stand it. And I know everyone is going to call me his wife FOR ALL ETERNITY. Even after I die I'll be his "late wife." There's no escaping it, man. Please, someone throw me a life preserver. I'm drowning in my own tears for the future. And I'm not going to be a "Mrs.," either. I'm going to be a "Mx.," just like I am now...on all forms that don't have check boxes. My boyfriend has suggested we use "spouse." That I can deal with. BUT GODDAMNIT PEOPLE ARE STILL GOING TO CALL ME HIS WIFE NO MATTER WHAT HE PERSONALLY CALLS ME.

So unfortunately, for the time being, I will just try to put "girlfriend" in a compartment in my mind where it doesn't mean "girl." It's just a descriptor. Or at least that's how I've chosen I'm going to have to deal with it. I started dating him before I came out, and he's so accommodating in other trans issues I have, I'm just going to let him have this one. I'll be his "girlfriend."

*Clenches teeth*

Kirk out.

( the full post)

So Garland Grey--whom every week I realize I am truly fortunate to be writing with over on Tiger Beatdown--wrote an interesting post about exploring just what the heck gender is supposed to mean, for him and for how the world looks at him, which you ought to go and read, and not just because the ads pay on the pageview. I think a lot of us who have grown up queer have faced a lot of the same situations he did.

Especially trans people. I want to bring your attention to this passage:

"There are a lot of places where The Swish is detrimental. Family reunions, where members of my extended family ask if I have a girlfriend, and I bite my tongue, remembering that I want some of their stuff when they die. Public spaces. The hardware store I started working in as an overnight stocker in college! Before every shift I’d stand in front of a mirror, preparing to perform my appointed gender. I had the supremely bizarre experience of sitting in a room and listening to straight men talk about gay men without knowing that one had infiltrated their midst. At lunch I would hide in the display tubs and have long conversations with Myles, who never liked to talk to me at work, especially the break room. When he said “I love you” to me when I was around other people, I would reply, “that sounds about right.” I tried to explain that he should hear that as “I love you too” but he didn’t like it."

If you are trans, and maybe especially if you've been other kinds of trans before/instead of transitioning, you know how this works. Because the fear of being found out runs pretty damn deep in the trans experience, at least for certain types of trans folks, at certain times.

I will give you an example, for I am a kind and generous transfeminist. Back in the days when I--and a reasonable number of other people--called myself a crossdresser, and hung out in crossdressing circles with other crossdressers, talk often turned to ways and days when it would be possible to crossdress safely in public. (That we worried so much about the "safe" part of it reveals something interesting about the peculiar way The Closet manifests itself as part of the whole phenomenon of crossdressing--but that will wait for a future post. Which, if I don't get around to it, you are welcome to write.) And of course the subject of Halloween would always come up. Halloween is often called the Crossdresser's Holiday, even by crossdressers themselves; it was seen as the day you could dress up however you wanted and still have the perfect excuse. And yet, whenever talk turned this way--with excitement or amusement or that peculiar unrequited yearning I saw a lot amongst my crossdressing sistern (I project a lot), there was almost always a warning, or a worry, or a fear--a fear of being "too good" at it, the it being dressing like a woman. There was a worry that if you did do too well, if you betrayed little things like being able to walk in high heels, or doing your makeup too well, people might--might suspect that you did those things on days that were not Halloween.

Probably those fears were overstated, because to be honest, how many people even observe those things when you're not dressed up like Barbie for the office costume party? But the fear was real, and I think it shows how hard the boundaries of gender are policed even by those who live on the border; I can't tell you how many crossdressing fashion tips I read that would help you preserve your everyday male appearance but still look like a woman on Fridays, from tips to putting on acrylic tips to using clear mascara to make your eyebrows look thinner. (Okay, I still do that one, but mostly because I am lazy.)

Of course, it's really hard to shake that fear, even after transition; there are probably not many trans women in the world who never worry about whether or not people will suss out their assigned birth gender. But I think that what Garland is talking about, and what I and the other crossdressers experienced, was something different: a different kind of masquerade (obligatory my-gender-is-not-a-bloody-performance-that-way-message here, of course), because we weren't trying to be what we were(or at least wanted to be), but what we were not. And that made it hard, and anxious.

But it was even more confusing, because as Garland observes, it wasn't a simple case of there being nothing of ourselves in the roles we clung to. The hell of it was, there was, and trying to disown those things because we wanted to embrace something else was never as easy as people would make it out to be. Trapped between gender codes, is it any wonder that we flailed around, hoping we wouldn't have to do it all on our own? Is it any wonder that oscillating back and forth seemed easier than forging a completely new way to be, even if it confused the hell out of us?

I don't know. I look back nowadays on those days as if I was a Diane Fossey amongst the dudes--fascinated, disturbed, repelled, thumping my chest in order to fit in, to keep them from finding me out. To keep me safe when I was all alone.

