Saturday, October 31, 2015

Accessibility Should Be The Default Setting

Picture of my own Teal Pumpkin.
I learned about the Teal Pumpkin Project on the radio last year.  Full disclosure: I hate radio.  I find well over half of radio DJs entirely reprehensible.  This was a pretty good if tame example of why... they'd dedicated an entire segment of their morning decrying the project as being about "oversensitivity" among other vile accusations.

Somebody called in to explain that as somebody who grew up with life-threatening food allergies, Halloween was never fun for her.  And, well, I can imagine.  The Teal Pumpkin Project is simple:  Put a teal-colored pumpkin with a sign out during Trick or Treat, and people with food allergies or parents of kids with food allergies know that there are non-food treats available.

The radio DJs wishiwashily recanted, because a radio DJ's job is basically to say something shitty and then fake apologize when somebody calls in, but since then I've actually been really excited about the possibility.  Accessibility is something extremely important to me, as somebody who has spent a lot of time not being accommodated.  And I don't have any life-threatening food allergies.  I can very easily decide that what symptoms I get are worth it for the time being.  A lot of kids can't do that.  So based on what allergy they have and how severe it is, a Halloween experience may range from a mild inconvenience as parents replace the candy with allergens in it with other ones to a literal life-threatening event if even contact or inhalation will cause that kind of reaction.  I lived in an area with no trick or treaters last year and was very pumped to participate this year.

That's why it's kind of enraging to see the amount of backlash against it.  I mean, this is an optional thing to do.  Nobody is saying you have to accommodate people with allergies.  Furthermore, you have the option to give candy, but have non-food treats as an extra option for kids who have food allergies.  And yet the comments on the articles about this are just astounding with the apparent offense people are taking to this project, including people who have (or claim to have) allergies or children with allergies.

Some of the more common criticisms?  "Oversensitivity" and "taking the fun out of a holiday" were the common ones among those who did not claim any food allergies.  "It's not that hard for me to sort out the candy afterward" and "it makes my kid stick out even more" topped the parents' comments.  Most of the ones from allergic adults echoed the parents.  One total asshole made an argument about natural selection.

Again, over something that is totally optional within a totally optional activity.  You don't need to participate in Halloween at all let alone participate in this project, but apparently it's offensive.

People have some irritatingly idyllic opinions about The Way Things Were, and accessibility tends to bear a lot of ire because of it.  The way people tell this story, there was once a time long long ago when Halloween was fun and people didn't complain about things like allergies and offensive costumes.  This is the reality:  In the past, when people had severe allergies, they were flat out not able to participate.  People didn't accommodate them anyway, so why bother?  It's the same story for all the other accessibility measures we take.  The conferences I've gone to often have no-scent/no-perfume policies, which people always treat as useless and annoying.  When people complain about these, what they're ignoring is that people who did have really bad allergies to scents would show up, have a really bad experience, and then never come again.  Since they stopped coming, there was nobody there to confirm that this was even an important issue, so when the scent policies were popping up people acted like they were frivolous and oversensitive.

Accommodation of kids with serious allergies for trick-or-treating is something that should have always been done, but since it wasn't, they merely didn't go out trick-or-treating, so you wouldn't have even known they existed.

Next, on parental supervision.  Yes, it's important that parents of kids with allergies look through their candy, this is like the most no-shit-Sherlock thing you could possibly say about the subject.  I don't get why this is actually an argument, though... accommodating allergies when you hand out treats means fewer treats the parents will have to remove or replace.  This argument tends to be used by people who have allergies or parents of kids who have allergies... but not all allergies are the same.  There are people out there who can't even be in the vicinity of a peanut without going into anaphylactic shock.  Just sorting out their candy is not an option.

There are kids who were unable to trick-or-treat due to allergies that severe whose parents plan Teal Pumpkin routes for them.  They weren't able to participate.  Now they can.  Doesn't that mean something?

Speaking of which, the next criticism:  It makes allergic kids stand out.  "My kid doesn't want special treatment!" one parent said.

I'm pretty sure that's the parents' opinion more than the kid's, but as kids can be cruel there are certainly those out there who are embarrassed about medical and accessibility needs, whether that accessibility is due to an allergy or due to some other thing, because they don't want to be The Weird Kid.  Here's the problem:  We've turned "special treatment" into this dirty word seeping with the assumption of over-entitlement.  Over things that people should have a right to.  The fact that people shame kids for having needs doesn't erase the fact that they have those needs, and pretending they can get by with nobody ever accommodating their allergies is serious ignorance.  Do the same people get angry that labels identify that there are common allergens in foods, too?  I mean, they could just read the ingredients, memorizing even the more obscure names for them straight from the womb; how very entitled are they to expect accommodation!

