Friday, January 31, 2014

Three New Birds on the Life List

I haven't gone birding a lot lately, due to mostly lounging around the house while I look for a job.  Today, though, my dad informed me that a friend of his had been seeing Snowy Owls in an area we go birding a lot.

We didn't see any.  But I did see three new birds to put on my Life List, which is a pretty high number for a birding trip somewhere I have gone so often.  They are as follows:

I saw a Snow Bunting, but I didn't get close enough to get a really good picture of it and so you'll just have to take my word for it.

We drove on until we reached an area of the Horicon Marsh we tend to bird at quite often.  There was a hawk sitting in a tree that kept flying to the next tree as we got close, but on our way back it held its place long enough to take a lot of pictures.

I knew it was one I hadn't seen before.  I'm terrible at identifying hawks, so most of the time my thought process is more like "Does this look like a Northern Harrier or a Red-tailed Hawk?"  This one didn't look like either, but as soon as I opened my bird guide I saw that distinctive square underwing patch and a range map that indicated a bird that would be in this area in the winter.  It was a Rough-legged Hawk, which a couple people confirmed for me on Reddit:

Rough-legged Hawk

We had met another birder who was looking at sparrows along the road.  She hadn't seen any Snowy Owls either, but she did mention Snow Buntings, and Larkspurs.  I did in fact get a picture of a Lapland Larkspur that just sort of sat along the road chilling:

Lapland Larkspur

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Troubleshooting Social Science Surveys, Part I: Why are you separating "cis" from "trans" anyway?

This is a two-part essay that's meant to be a resource for the people--especially grad students--who constantly barrage online queer space with their research surveys.  It's not that I mind the surveys, but I practically never see any that handle gender in a sensitive and appropriate manner.  If the survey taker even tries to be inclusive of more than just binary cis genders, they often wind up with something like this:

 In case you're not that in-tune with appropriate ways to represent transgender people, there are loads of things wrong with using these questions--and those options--to separate people by gender.  It uses insensitive language and misrepresents what gender identity even means.  In addition, it is often unclear if trans peoples' results will even be used in the research or if the ability to disclose is just a convenient way for the researcher to totally scrap all our results!

Like I said, this is an essay in two parts.  In the second part I will be going over the ways these surveys have typically failed.  For the first part, though, I want you--the grad student, the researcher, whomever--to consider why you feel you need trans people to disclose to begin with.

Several years ago, a friend of mine was doing research for a set of undergraduate papers.  One of them researched men, the other women.  When I (a trans man) asked if he would like to interview me, his response was that perhaps he would interview me... if he did a paper researching trans people in the future.  I didn't think much about it at the time, having been relatively  new to this sort of thing.  But the more time goes by, the more that distinction and the tendency for cis researchers to insist trans folk not be counted in their statistics irritates me.

This is because it's based on heavily cissexist thinking.

Time and time again, people who advocate for transgender exclusion pull the "different experiences" card (or, more sinisterly, the "shared girlhood" card among TERFs).  They make the case that trans folk have such different experiences growing up from cis people that if we're included in a study with our identified gender we'll just fuck the whole thing up and taint the results.  Or that we relate to our gender radically differently from cis people.  There are loads of people who think they're allies to the trans community who express this "iffy" feeling about knowingly categorizing trans people with cis people of the same gender identity, usually under this "different experiences" banner.

This is the reality, though:  This "different experiences that change how one relates to gender" card could easily be pulled for any other category of human you might survey.  Three women who were raised in different religions will relate to their gender differently from each other.  Three men who are different races and ethnic backgrounds will relate to their gender differently from each other, too.  Region, income, sexual orientation, ability, these are all things that can radically change how people relate to their gender identities.  These are categories that are more likely to be subject to a quota (to make sure the results have reasonably accurate percentages based on demographic) than entirely omitted or moved into their own separate category.  But omitting trans people is a regular occurrence.

When you single trans folk out, you are saying that there is something so inherently and radically different about us that we don't even deserve to be categorized with our own gender identity.  This is cissexism.  This is transphobia.