( the full post)

It can be extremely difficult for anyone to announce their sexuality in a public forum, much more so when that forum is the historically unfriendly-towards-LGBT sports spotlight. It is precisely because it is such a grueling task for one to come out into the spotlight, why we need to support these decisions to help change the modern climate of sports and the LGBT communities around the world.

There have been some incredibly courageous decisions athletes have made over the past few decades in sports. Obviously each sport has its own distinct type of fan-base with varying degrees of acceptance. Tennis, for example, has seen their top athletes outed as far back as 30 years ago, when Martina Navratilova came out as bisexual in 1980. While this was a groundbreaking decision for her, it was a bittersweet one as well. Martina was dropped by many of her sponsors soon following her announcement, despite her being one of the best players to ever grace the courts. Since that announcement, Navratilova has gone on to become one of the most famous and outspoken gay athletes in the world.

Today tennis is a much more welcoming arena for the LGBT community, but that might have a role to do with the type of sport it is. Played in singles or doubles, the peer influences of tennis do not compare to team sports like football or basketball.

In 2007, John Amaechi became the first NBA player to come out. Despite the fact that the announcement was made post-retirement, Amaechi nonetheless shook the very foundation of the basketball world. Being the first in anything has its benefits, as well as its price to pay. The benefits were seen throughout world, as Amaechi pioneered the way for professional and amateur athletes playing basketball abroad in over 50 different countries all across the world, enabling them to feel comfortable in their own skin. The price he paid was the discrimination he felt from his former teammates and even the late Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller.

Other firsts in the team sports category are former NFL running back David Kopay, who came out in 1977, and the MLB's Glenn Burke, who also came out in the 70's. Things were arguably much different back then, and the willingness to openly discuss what can be such a private matter has made it easier for other athletes to follow suit. "What John [Amaechi] did is amazing… He does not know how many lives he's saved by speaking the truth," said NFL defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo, who came out in 2002. Tuaolo went on to say, "Living with all that stress and that depression, all you deal with as a closeted person, when you come out you really truly free yourself. When I came out, it felt like I was getting out of prison."

Regrettably, one of the most homophobic sports out there is the world of combat fighting and mixed martial arts. Recently, after Quinton "Rampage" Jackson made some offensive comments which infuriated both Hollywood and the MMA industries, he later backtracked and offered the following explanation on his website, "I am a black man from Memphis Tennessee who grew up in the south where I faced discrimination my whole life. I know very well how it feels for someone to judge you for something you have no control over so having gone through that I know how it feels. I took a vow that I didn't even have to say that I would never discriminate against anybody for anything other that how they treat me or others around them. So not only DO I NOT HATE gay people, I actually accept them for who and what they are."

Ben Fowlkes, one of MMA's most affective sports writers, released an article which I could not compete with for its succinct analysis of homophobia in MMA. In it, he cites a statement which GLAAD released in response to Jackson's gaffe, "I read the response from GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), which quite rightly pointed out the irony of Jackson equating gay with soft at a time when gays are struggling for the ability to serve openly in our nation's military." Also striving to quash stereotypes is the not-so-silver tongued UFC President Dana White, who has stated that if a mixed martial arts fighter came out, "I honestly think it would have no impact whatsoever, with not only our fighters, but our fan base," White stated. "The guys in the UFC, everybody's so cool, there's great sportsmanship, everybody's so respectful. It wouldn't be a big deal to me, and most of the guys I know in this sport, it wouldn't be a big deal to them either."

That's a refreshing thing to hear, especially since a year earlier, in 2008, MMA fighter Shad Smith became the first openly gay person competing in combat sports. Smith outed himself in an interview which was published in the New York Times, which pioneered the way for others much like Navratilova and Amaechi before him.

As both a nation and a world society, it is important for us to embrace these athletes and the weighty decisions they have made. What it all comes down to is that sports should be about athletic competition and camaraderie, and nothing else. Ironically now, we need to promote what is usually a very personal matter- sexual orientation- in order to eliminate prejudice so the global sports arena can be a more understanding and accepting venue.

Alexia is a lifelong fan of sports and fitness. She is a passionate writer of issues close to her, including mixed martial arts. She is happy to be working with MMA Industries, proud suppliers of MMA training equipment to athletes around the world. Alexia continues to bring you the latest news in the mixed martial arts world on everything from breaking developments to the newest MMA shirts.

A version of this post appeared on The Bilerico Project.

( the full post)

Sinclair joins us from Sugarbutch Chronicles:

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” —Hafiz

I haven’t found an official psychological definition of the Outsider Complex, but I think it does exist in those circles. Maybe the phrase seems common sense enough that nobody feels the need to define it somewhere. You can tell what I mean by it already, right? The occasionally overwhelming obsession of being an outsider, which sometimes means either putting oneself in a position of being an outsider (be that consciously or unconsciously) and often lamenting “not fitting in” or not being part of the status quo.