But here's the thing that really gets to me.  I've made it clear that, like Halloween itself, the Teal Pumpkin project is voluntary.  Nobody is forcing you to do it, and in fact there aren't even that many cases of pressuring people to do it.

But why aren't we pressuring people?

I'm not saying you need to paint a pumpkin teal.  What I'm saying is that the Teal Pumpkin Project exists because people do not care enough about accessibility as it is.  Accessibility should be a default setting.  We know there are kids with allergies.  One of the critiques I read literally justified her hatred of the Teal Pumpkin Project by citing the fact that her neighbors knew about her allergies and kept a special treat for her.  If people regularly did things like this, we wouldn't need the project!  The fact is, people don't accommodate each other enough, and when they do they complain about it and act like it's a massive impingement on their freedoms.

No wonder kids--and adults--feel alienated by accessibility.  People have trained them to feel like having their needs met, having their differences acknowledged and accommodated, like that's something horrible and burdensome that nobody should be obligated to do.

Finally, just a fun one for closing, here's an article largely about a woman who is angry about the Teal Pumpkin Project........ because people called her out for trying to participate in it while not following the rules by handing out juice boxes instead of non-food treats.  Because "toys are too expensive."  Because juice boxes aren't?
Teal Pumpkin Project Not A Smash Hit For Everyone


Monday, October 19, 2015

Wisconsin Schools Are Clearly Failing Trans Youth

When I came out as queer, I admittedly was super na├»ve about my state.  It made sense as somebody whose experience was limited... I was trained off-the-bat to be proud of the fact that Wisconsin was the first to ban workplace discrimination back in the early 1980s, so when we started fighting against anti-queer bigots in the mid-2000s over same-sex marriage bans it was actually legitimately shocking for me when we lost.  I still reflexively associate legislative harassment of queer and trans people with other states, no matter how many times I am entirely wrong about it.

I worked for a time in Fond du Lac, where somebody tried introducing legislation to protect trans people in housing.  It had nothing to do with public accommodations, and yet cis people throughout the city pitched fucking fits about bathrooms and locker rooms (the day I learned about it I had incidentally used a men's locker room in Fond du Lac).  I contacted the people voting on this legislation, and without fail every single one of them cissplained to me that it was not about public accommodations, even though they had been pandering endlessly to cis fears about that very thing.  That was few weeks shy of two years ago.

Even as an adult, it's really rough for me to be living here right now as Wisconsin is a battleground with regard to trans accommodations, particularly accommodations in high schools.  Recently at Oshkosh West High School (in other words, very close to where I live) a trans male student came out saying that he was given a detention for using a men's restroom.  In addition, Representative Kremer (R, predictably) in Kewaskum (very near where I grew up) is trying to push legislation to standardize which restrooms trans students are allowed to use in Wisconsin schools, requiring them to use either the restroom of their assigned sex or a unisex or faculty restroom.

In both these cases--as in most cases where trans people are antagonized for having bodily functions--the whole story may very well not be being told on either side.  For instance, I didn't know until recently that Kremer's bill requires access to a unisex restroom if a trans student does not want to use the restroom of their assigned sex.  This really hasn't been brought up a lot by trans people I know, and is likely what he was talking about when he pissed and moaned on Twitter that people were judging his bill as "transphobic" without understanding the whole story.

Here's the thing, though: Pretty much every version of these stories leads to Wisconsin failing trans students.  There is no way I can look at either of them and think "Oh, these cis administrators and politicians are clearly trying to do the right thing by trans students, and I'm just reading this wrong."  And quite frankly even as an adult I feel really antagonized by it, and that's in addition to the empathetic disgust I feel for the way my community's youth are treated.

First we need to talk about the very concept of unisex restrooms.  Gender neutral restrooms have long been a part of the fight in the trans community.  When I was at UW-Oshkosh I remember engaging in an action where a friend and I went from building to building signing over restrooms to designate them gender neutral (with a note explaining that there was a policy in place they were supposed to be following but were not).  That action pretty much flopped, but the point is that having space for nonbinary trans people as well as binary trans folk who aren't quite comfortable in public restrooms yet has been an important part of the fight.  But it was never meant to be a replacement for man and woman identified trans folk to use instead of men's and women's restrooms, at least not where they still exist.