"But what if I have like a really, really good reason?!"  I'm not saying you don't.  Of course there are reasons you might want to exclude trans folk from research, but there are some things to keep in mind, here:

1. Really ask yourself why you feel we should be excluded.

Is it because you just have a "hunch" we don't think or behave similar enough to other people in our identified gender?  You're being cissexist.  Stop it.

Are you talking about something that requires a particular body structure or functionality?  Then you just might have a valid reason for that exclusion.  Read onward.

2. Is this body structure or functionality actually limited to just cis people?

 Keep in mind that with any biological function or physical configuration you're going to have people of multiple genders sharing it.  There are men out there get ovarian cancer, there are women who get prostate cancer.  There are women who get people pregnant, there are men who get pregnant.  There are men with vaginas and women with penises.  So if you're looking for hard statistics on just that one biological fact, then there is the option of only opening the survey to people who have gone through that particular experience.  Keep in mind, also, that this might be considered more sensitive to cis folk who cannot have certain experiences (such as cis women who cannot get pregnant even though they want children).

Of course, that's not always appropriate.  Similar to what I was getting at when I wrote about trans male pregnancy a couple months ago, there is value in not over-representing trans people in some subjects.  Sometimes you want to know how just one gender relates to something.

You should still really think about whether it's actually a cis-only phenomenon or if you're just thinking that because of stereotypes.  Genital-based subjects regarding self-image, arousal, and sex acts are not cis-monopolized.  Trans women can have vaginas and vulvas.  Trans men can have penises.  If you're worried about them being surgically created... cis men and cis women may also have surgically altered or reconstructed genitals.  The issue here, again, is not "cis" and "trans."  It's more individual than that.

So that concludes part 1, and I hope I've given you some things to think about regarding trans exclusion in research.  Part 2--which is published here--will specifically deal with the way gender is expressed and tallied in surveys that are attempting to be inclusive of transgender, intersex, and gender-variant experiences and how you can improve them.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tweetstrings: The Sochi Olympics

Sometimes there are things I want to write essays about but they wind up being pretty well-expressed in long strings of tweets.  I call those "Tweetstrings."  I've decided since I do want this stuff on my blog and not just on my Twitter, I'll stick 'em in both.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Don't Call It "Marriage Equality"

I already wrote about my personal opinions on the marriage movement last February.  It's still pretty much how I feel about the subject.  Sometimes I rant about it but otherwise I prefer to just relink that essay when I am feeling particularly foul about the marriage movement.  Today, though, I don't intend to pile more and more fire into the anti-marriage flame.  Instead, I'm going to talk about a semantic pet peeve of mine... something I touched in the February essay but didn't really elaborate on.

Don't call it "marriage equality."

The way this movement is framed has of course changed in the past several years, with "gay marriage" being changed to "same-sex marriage" to deal with the exclusivity of the word  "gay" (not everybody benefiting from same-sex marriage is gay).  Somewhere along the line somebody came up with the bright idea to change it to "marriage equality" instead.  Which, admittedly, also makes some surface sense: The word "equality" has this warm, fuzzy, non-threatening quality to it.  Personally I feel like that's one reason anti-anti-oppression movements (men's rights activists, racists who think they're not racist) love using the word "equality" as an alternative for any label describing what's really going on.  "Why feminism? Why not equalism?"

But that's not really the issue... not the main issue, anyway.  The main issue is that by deemphasizing the "same-sex" part of the issue people ignore that there are other things out there blocking marriage equality than just same-sex marriage.  In other words, you are using a label that doesn't accurately describe the movement.