Well, let me tell you something: the status is not quo. It seems like just about every marginalized group has their own sense of the Outsider Complex, but I think queers are susceptible to it in our own ways. Especially genderqueer queers. Especially kinky genderqueer queers. Especially kinky genderqueer queers who grew up in a place that insisted, over and over and over, that fitting in, climbing the social or corporate ladder, following along on the assembly line, is the only way to live one’s life.

And as usual, I believe that if we can name something, define it, study it’s parameters, that when it comes up in our own lives, it will feel easier to deal with, because we have some sort of Big Emotional Reaction and we can point our finger and say, “Outsider complex,” take a breath, and have some sort of context for what’s happening. I believe that making the process conscious will improve it.

I’ve been talking about the Outsider Complex a lot lately. Everybody’s got their own version of it, I think—even most straight white Christian republican cis guys, I would argue, still get their own healthy dose of it, perhaps it’s just an inevitable side-product of this individualist culture. But it’s been coming up for me because Kristen’s version of it and my version are very different. And sometimes, that has created some tension between us, because I just didn’t get where she was coming from.

See, I grew up in Southeast Alaska. If you’ve been following along with my column Mr. Sexsmith’s Other Girlfriend, you know all about it; I’ve been writing about my relationships with places a lot over there. Not only did I grow up very much outside of suburbia, American cities, and even American farmland, I also grew up with hippie parents who don’t buy much into pop culture, I grew up vegetarian, I grew up with a lot of pagan influences. Combine that with my particularly unique name, and just those factors alone gave me a sense that I was different from the time I was little. But instead of feeling like that was a problem, I saw it as a badge of uniqueness. I like being different. I like being outside of mainstream culture.

So yeah, I do have an outsider complex, but it acts a bit differently than other people’s—in particular, than Kristen’s—and different than what I observe in the queer communities as a whole. Generally, I think the outside complex works more as a badge of shame, thinking ourselves inferior because we don’t fit it.

For many of us, hitting puberty and discovering that there’s something “different” about ourselves, even if we don’t quite pinpoint our gayness or butchness or transness until later, was the turning point, the place of no return, before which we were “one of the gang” and just going along like all the “normal” kids, and perhaps we have this deep-set feeling that if we could just get back to that, everything would be alright.

Perhaps that too is partially a loss of innocence process, where we learn something new and we can’t ever go back to when we didn’t know it, even if we wish we could.

Some of this Outsider Complex can also be growing up queer without any sort of queer influence. No older queers, no peers, no mentors, nobody who even said words like lesbian or gay or queer or kinky or butch or femme or trans or whatever. I think that’s changing, more and more, what with that little revolutional technological thing called the Internet, and with the advances in the gay rights and gender movements in the recent years, so perhaps kids today (oh my god did I just say that? I’m old) are growing up with much less of a sense of the Outsider Complex, just by their very different exposure to queer culture.

I continue to see this manifested, though, in so many ways with queers who are adults now, who have been out for a decade or more, who do take part in some sort of queer community: there’s still this sense of isolation, of being different than, of being not fully accepted or not fully understood for who you are or what you love.

I even think it is sometimes used by us in martyr-type ways: oh look how much of an outsider I am, oh look how different I am than everyone else, you couldn’t possibly understand me, woe is me woe is me. In the worst case scenario, perhaps.

It’s something personally I haven’t quite struggled with. And I don’t say that with any sort of hierarchy or judgment attached to it, one is not better than the other, it is just the way it is. Certainly I have my own complexes and issues, regardless of whether I have this one.

So to witness it in others is curious. What’s going on there? I want to ask. And when I see it in others, it breaks my heart a little. How would I ever explain how deeply you do belong? How common it is, to feel this way? How many thousands and thousands of other queers and kinksters and butches and femmes and whatevers just like you there are out there?

Maybe it’s because I spent years reading Wild Geese every single day, memorizing it, reminding myself, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.” Maybe it’s because I was never indoctrinated into Christianity and have never believed in hating myself. Maybe I’m just really lucky, I don’t know.

So tell me, readers, Redhead Army Sugarbutch Fans, queers of all spots and stripes: Does this make sense? Do you witness this outsider complex in queer worlds? Is this something that you experience? How? Have you been able to address it and get past it? Or is it something you struggle with ongoing?

( the full post)


Allies Overboard?

So, on a hopefully-not-too-tired-out subject of rambling, what exactly is the role of allies in a Queer movement (or a queered, more progressive LGBTQ movement)? This is by no means a new question, in social movements or on Below the Belt. I am exploring this question now both because of my own continuing personal frustration with the issue, and because I think that it is a question that becomes more complicated when applied to a Queer movement rather than an LGBT one.

When it comes to a mainstream LGBT movement, the mark of an ally is rather simple: a person who does not identify as LGBT but supports (or attempts to support) LGBT individuals and movements. But as anyone within marginalized communities quickly learns, allies can be a wonderful asset and a crippling weakness. They often have much more sway in mainstream spaces than people of actual marginalized identities do, and so when you have an ally who is forceful and vigilant in those spaces and eager to listen in alternative spaces, the results can be quite rewarding.