I remember like ten years ago having a discussion with Debra Davis, who is somewhat well-known for having come out as transgender while being a public school librarian.  When the subject of unisex restrooms came up, she said "good, a place for people to go if they're uncomfortable with me being in the women's room."   This was an important moment, because for me it solidified a very important fact:  Trans men and trans women are not just fighting for bodily functions, we are fighting for validation.  Yes, it's important to just have a place to piss and shit, and unisex restrooms technically fulfill that purpose, but being told that I am not male enough to use a men's room is invalidating and insulting.  That's what Oshkosh West is doing to its trans students.  That's what Kremer is trying to do to the trans students of Wisconsin.

We also need to understand what a typical men's-women's-unisex restroom layout designed by cis people looks like.  It'll have a men's room with multiple stalls and urinals, a women's restroom with multiple stalls, and a handicap-accessible unisex restroom that is set up with about the same amenities you'd find in a typical household half-bathroom.  This means that in a facility where trans people are banned from using the right bathroom, not only all trans people--nonbinary, binary, all of us--but also people whose accessibility needs require more space or a caregiver or something like that and shy cis people who avoid multi-stall amenities, are all competing over one single-stall restroom (in such a case that there are two single-stall restrooms, they are often bafflingly labeled "men" and "women" even in the presence of multi-stall gendered restrooms).  This creates problems like what happened at Oshkosh West, but I'll talk about that in a couple paragraphs.

That's only one of the options this bill mandates.  The alternative--because forcing trans students to use the restrooms of their assigned sex is entirely transphobic and absolutely off-the-table as far as appropriateness--is to use faculty restrooms.   This has been a solution used by schools for many years now, and you know what?  It fucking sucks.  It casts students as pariahs, that weirdo freak who uses the teacher restroom, and that's if it's even accessible to them.  I've heard stories of trans students who had walked twice as far as other students to get to a faculty restroom only to find it locked if not in use.  Another fun fact?  Teachers usually aren't forced to use faculty restrooms, either.  A female teacher can use a girl's restroom.  A male teacher can use a boy's restroom.  A cis student who uses unisex restrooms for accessibility is not banned from using single-sex restrooms; for instance, a cis female student who uses a wheelchair may require the space and facilities of an accessible unisex bathroom but is not banned from girl's or women's restrooms if she can make it work in a pinch.  Forcing trans students to use unisex and especially faculty restrooms makes zero sense and it is absolutely transphobic.

You know what one of the reasons I stopped using those unisex bathrooms unless absolutely necessary was?  Even before I was on hormones or "passed" all the time?  I suddenly understood that I was often occupying what for a disabled person may be the only restroom they can actually use.  And it's not ten years ago anymore, trans people are coming out younger, so cases like Oshkosh West where there are plural trans people attending are not uncommon.  Trans people in general are not uncommon.  And in fact, the reason the student at Oshkosh West left the unisex restroom and entered the men's was because a teacher with a special needs student needed the restroom.

Which brings me to my second point.  If Oshkosh West's story is accurate and Cody Zitek's is exaggerated, and he was only given a detention for hanging out in the unisex room, Oshkosh West is still failing trans youth.  The only major difference between Cody's version of the story and the school's is that in Cody's a staff member asked an insensitive genital question and he got a detention for being in the men's room, in the school's he got a detention for loitering in the unisex restroom.

My question for Oshkosh West is this:  Why were four trans male students eating in a restroom?!

This part of the story actually punches me in the gut.  I got really bad harassment when I was in high school.  I wasn't out as trans yet--if I was I can only imagine it would have been much, much worse--but I was very badly bullied by both students and in some cases even teachers.  It was not uncommon at all for me to take my lunch tray into a restroom stall and eat there to avoid having to deal with the wide-open, underorganized, harassment-prone atmosphere of the school lunch room.  And I didn't have friends at school to help me deal with the harassment.  This is an entire group of trans students trying to separate themselves from a lunch room, who are admitting it's because they are uncomfortable in the lunch room.  Why?  What is going on in that lunch room for eating in a bathroom to feel like a safer alternative?

Bathrooms are only a part of this story when that sort of thing is happening.