You find instances of marriage inequality in multiple categories:
  1. Barriers preventing people from getting married, whether social or legal.
    Examples: Polygamous and polyamorous folk, people with disabilities (especially those that render them infertile or cause people to assume they can't think for themselves), social stigma attached to interracial marriages.  In some countries marriage is controlled by a central religious authority, meaning anybody outside that religion will have a difficult time getting married.
  2. Barriers preventing people from getting divorced, whether social or legal.
    Example: People being pressured by religious figures and "therapists" into staying in abusive relationships because God and Jesus, trans folk having their entire marriage declared illegal upon attempting to divorce (blocking them from child custody, alimony, etc.).
  3. Barriers preventing people from getting the benefits of marriage.
    Example: A trans woman's husband dies and her in-laws take her to court insisting her marriage wasn't legal when it occurred. Even in states where same-sex marriage is legal, if it wasn't legal at that time you can bet this excuse will be used.
  4. Social or legal structures obligating people to get married when they don't want to.
    Examples: Women being forced to marry their rapists, forced or arranged marriages, shotgun weddings, legalized post-rape child marriage, extra workplace obligations for unmarried people.
These are only some cursory examples of marriage inequality, some more drastic than others, that may not be automatically remedied by same-sex marriage.  In fact, legalizing same-sex marriage isn't even a guarantee of equality for people in same-sex marriages!  Interracial marriages for instance are still regarded with suspicion and discouraged; there are people who flat out won't officiate them.  And interracial marriage has been legal in the United States over four decades, so it's not like people just need to get used to the idea.

Go ahead and fight for same-sex marriage if that's what makes you  happy.  Same-sex marriage will undoubtedly help a lot of people.  But please don't act like achieving that goal is marriage equality.  It is only one facet of true marriage equality, which goes way beyond two men or two women being granted a legal contract.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Keep Your Four-Hugs-A-Day To Yourself, Virginia

There are these things going around right now... quotes, mostly, encouraging physical contact and usually including a bunch of comments from people lamenting how non-physical our culture has gotten.
"We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need
8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12
hugs a day for growth." - Virginia Satir
You hear that, readers?  For survival.  Just to prevent yourself from keeling over dead you need four hugs.  Holy crap.  I should have died years ago.  I need to go to the Intensive-Hugging-Unit which must exist because you literally need four hugs a day to just not die.

I may be laying on the sarcasm a little thick here.  My point is that the idea that humans inherently need to hug people to be healthy is bullshit.  Not getting enough human contact is definitely deleterious to your health, but how much is necessary varies from person to person.  I mean, for crying out loud.

This is what I call "pseudo-guru crap."  These are people who come up with some optimistic or lovey-dovey thing that humans are supposedly "deficient" in--like laughter or smiling or hugging--and then make it seem like it's some totally dysfunctional thing when somebody would rather not try forcing themselves to laugh for ten minutes straight or force themselves to accept hugs from people they quite frankly don't want to touch.

Today I was reading an NPR article in which somebody proclaims that we should "hug sparingly" in the workplace.  The author is not a hugger, and the article mostly centers around other people who don't like hugs and are trying to navigate people who hug indiscriminately.  It's short and unfortunately puts the responsibility on people who don't want hugs rather than people giving them (I already wrote some about this here).  What I want to talk about is the comments.  I know, I know, I'm not supposed to read them, but sometimes the masochistic thrill is just too much to bear.

In practically all of these essays--whether they're by a pseudo-guru proclaiming you need 4 hugs a day or you'll die or they're from a person pleading to stop just hugging people without consent--you'll find a plethora of individuals lamenting how sad it is that people put up "unnecessary boundaries" and complaining about our "culture" being too "distant" now.  The basic premise is that at one point people were closer and friendlier and touched each other more, but now in the age of cell phones and iPods we're cold and distant.

Does it not occur to anybody else that maybe the reason people don't accept physical contact so much anymore is because we're actually allowed to refuse it?

Because you know, there are a lot of things people have done in the past to each other that were viewed as "innocent" or even "romantic" that we would now call "sexual assault."*  The only reason we didn't see them as such back then was because people who complained about them would either be disbelieved or suffer worse repercussions than the original action... or they weren't even aware of the option to say "no" because society had so fully normalized that people were just going to have to take it.  Just as children today are expected to accept hugs and kisses from relatives whether they want to or not**, women especially have been expected to grin and bear physical contact.

Yeah.  These people are looking fondly on that. That's why I call bullshit on this 4-hugs-a-day crap.

Basically, the pseudo-gurus and commenters alike aren't really looking back to a time when everybody was closer and loved getting hugged... they're looking back at a time when people gritted their teeth and dealt with it because having people claim ownership of their bodies was just what they were expected to do.