On the other hand, there are many allies who have some sort of connection to the community and therefore have developed a sense of loyalty to it without any level of self-examination whatsoever, and who spend more time fighting the marginalized for a proper space within the marginalized community than they do fighting the mainstream members of society who would like to stamp us out. One marker of these kinds of allies that has always irked me is the obsession with emphasizing straightness (of course everyone forgets about trans people too much to bother obsessively emphasizing being cisgender, though this little aside could prompt a whole other discussion about “straight-acting” amongst LGBs). It is this obsession which I think best demonstrates why I think the role of “ally” needs to be redefined in a Queer movement.

Queer theory fundamentally challenges the societal reification of straight norms. So, in a Queer movement, there isn't really a space for people who cling obsessively to straightness as an identity. To do so would run quite counter to what I perceive as a goal of liberating sexual and emotional relationships from the confines of socially constructed boundaries. I have carefully used the phrase “cling obsessively” because, though some may disagree, I do not think that a Queer movement erases heterosexuality. Rather, heterosexuality becomes more or less irrelevant...a way of perceiving one's own pattern of behavior perhaps, but a term completely stripped of its behavior-controlling influence. Aqueertheory does a wonderful job of reconciling heterosexuality and queerness in his post “Queer Heterosexuality.”

The significant conclusion that I am hoping my musings point to is that allies don't exist within a Queer movement because if a person is too hung up on who they like to sleep with and when and where and how and why to actually be a part of a Queer movement, then they really aren't deconstructing anything. Of course, a mainstream LGBT movement is going to coexist with a Queer movement inevitably (however peacefully or not) and so could THEY be considered allies to the Queer movement? I say naw...they are just a movement with a much more limited agenda that queers can also (probably) usually somewhat support. Minus the racism, often internalized homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, all that. So in my humble opinion, when it comes to a truly Queer, truly progressive movement, the term "ally" needs to be traded in for "person with whom we work on the issues about which we are mutually concerned."

I often try to throw "progressive" in there with Queer, because I honestly envision a movement which brings the marginalized together under a banner of demolishing the walls we have constructed around our differences, and even "Queer" doesn't have a connotation of addressing everything.

Ok, all-inclusive group diversity hug!

Ok now step back...why doesn't this Queer movement look nearly enough like what I imagine when reading Patricia Hill Collins' Black Feminist Thought? (coming soon?)

P.S. Stop boycotting Target and protest that teensy weensy little Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to support political candidates.

( the full post)

Today I shall correct a long-standing injustice that has disserviced the blogosphere for many a winter: I'm speaking, of course, of the lack of op/ed articles comparing mental illness and trans identity to pokemon.

With the exception of correcting someone's language, I don't like to talk about my trans status in the tofuspace. It's more of a matter of preserving the reputation of the trans community than one of personal relationship. Whenever people ask me questions like but not necessarily “Do you feel like this is the 'real' you?”my first reaction is to ball up my fists and scream “I CAST MAGIC MISSILE!” over and over until they explode or I get light-headed and need a soda. After years of pyschic training most mystic (see also: therapy) I have learned to play this scenario out in my head in the supermicrosecond it takes for me to shrug my shoulders and mutter an awkward “yeah, I guess”.

I feel dishonest suggesting that present me is somehow more “real” than me circa pre-transition. I don't know if I've ever felt “real”. All my life I've struggled with the pervading sensations of emptiness, impermanence. This is not to suggest I am free from the “taxation without representation” of emotions. I still feel. I love my partner and hate exposed stuffing on couch cushions or when you pull a corner of your sheets off and there's the bare mattress. I have favorite TV shows and can taste the difference between Pepsi and Coke. I am in every way as human as you, yet when I set eyes on loved ones I cannot help but curdle with envy at their wholeness, their solidity in their identities. I don't have a “style”, I have a series “personality changes”. I've gone through three or four first names and twice as many middle names. Two months ago I wanted to be the front woman for an art punk band. As of last week I want to do nerdcore-influenced hip hop and occasionally dabble in house music. I got a couple compliments on an LJ post about how I look good in a bandanna and I've never left the house without one since.

What I've described are classic symptoms of borderline personality disorder. Shifty identity, feelings of emptiness. There are other, scarier symptoms, but the less time those can be found in the same room as my queer identity the better. Reconciling my temporal identity with being trans provides me all the self-reflection and personal turmoil that I could never need. I'll pass out pamphlets and hold workshops and fight the patriarchy in the streets, just don't ask me what it means to be a woman. Because I don't know. I don't know what makes me a woman. I just know it's what I am. How do I know that it's not just a single flavor in my jelly belly jar of personality? I don't. Every shot day, as I hug the pillow and brace myself for the incoming needle, I ask myself about 35 times if this is what I really want for myself.