Kremer claims that his bill is intended to make trans students safer as well as cis students, but this goes against pretty much everything else he's said and is pretty much a bald-faced lie.  His explanation is and always has been "all these people are caring about trans students' safety, but nobody is talking about safety for [heterosexual] students" (he means cisgender but as he is a bigot  he is conflating gender identity and sexual orientation).  Even after correcting the language, it still makes no sense:  Forcing trans students into unisex restrooms doesn't protect them--if their harassment everywhere else is being ignored--and trans students are not and never have been a threat to cis students.  Ever.

Everything about this is about vague and petty cis comforts and not trans student safety.  Kremer and every school that utilizes similar policies to the ones he is trying to codify in state law are not protecting trans students, they are antagonizing them and making them out to be potential criminals for needing to use a restroom like everyone else.

Friday, October 2, 2015

ACTUALLY Pope Francis Totally DOES Endorse Kim Davis

Update October 3rd:  I've changed this essay a bit to add examples and citations as well as account for new information about Kim Davis's visit with Pope Francis.  The underlying theme is still the same.

Alright fellow queer people... I'm getting really tired of this.

I tried to avoid talking about Kim Davis.  The thing is, the reaction to her gives me a lot of very nasty mixed feelings, especially regarding the abysmal way the mainstream LGBT community has chosen to handle it.  The "still did their job" memes?  Deplorable.  The intense love people seemed to have for somebody going to jail?  Disgusting.  That in addition to the fact that marriage just isn't my movement.  Kim Davis isn't my favorite subject.  She has brought out some really disturbing behavior.  But this Pope Francis thing... well, you all know railing on the Pope is one of my favorite subjects.  And you all seem to be defending the shit out of him yet again.  So I'll talk.

The short story is this:
  • Kim Davis is in charge of handing out marriage registrations.  She refused to hand out marriage registrations because she's homophobic.  She gets put in jail.
  • Somebody asks the Pope how he feels about the subject and he waxes poetical about how important conscientious objection is.
  • She meets with the Pope and suddenly acts like they have matching half-heart necklaces.
  • People freak out and whine and cry that Pope Francis would do such a thing even though he has solidly confirmed he's a total bigot since way before his reign even started.
  • The Vatican goes all "wait wait this isn't what it looks like what did you think it was an endorsement?"
  • LGBT people breathe a sigh of relief and start broken-record chanting that the meeting wasn't an endorsement, I mean the Pope meets with a lot of people, he even met with a gay couple, didn't you know that?
I'm sitting here scratching my head yet again because we've been through this before.  It's like every time there's a lull in the Pope's obvious homophobia people just totally forget all the things he did before that.  And this time people are just totally swallowing this line the Vatican is feeding that the Pope's meeting doesn't mean he endorses Kim Davis, which somehow has turned into him overall not endorsing Kim Davis.

And people are really jumping through hoops to justify it, like in this article where a gay friend of Pope Francis talks about how he's "never condemned his sexuality" and he "believes the Pope was 'misled'" into meeting Kim Davis, or in this article--insultingly titled "Pope Francis Rejects Kim Davis’s Account Of Meeting And Refuses To Endorse Her Bigotry"--where people laugh and mock the fact that Kim Davis was merely a member of a group that met the Pope and that he didn't even know who she was.  Complete with a bunch of people apologizing for "throwing the Pope under the bus" because I mean how could we ever believe that the super 100%-never-wrong Pope Francis doesn't support The Gays?  I mean he hugged a trans person and has a gay friend who he also hugged.  Hugs are magic!!!  No oppressor has ever hugged a person they actively oppress before!

Well, you know what?  Pope Francis totally does endorse Kim Davis and her bigotry.

It also has pretty much nothing to do with the meeting between them, nor even his "conscientious objector" comments--not entirely, anyway.  People are focusing on whether or not these two actions constitute an endorsement of Kim Davis, and the answer to that isn't that cut and dry.  The Pope hangs out with a lot of people, including queer people, and he certainly doesn't "endorse" us.  The Vatican has basically said he didn't know who she was, and her story about their meeting is mostly a lie.  And if we're talking a generic discussion on conscientious objection, well, what the Pope said is absolutely right (even if the example given was a "totally hypothetical" person refusing to give out marriage licenses).  I don't agree with the way people are spinning these events, but they're not the worst arguments I've ever seen made by LGBT people, although to be fair the mainstream LGBT movement has crafted a more-than-fair share of asinine arguments.