This is what's so infuriating about the subject to me.  Not that there are hippie-dippie folks out there who seriously believe less than 4 hugs a day and you're dead, but that people are so likely to look fondly on unwanted touching by failing to realize that without that consent it was unwanted.

* - I'd give that "Kissing Sailor" photo as the perfect evidence but after that blogger wrote about it droves of people came whining that it wasn't a sexual assault. It totally was, though.
** - It should be mentioned that, no, kids should not be treated this way either.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Family Photos and the Value of Selfies as a Trans Person

A while ago someone decided to write an article slamming selfies as being anti-feminist.  I tweeted some about it, but I didn't write a whole essay at the time because that particular manifestation of the issue really wasn't about me and I didn't want to "derail it for the men" so to speak.  However, as somebody who does take a lot of selfies, I do want to explain why, because as a transgender person I'm well aware of the power of photos and how they shape and reinforce peoples' perceptions.

Like many trans people, my family is in the category of those who pretend to take it well.  This last holiday season was a parade of misgendering and depression for me because there aren't that many times people both are given the opportunity to talk about me in the third person (exposing me to the obscene number of times they refer to me as "she") and they try shoving me into watching endless family videos from when I was a child.  The latter, which is perceived as harmless family fun by everyone else, is particularly painful because of course when long-haired childhood me comes up everybody has to point and laugh.

At one point I went to a relative's house to find they had a sort of family-photo display with me and my brothers.  They chose recent, adult photos of my brothers to represent them, but literally hunted down an old female picture of me from somebody's Facebook account, printed it, and used that to represent me.  Bringing up that this is obviously an intentional denial of my current identity brings waves of defensive behavior from cis people.  The first time I pointed out to my mom that she was doing this she went on a rampage, saying "What am I supposed to do, burn all your old photographs?!"  The concept of "You can keep your old photographs but understand that this is not me anymore" flies right over their heads in a wave of false nostalgia.

Interestingly, "false nostalgia" is much more accurate than my cis relatives would assume.  When I identified as a woman, I identified as butch as well as a crossdresser.  To find reasonably feminine pictures of me as a woman is actually a very difficult task, as a good chunk of my photos once I grew to be a teenager are not that feminine.  So people wind up cherry picking this:
Even though around the same age I was more likely to look like this, where in case you didn't notice I'm actually binding my chest:
Now, it's important to recognize that in my case I'm not inherently bothered by old female photos of me (or I wouldn't be posting them).  I very much prefer the more pretty, dolled up pictures of me to the ones where I'm scrubby, unkempt, and scarred up from depression and self-harm.  Instead, what irritates the hell out of me is peoples' insistence on printing more and more old photographs of me to display... it's very clear to me that this is their way of pretending that I'm not really transgender.  It idealizes my past in a way that is extremely painful.

Unfortunately, "get new pictures of me" isn't always useful advice, either.  The problem is other peoples' cameras.  It's not so much that people who take these photographs are intentionally highlighting the features that make me dysphoric, because they're not.  It's more that the process of identifying which pictures to print, post on Facebook, or whatever is different, and so when other people take photographs there's a good chance I'll be barraged with requests to post pictures on my timeline that the photographer prefers because I look more feminine in them.

For instance, I've learned that "Oh, your hair looks so nice in this picture!" is a pretty good indicator that it's time for me to get a haircut.  From my parents, "your hair looks nice" directly correlates with when my hair starts getting long enough where I become more gender ambiguous.  There's a whole laundry list of traits that really make me uncomfortable that are sure to show up and be emphasized whenever people post pictures of me.

That's why I like selfies and why I like having some control over the posting of pictures taken of me.  It's a way to make sure the majority of pictures I encounter depict me the way I see myself without other peoples' girl-filter shoved all over them.  Selfies are a way to mitigate the self-styled family or friend paparazzo who finds such perverse pleasure in Facebooking everybody else's perceived flaws without regarding--or perhaps even understanding--the emotional damage that that can cause.

So with that said, selfies aren't "anti-feminist."  They aren't even that narcissistic.  They are a useful way of putting a vision of yourself out there that's based on you and not other peoples' interpretations.  If it's not going to be the whole story anyway, it may as well at least be MY story.