I never say it, but whenever someone tells me I kiss/talk/make love “like a girl”, I feel this overwhelming sense of relief, like “yay, a winner is me, I got the answer right”. There was a time when I dreamed of the day I could wear dresses and paint my toes and listen to Sarah McLachlan without being labeled a “pussy”. Now it's too much effort to shave my legs, I've instituted a “no change of polish until one nail goes completely bare” rule, and I found that Tegan and Sara are actually way better. I've begun to label myself “chaotic femme”-identified, which is great because it suggests that even I don't know what that means. I'm pretty sure that's not how you're supposed to do it. Isn't “know thyself” the most important tenant of human philosophy? Or was it “be kind, rewind”?

I integrate a lot of the media I consume into my everyday language and behavior. I think it is marginally more authentic to be a “mash up” instead of having nothing “original” to say. Though I haven't played any of the games in almost 10 years and watched maybe 10 episodes of the original television show, I use a lot of pokemon lingo, or poke-slang as I will call it, once, before your death glare convinces me never to say it again. It's nostalgic, cartoonish appeal aside, you have to admit that marketing live animal capture and dogfighting to kids is sickly hilarious.

I've always had a soft spot for Ditto, the little blobby pokemon that can mimic other pokemon. It totes has nothing to do with why Kirby is my favorite character in the Smash Brothers series. At all. I tried to build a team around Ditto to beat the Elite Four and win the little duel league my friends and I had set up for school recess. I switched to Magic Cards within three weeks. I was encouraged to try with real, more serious pokemon, but I found no gratification in that. Why confine yourself to just six pokemon when you could have like, all of them, at once? What if you got bored with the same attacks, same strategy? Why try to explain my female identity and what being a woman means to me if I'm going to change my mind on the details two weeks later? Isn't it enough that despite my fleeting sense of self I still remain convinced of my gender, and could not be convinced to de-transition for all the energon in Cybertron? Why must I always be moonwalking on eggshells, afraid that betraying this facade of “I know who I am and always have” will somehow hurt my credibility as a trans person and have my name put in the “not really trans/not serious about it” hat?

The activist and wallflower in me are arguing in the kitchen in my head. Again. This always happens at breakfast. The activisit says that I have a duty, as a queer, as a trans woman, to spread awareness and visibility and speak truth even if it is contradicting and inconvenient, while the wallflower says it's not my job to be a spokesperson for the community and it's better if others who are more secure in their identities do the talking. I wish they'd kiss and make up already. I've been waiting to try out these morningstar sausage patties forever.

Is it okay not to know? Is it better to embrace your shapeshifting abilities or find a form you like and stick to it? Can you be proud and unsure of your identity at the same time? Does it hurt the movement if I don't know who I am? Is it even worth it to collect all 151 (original) pokemon if everyone ends up using the same four or five in every duel?

You'd think being as active as I am in community-centric blogging would give me the answers to these questions. But really, it just gives me permission to be honest about my ignorance. I could write you a song about the three waves of feminism and make up drinking games based around finding the blatantly homoerotic subtext in old movies. That's what brought me here. But I don't know what any of this means to me, personally, and wonder if perhaps by observing what it means to others and giving people a space to express it, I could learn how to know. And that's what will keep me here, I guess.

TheyCallMeVroom uses “awkward heartfelt closing thought”!

It's super effective!

( the full post)

A little over a month ago I attended the United States Social Forum (USSF) in Detroit. This was a gathering of over 15,000 progressive activists and community organizers from all over the world who came together for a week-long event to catch everyone up to speed with what different organizations are doing, what the most critical issues facing our communities are at this time, and to create a more cohesive game-plan as to how to proceed and succeed from here. There were many positives and negatives to the event. Incredible energy, a kick-ass rally rolling through downtown Detroit to start things off, and great learning opportunities and sharing of ideas. Yet there was also not nearly enough accessibility made for people with disabilities, perhaps not enough involvement with local businesses and vendors, and lots of logistical fiascos and scheduling snafus (though with an event of this size I guess that’s to be expected). The main issue I’ll focus on here though is, naturally, the queer side of the forum.

There was a huge push this year from the staff of the forum to make everyone feel welcome, including those of all gender identities. In the packet of information that was available before the forum began, it had a section describing the steps that the forum was taking to be inclusive of queer issues, such as the entire forum having gender-neutral bathrooms and the workshops being aware of people’s different preferred gender pronouns. It stated in the packet that everyone was expected to be respectful and accepting of all gender identities and that prejudice and bigotry would not be tolerated. To echo transfeminist’s feelings, I too feel like I no longer understand how different gender or LGBTQ identities could be a problem to anyone, and I was a little shocked that people needed to be reminded to respect other people’s identities. If there is a place where this should be a no-brainer, shouldn’t it be at a liberal, progressive, activist conference? Yet with 15,000 people, you’re bound to get some dissent, thus the reason for the disclaimer.