So why does Pope Francis endorse Kim Davis?  Because he endorses the exact same beliefs she does.  And very publicly so.

There's a really bizarre, really kind of insulting double standard going on when we talk about Pope Francis compared to other bigots.  Both Kim Davis and Pope Francis are staunchly against same-sex marriage.  But there's a huge power differential that people are entirely ignoring when they talk about this subject, all wrapped in a big blanket of misogyny and tone arguments.

Kim Davis is a county clerk, and while she may have rallied some already-present supporters, her influence is otherwise limited to her office.  While this certainly may be a big deal for those people whose licenses she denied, overall she is a small-time bigot without a whole lot of actual power, and where she did exercise her authority improperly she has been punished for it, even going to jail for a few days over it.  She's largely a laughingstock, subject to insensitive memes somehow coming to the conclusion that you should always do your job no matter what it is as if no employer has ever insisted somebody do something immoral ever.  To make matters worse, the reaction to her has really brought out some of the absolute worst among LGBT people, who have been churning out misogynistic humor about her appearance and a nice chunk of prison rape and sexual harassment jokes to go along with it.

Pope Francis is a career bigot.  He has spoken out against pretty much every important LGBT issue, aggressively lobbying against adoption (like, he literally said gay couples don't love their children as much as straight ones), same-sex marriage (going way back to when he was still a Cardinal, calling it an attempt to destroy God's plan), and gender transition (basically any difference in gender expression is somehow comparable to nuclear weapons).  His beliefs are the same as Kim Davis's if not worse.  But while Kim Davis's power and appeal are both limited to people who already would have listened to her, Pope Francis leads the largest Christian denomination in the world.  Even where he doesn't have explicit legal power he still retains a lot of social power.  People listen to this guy.  There are people out there who literally worship him.  When he dies there will be people who literally have shrines to him, if they don't already.  He has his own country!  He's an extremely powerful person whose opinions can make or break somebody's liberties depending on where they live and who their family is.  But rather than vilify him, he has been put on a pedestal by the mainstream LGBT movement.  The Advocate actually gave this guy a fricking award despite having been very consistent in his opinion that LGBT people do not deserve equal rights.  People constantly talk about that "who am I to judge?" comment, even though it explicitly referred to Catholic priests, a group of people expected to be celibate their whole lives.  They squee with glee whenever he is in the near vicinity of a gay person, and basically act like he's the best thing that happened to queer people since the strap-on harness.

That's honestly really disturbing.  I'm getting sick of this double-standard and I'm getting sick of the amnesia that apparently befalls the entire LGBT community right after every one of his many transgressions against us.  And I'm getting sick of people gasping with shock when I say I do not support or believe in the lovey-dovey hippie crap version of Pope Francis people keep promoting.  If you can't even handle that maybe not every queer person is enthusiastic about what crumbs the Pope throws us, you have absolutely no business trashing Kim Davis.  She's hardly a threat on her own let alone in comparison to the behemoth of bigotry Pope Francis I.  He may be kinder about his bigotry, but he's ultimately far more powerful and therefore more dangerous than she ever will be.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

I Don't Need To See "Stonewall" To Know It's Offensive

I apologize for the lateness of this post with regard to the subject matter, as I've been having an overall aversion to writing lengthy things lately for some reason.  Anyway, the film "Stonewall" comes out in a little over a month, and has been embroiled in controversy, especially after the trailer came out, which seems to portray the first act of vandalism of the historic uprising as having been performed by a white cis gay man, unnecessarily whitewashing an already-compelling story to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience that apparently only identifies with queer people when they're cute white gay guys.  A lot of people have already talked about this, notably Miss Major Griffen-Gracy (who was actually at the riots and has an Autostraddle interview you should read that includes not only this film but also several other aspects of Stonewall misrepresentation).  I'm not going to deeply address why whitewashing and ciswashing and gender-flipping in casting are problematic because you should fucking know better already, instead I want to talk about one specific thing that is being used to attack critics of "Stonewall."

That thing is the shrill whine of white cis gays crying and moaning that people are boycotting a "well-meaning" movie showcasing queer history "when they haven't even seeeeeeen it yet!"  That's the basic thought process behind the whining done by the film's director upon hearing that this movie was being boycotted.  We haven't seen it, so for all we know the trailer could be entirely misrepresenting everything and we're missing out on a delightful and thought provoking film that "deeply honors" the people of color who were really involved by... some mechanism yet to be explained.  It's often pointed out that there are, in fact, quite a few people of color cast in the movie, and the creators have stated that Marsha P. Johnson (one of the main players in the riots) is "heavily featured."

Screen capture from "Stonewall" featuring several characters,
white cis male character "Danny" monopolizing most of the space.
The insistence that we wait and see the film before making any judgments is based on some things that we, as viewers who haven't seen it, don't know.  These include:
  • We don't know for sure if Danny is being portrayed as having actually started the riots with a brick through a window or if the preview just selectively chose a shot of him throwing a brick for the promotional materials.  I'll be clear here: I'm putting this up as a courtesy.  If Danny didn't start the riots in the film, then the creators of this need some fucking better advertising, because literally everything they put out implies this.  From the About section on their Facebook page: "With the toss of a single brick, a riot ensues and a crusade for equality is born."
  • We don't know how much screen time is given to Marsha P. Johnson and other trans women of color and how well-represented and accurate their characters are.  Again, I'm putting this up as a mild courtesy to the creators, because I see no indication that Marsha is anything but a side character in this film.  Not to mention, being "heavily featured" is not the same as being actually respected.
And... that's pretty much it, as far as relevant information.  This is what detractors are basically telling us we need to find out before coming up with an opinion.  Two things that are a little vague in the trailer (although I'm guessing our assumptions aren't as inaccurate as Roland Emmerich and Jeremy Irvine want us to believe, see above about the "single brick" comment).

Here's the problem, though:  We don't know everything about this movie, but the things we actually do know are really goddamn shitty.
  • We know that the main character is a fictional white gay man.  This is fact.  It's in all the descriptions of the film.  We know that he has the most depressingly canned backstory one could possibly think up for an LGBT film (midwestern white boy rejected by his parents, moves to big city, meets up with street-smart kids who are worthwhile because they teach white people valuable lessons).  Telling the story of a real-life event through a fictional character with relative privilege compared to the real participants in that historical event is extremely obnoxious, and quite frankly happens too often (remember Dolphin Tale, which obliterated all but passing reference to the little disabled girl who was central to the real-life event and replaced her with an abled boy?).  This is reprehensible.  It's disgusting.  There is no excuse for it and we don't need to see the film to know that this is a problem.
  • We know that they cast men to play the trans woman characters in the film.  There is no excuse for this, and it alone reason enough to boycott this movie.  And it wasn't a fucking unknown problem, did this guy not see any of the backlash behind Dallas Buyers' Club for casting Jared Leto?
  • We know that the promotional material all centers Danny.  Screencaps used to advertise it often feature Danny central and ahead of trans and/or people of color characters, as a focal point.  This makes sense because all descriptions of the film show that it is basically the story of this fictional Danny guy, which I already explained two points up.  Trying to explain this away as being a movie trick editing problem where the preview doesn't accurately depict the film is absurd, but even if it weren't, keep in mind that this is the stuff they're literally using to promote this film.  This is the stuff they're using to say "Hey, this is a worthwhile film, come watch it."  This is ludicrous even if the story did center actual involved people.  I'm reminded of the Sapphires US movie cover that prominently featured the white man Chris O'Dowd front and center--along with his name--while the actresses portraying the Sapphires themselves were washed out in blue in the background with no cover credits.
One of the interesting things about the whole situation is this:  These are all things that have already been talked about before about other films.  The problematic nature of casting cis actors for trans roles isn't new.  It's not the fucking nineties anymore.  People are becoming more aware that trans people aren't some tiny shred of the world population that only produces an actor once a millennium.  Whitewashing isn't a new critique, either, and it's certainly common enough that Emmerich can't possibly have not heard about it at least once.  And people know that promotional material--regardless of the content of the movie--is the pre-release public face of that film.  And yet it still was made and advertised that way.  That's disturbing.

But I know that some of you--if you've even read this far--are already cooking up your certified list of canned excuses for why this movie is still OK.  For you folks I have the following list of also-kind-of-canned responses to the excuses I see people continue to make for this movie:

"The cast is really diverse!"