However, by the time the forum rolled around, most bathrooms were not gender neutral, and there were definitely issues of gender-nonconforming peeps not being accepted and made to feel uncomfortable for visiting the “wrong” bathroom. Similar responses were made in workshops when presenters would ask participants to include in their introductions their preferred gender pronoun. There were a lot of confused looks around as to what that meant or why that addition to the intros was necessary. There was even one very pushy lady in a workshop I went to that cut the introductions short by saying that “no one really needs to know who everyone is or cares what pronoun they use, can we just get on with the workshop? We’re running out of time.” Yes, because nothing says building community and trust amongst a movement like ignoring everyone else in the room.

And to give the forum staff credit, they did make announcements at large assemblies regarding the lack of understanding towards the gender neutral bathrooms and tried to address other concerns as they arose. Yet if the desire of all attendants aren't there to make the forum a safe space for everyone, no amount of announcements will cause the change needed.

It got me thinking a lot about the progressive movement in general, and how if we can’t even find agreement and acceptance here about these issues, how are we ever going to find it in the greater population? And of course I recognize that people came to the forum for all sorts of reasons, with all kinds of interests and agendas, and with many individual perspectives. And while I was super impressed by the queer workshops that were put on, especially the Queer/Trans People’s Movement Assembly, I was still surprised by the lack of knowledge a lot of the attendants had regarding LGBTQ issues. Yet to be fair, I’m sure if I had talked to a lot of climate justice folks (an issue I know embarrassingly little about), they would be appalled at my lack of understanding about their concerns.

Overall, it gets back to the point that has been discussed before on this blog about language and accessibility. Sometimes you need to be patient and meet people where they are, and tone down your language when speaking with a newbie. For instance, I had a wonderful conversation with an older woman from the South who knew very little about queer issues, and was absolutely shocked when she found out I was bi/pan. She had met my partner at the forum as well and said, “You mean your boyfriend doesn’t mind that you…sleep with girls?!” She shuddered when I said no. “But, he doesn’t get jealous that you date them too?” Now, this got interesting because my partner and I are poly, so for a second I continued with the conversation as normal, but then remembered that I had never revealed our poly status to her and that she was just assuming that all bisexuals were, in her mind, promiscuous. It was a weird moment, because all through college I had read articles in my queer studies courses about how this was a stereotype about bisexuals, yet I personally had never encountered it. Yet now I can check that one of my list – fun! While she was surprised at first once I explained to her that being bisexual does not mean that you always have a relationship with both a man and a woman at the same time, we ended up having a really great and open conversation about the different stereotypes and what all the terminology means. She was so happy afterward that someone had taken the time to explain it to her, because usually people just get offended and stop talking to her about it.

On one hand I know people in an oppressed position should not be the ones solely responsible for educating others on these issues, yet in some ways I feel like if we’re not going to do it, who is? It’s not that we can’t get offended or speak passionately and urgently when we’re explaining these issues, or show our frustration in people not understanding or always being put in the position of explaining, but in reality, there was someone who sat down with all of us at some point in our queer journey. Whether it’s that we already knew that this is the life we wanted but we didn’t yet have the words for it, that we didn’t even know this was a possibility, or even just did a google search and stumbled upon a queer blog and a whole new world opened up, at one point or another, someone took the time to teach us about queer issues. And here we are today. So we can’t expect everyone to be up to speed in an instant. We can expect and demand respect and acknowledgement, but if someone gives me a double take when I go into the men’s bathroom, I try to smile and not get scared away from going into the men’s room again when I feel more like that gender that day.

So what are some ways that the US Social Forum could improve its queer and gender identity inclusion, as well as inclusion regarding other issues that people may not be knowledgeable about? One thing I felt the forum was lacking was a labeling what type of audience the workshops were looking for. Some workshops I went to were clearly geared to veteran activists in a particular field, and the conversations went way above my head because I didn’t have basic knowledge of that issue. Other times, I was hoping to have a really in-depth discussion about a topic I am heavily involved in, yet the workshop skimmed the surface to try to be accessible to everyone. If there were different types of workshops created, such as ones marked as entry-level courses on certain issues to give people an intro to a topic, it could be an unintimidating way for people to educate themselves about new topics. And on the other side there could be advanced courses for people that are already working within that movement (I learned later that this was the intention of the People’s Movement Assemblies, however from what it seemed like to me, most people who were new to the Forum were not aware of this distinction).

Yet this would still not solve the problem completely because there may not be enough time to go to intro workshops, or people may feel they don’t need to learn about certain issues and won’t attend anyway. In that case, perhaps there could be more education done beforehand by the forum by sending out emails or educational articles to try to get people up to speed on the basics of the different issues that will be discussed so that people will have a better idea of what to expect when they get there. This may have been the intent of the original packet sent out with info about the gender identity inclusion, yet that was obviously not enough this year. I know this is a lot to ask, that the forum crew may have been understaffed, underfunded, and unable to take the time to do all this beforehand. And when it comes down to it, you can’t force anyone to understand these issues – that will come with their own self-education and exploration. But maybe if there was a little more materials available and a little more time for personal discussions amongst people of different views, the next US Social Forum could be even more successful and positive than this latest one was.

**Note: This post describes solely my experience at the forum, and if others attended I would love to hear your opinions and if you felt the forum dealt with these issues in a different way then I described.

( the full post)

Things went better with my first post than I thought. I was really worried, but I got a lot of supportive comments from friends. Not a single "FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING TRANNY!!!" or "WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU???" I don't even think anyone deleted me from Facebook, either. In fact, I'm positive no one deleted me, because I counted my friends before and after the linked post.

So what’s a genderqueer, then?

Well, let’s start with a bit of a correction here…genderqueer isn’t really a noun. It’s an adjective. You wouldn’t ask what a transgender was, would you? Oh, wait…some people actually do that. Well, stop right now.

The correct usage would be "genderqueer person." See, "person" is the noun, and "genderqueer" is the adjective. The more you know.

Well, what are genderqueer people like? Fuck if I know. Unique, like everyone else? Genderqueer people just usually don't identify within the binary gender system of male and female. We may identify as both genders, neither gender, or a gender completely separate from the generally accepted gender spectrum. Baby boys wear blue, baby girls wear pink. Pants for boys, dresses for girls. Period. I wish people would get up and off those stereotypes. You know the "gay rainbow"? Well, I'd say I'm Yellow Green in that crayon box. So I suppose that's what a baby me should have worn. If I could only protest to the pink as an infant. Well, actually, my parents were more of the modern type that dressed all their children in various clothes, pants on baby girls, too...and like I said in my last post weren't adamant I keep my hair long like a good girl. Ha! Good girl! I'm neither of those, and I think my parents got that a long time ago.

Most genderqueer people--people such as myself--tend to identify as a “gender” (I put that in quotes to denote that gender is not always fixed) somewhere in the middle of the fancy gender spectrum. At one end I suppose you would have the “manly-men” (which could include both cisgendered and FTM trans people, if they identified as being ultra-manly) and on the other extreme the “feminine-women” (again, cisgendered or MTF trans people who identify as female female FEMALE). “Genderqueer” is pretty much just an umbrella term that is used to cover bi-gendered, androgynous, third-gender, or gender-fluid people. Again, the people in the middle of the spectrum. I just go with “genderqueer” for myself because, well, it works. If I had to choose a subcategory, I suppose I would be androgynous. But "genderqueer" is a more inclusive word. So let’s just keep with that one. Then we don’t leave anyone out. We don’t want to do that now, do we?

Now we'll go to definitions. Something like a Cliff's Notes for gender identities. If you pay attention, you'll know more when you read other posts of this nature. The kids will give you credit for being down with it, just like they do to Craig Finn. Sorry, you probably have no idea who that is. Forgive me. I just needed to do that to fulfill my little sidetracked mind.

There are two basic and important acronyms that will be important for you to know, for genderqueer and binary-identified trans people alike: FAAB and MAAB. People usually have no idea what those acronyms mean, but that's okay, because you'll know now. The acronym FAAB means “female-assigned at birth.” It is important to use this acronym if you want to denote to other people what your, well, gender assigned at birth was. Did you wear the pink or the blue onesies? It is important to stress the "assigned" part because, well, a lot of genderqueer people don’t identify as either gender or they identify as both at the same time. So saying that a person is a “genderqueer woman” would be grossly inaccurate. And it is also kind of rude, insensitive, and taboo to say something like "She was born a woman," because NO ONE is born a certain gender. A person may be born a certain sex, and gender and sex are different things. Gender is mind based, sex is chromosome based. They're not interchangeable, even though a lot of people think so. Again, the more you know.

By what I said above, you can probably infer that MAAB means "male-assigned at birth." AWESOME. Now we can go on.

I said before that FAAB and MAAB are important acronyms to know. Well, we should probably also define bi-gendered, androgynous, third-gendered, and gender-fluid, just to be good and inclusive. We'll do this quickly. A bi-gendered person typically feels that they are both genders at the same time, or sometimes at different times, and often (without thinking about it) construct two personas to represent their male and female sides and different personalities. This is NOT the same thing as "Multiple Personality Disorder," which, I'm sorry, but I must say it because it grinds on me, has been called "Dissociative Identity Disorder" for over a decade. Well, it's not that, whatever you want to call it. It's just a person who feels they have two separate sets of characteristics--one male, one female--that can't be resolved by constructing one "gender."

Androgynous people are, well, androgynous. People who are androgynous often feel as if they are right in the middle, and they want to stay there. Oftentimes we will wear clothes and cut our hair to deliberately look neutral in gender. Androgynous people such as me tend to think of themselves as both male and female at the same time, but unlike bi-gendered people, the two genders are neutral and can be resolved into one consistent gender identity. Androgynous people may also view themselves as neither gender, or both AND neither at the same time, like I do.