Alright, maybe the film did better than some peoples' perception of Stonewall (there are people out there arguing that Stonewall was literally started by white cis gays "because crossdressing was illegal" and that talking about the trans women and people of color involved is "politically correct").  That doesn't change that the whole story is oriented around a white gay man who didn't exist, that it centers him, and that doing this inherently downplays the contributions of actual people who really existed (and in some cases are still alive, such as Miss Major who as I mentioned above has condemned the film).

"But we need representation!  Don't let perfection be the enemy of good!"

I know some of you are going to absolutely hate me for saying it, but white gay men don't need more overall media visibility.  They are already grossly over-represented when queer issues are brought up.  They are The Default Queer.  When queer rights and freedoms come up, mainstream discourse without fail will trace it all back to wealthy white cis gay men and wealthy white cis gay male interests no matter how irrelevant they are to that situation.  Although there were white cis gay men at Stonewall, they weren't the easy targets others were, and many of them were entirely disinterested in rocking the boat to preserve their white male privilege.  Even today, it's white cis gay men in particular who have tried demeaning and halting progress made by trans people, by people of color, by any queer people who are not them.  The people who were central to Stonewall--poor trans and gender variant people of color--are vastly underrepresented in the same media and often disrespected when they are represented.

"But we need to make our history known!"

This is such a bullshit argument I can't believe people are actually using it.  Seriously.  You can't take a pivotal moment in queer history, change the entire focus of it, whitewash it, and then say that's totally cool because otherwise people won't know about Stonewall.  Because they're not learning about Stonewall!  It gives me chills (the bad kind) to know that there are going to be queer people learning about Stonewall from this fictional story, and that all the involved people think they're performing some great service to queerdom for it.

So a fun fact... a lot of younger queer people have not heard of Stonewall.  I've in fact had to explain Stonewall to probably about a dozen younger or newer queer people--especially gay men--whose understanding of queer history starts and ends with same-sex marriage, which they perceive of as having been flagshipped by white gay cis men.  This is one reason among many why people are comfortable saying asinine shit like that gay people "paved the way" for trans rights, or that gay is "the new black."  In other words, you make it perfectly fine for white cis gays to remain totally and utterly oblivious and obnoxious when it comes to their own history, smug in their belief that everything queer always has and always should revolve around them.  There's nothing about that that outweighs the utter disappointment that is this movie.

In conclusion, it literally doesn't matter one iota that people haven't seen the movie yet.  The things that we know about it already render it irredeemable, without nearly enough benefit to justify it overall.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Why I Steadfastly Support Crossdressers' Right to "Trans" Identity

A quick addition from July 21, 2015:  Since I wrote this essay there was a case of a Pride event banning drag performance, leading to an ensuing shitstorm of people arguing over whether or not drag is transphobic or otherwise offensive.  I figured I'd mention, since it's so topical and this essay is so new, that my opinion on drag performers is nearly identical to my opinion on crossdressers, and in fact many of the same arguments against crossdressers having the right to identify as "trans" are also applied to drag performers, especially drag queens.  That said, although there are offensive drag performances and performers in existence, drag performers are perfectly entitled to consider themselves trans if they so choose.

I am in the process of re-writing one of my old essays--an incredibly popular one--because although I have not really changed my opinion on any of the points I wrote about, the fact remains that I wrote it over two years ago and I'm no longer so much a fan of the style of writing I was using at that time, and since it's one of the main first articles people get to, I want it to be more presentable.  In that process I found some Tumblr blogs that were linking to the post, one of which made very clear that the person writing is not in agreement with my assessment that crossdressers be welcomed under the trans umbrella.

Things in the trans and queer communities change an awful lot in a short period of time.  And in most of those cases, although I may roll my eyes about something or disagree with the underlying reasons people argue over it, I go with them because the "old way" is just not important enough to me to engage in those fights.

While I was doing the eye-rolling this time, it did occur to me that although I mentioned in my asterisk essay that I support crossdressers identifying as "trans" if they want to, I didn't really explain why that is.  So people are hastily making damn sure people understand they totally disagree with what is essentially a call for inclusiveness and respect.  This makes me suspect a few things.  First, a lot of trans people are trying to talk authoritatively about recent history they never actually participated in.  Second, a lot of trans people don't actually understand the amount of diversity among people who identify as crossdressers.  Third, people don't actually understand what I mean when I say I support crossdressers being included in the trans umbrella to begin with.