Third-gendered philosophy is pretty straightforward. A person who identifies as third-gendered basically feels as if they do not fit into either binary gender in any way, and are completely separate from the male/female gender dynamic.

Gender-fluid people are people who tend to identify as relatively neutral with regards to gender but will vacillate between "male" and "female" presentation. This is usually quite limited, and gender-fluid people tend not to view themselves as two separate gender identities--gender-fluid people pretty much slide back and forth on the spectrum but stay pretty near the center. It depends on the person how far they move from center, but gender-fluidity could probably be described with a comparison to a grandfather clock, which has a swinging weight that goes left and right of the neutral position. I myself am pretty gender-fluid, but I tend to stay closer to the center of androgyny.

Yeah, you could probably get all of that information off Wikipedia.

I’m not speaking for all genderqueer people by any means. That would be impossible due to the variety of people included within the “gender,” if you can even call it that. This is all me. This is the world according to my experiences with my own gender and how my other genderqueer friends describe their own identities. This is meant to be helpful, but don't go around assuming that you know everything about this now. You're more well-informed, but you won't completely understand unless you live it yourself.

Kirk out.

( the full post)

This past Saturday, Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, wed Marc Mezvinsky. Among the media coverage - official photos of the happy couple and the former first family, came the cries of "why does anyone care??" Waahh wah wah.

Personally, I think it boils down to two things... and maybe they are not the most pressing matters, but they make her wedding relevant. To me, at least.

1. Unlike many of her peers, Chelsea used the advantages that were handed to her in positive ways. Can you say that about every kid of famous parents? She is a role model to a generation lacking many quality role models.

2. The former ugling duckling is now a beautiful, happy, successful woman, leaving those who mocked her 15 years ago in our far, distant memories.

Our generation is inundated with images of kids who are famous for no other reason than their parents. First came Paris Hilton. Then the Kardashians - who have not one, but two shows, and now the media has given us even more vapid and worthless celebutants - the girls of Pretty Wild.

These kids (mostly women it seems ...) were raised with wealth, and I assume excellent educations and every opportunity imaginable. What did they do? They parlayed their privilege into the ultimate I'm-So-Privileged move possible these days - they starred in reality TV shows. That seems to be the only job available to the daughters of celebrities.

Why get a college education, or a real job, or contribute to society in a positive way for that matter, when they can just have their useless lives documented and edited into neat half-hour episodes of partying, yelling, whining, and generally mocking normal everyday people who have to work for a living. Why have real, meaningful romantic relationships when they can just latch onto to another reality TV star or athlete for roller coaster relationships and quickie marriages leading to quicker divorces? And, the cherry on top ... why not release a strategically timed sex tape! That of course shocks the "star" who claims she (always she!) never thought would be made public.

So it's refreshing that Chelsea Clinton took advantage of the fact that the best education in the world was available to her, and she received an Ivy league undergraduate education, and two masters degrees - one from Oxford, and one from Columbia University. Not too shabby. And, in addition to working, she volunteers and supported her mother's political campaigns.

Furthermore, when Chelsea was first daughter, she was mocked as the "ugly duckling." The teenage years are hard enough without having to live them in the public eye. Probably 2 percent of the population didn't feel awkward and ugly during the those years. In my mind, anyone who mocks a teenager for being awkward is insensitive and has a short memory.

Regardless, that may lead to some of the fascination that Chelsea turned into a gorgeous, confident young women. (As most young women do ... I mean, no offense, but with all the products available these days, it's hard not to "clean up well," especially when you have the confidence to carry it off, which is not hard to come by during your 20s and early 30s.) Remember one of those stupid reality make-over shows on Fox a few years ago? The Swan? Clearly there is a market out there for the formerly ugly, now a knock-out. There are entire episodes of talk shows dedicated to this very topic.

In addition, it's probably empowering for anyone (everyone) who was made fun of as a child and has overcome that awkwardness (everyone) to see someone who did it in the public eye get married. Because as we all know, [tongue planted firmly in cheek] marriage is only for pretty people.

In the end, I think it's not so much that Chelsea shed her "ugly duckling" but that she never seemed to care in the first place (well, anymore than the average teenager). Chelsea's always been mature for her age, and while yes, she does look great, that's not all she is. Unlike another reality TV stars (yes, I really do hate [most of] them!) Heidi Montag, who reportedly has had extreme amounts of plastic surgery to overcome self esteem issues, Chelsea just dealt with awkwardness like the rest of us until she grew out of it and came out the other side smart, driven and ultimately a success in her own right.

( the full post)

+ news +

Target gets gay bashed,
College stands by its ethics code re: queer students,
and transphobia at an Indiana hospital for the week.

Also, just a quick thought, I truly value data-driven policy and really wish that solid research could carry a heavy social weight, but do you really think the existence of lgbt-supportive data will solve all problems?

A new guest starts this week, and potentially a new regular!


( the full post)

Creative Commons License