"Are you telling me I have to identify as trans, now?"  This was what a friend of mine replied when I first mentioned the ire toward my opinion on this a couple of months ago.  He is a fetishistic crossdresser who is comfortable with his male birth assignment.  He is a cis man.  Clothing--whether as an occasional kink or as an everyday thing--does  not determine gender identity.

Could somebody ostensibly in his situation call himself trans... and be right?  Sure.  The thing is, knowing somebody occasionally crossdresses during sex doesn't say anything about how they actually conceive of their gender identity with relation to that.  That's something that only they can know or sense.

It's a mistake to think that when I make this argument I'm saying that everybody who has ever crossdressed is somehow under the trans umbrella.  Rather, crossdressing is a diverse practice that is done by a lot of people for a lot of different reasons, and many of those reasons absolutely warrant description as "trans."

There's a crossdresser I occasionally see at local trans events, who I'll call D.  D lives a double life.  Around his wife and kids, D is a typical man with a regular day job who is called "Dad" and "husband," dresses in typical men's clothing, is in fact an average man.  Several nights, D wears women's clothing and takes on a different persona, going out to bars and having fun and going to a lot of transgender-related events and support groups, including speaking about her experiences in group discussions and on panels.  She wholeheartedly identifies as transgender even though she only crossdresses part time and refers to herself accordingly.

Mutual friends have privately argued that D is probably a trans woman who doesn't want to transition because she doesn't want to lose her family.  The thing is, though, that this really doesn't matter.  As it stands now, D identifies as a crossdresser and only dresses in women's clothing part-time.  For me to jump on the bandwagon and insist that crossdressers can't call themselves "trans" due to it I'd have to insist that people like D either can't be trusted to describe their gender identities in a manner appropriate to them at that time or demean the amount of work they do in the trans community.

If D really is a closeted trans woman... does it really matter?  A lot of trans women go through stages where they identify as crossdressers, and until very recently it was almost a prerequisite due to lack of access to good resources.  I know that when I came out most of the support groups around my area were frequented by trans women and male crossdressers in almost equal numbers.  As a trans man, I went through a stage where I strongly identified as a crossdresser as well, and I absolutely identified as both a woman and as transgender.  Shifting attitudes among the newer trans set don't really warrant an excuse to take transness away from people who identify with that narrative, regardless of age or other factors.

But here's the main point: People who identify as trans usually have a reason to hold that identity.  Just because somebody only crossdresses part-time doesn't mean that it's not a salient and important part of their core identity.  How is that not trans?

Peoples' drive to omit crossdressers from the trans umbrella in many ways stems as a response to appropriative behavior among some crossdressing men.  The idea is that by calling themselves trans they are appropriating trans women's struggle without going through the same oppression trans women do.  And I do not doubt that there are crossdressers who do this (I've certainly heard D say some utterly sketchy and dismissive shit, mostly in the arena of "how easy kids have it today").

It's a huge mistake, though, to make amount of oppression or understanding of oppression the litmus test for whether or not somebody can identify as trans.  It's true that a man who dresses as a woman--even publicly--is not experiencing the same things as a trans woman.  He is at lower risk, he can in effect take it off like a costume and fade into obscurity at any point he chooses.  But every trans identity comes with its own set of risks at different levels of intensity.  Statistically with all other factors equal, trans women face more risk of physical violence than trans men.  Trans people of color face more risk than white trans people.  Trans people who blend in with cis people easily may be at minimal risk from the general public unless we're outed in some way.  Nonbinary people's risk varies radically based on expression... there are nonbinary folk out there who seem from the outside to have gender expressions lining up just fine with those of their assigned sex, but they're still trans.

Appropriation is also something that happens within the generally-accepted trans umbrella and shouldn't be singled out as a thing crossdressers do.  I can hardly stomach going to local Transgender Day of Remembrance events or read a whole lot about them because they're often organized by trans men in such a way that implies the staggering rate of anti-trans murder significantly applies to us.  There are white trans women who seriously believe (or at least say they believe) that they experience the same oppression as a black trans woman or other trans woman of color.  There are trans people who side with J. Michael Bailey and radical feminists.

An important thing to note is this:  Being an asshole or ignorant as fuck about trans issues doesn't make you not trans.  There are plenty of binary trans people--people who would never reasonably expect to be told they're not trans--who are total pieces of shit to other trans people, who talk about trans issues without understanding them, who try to be "one of the good ones" by coddling cis people, and who engage in all sorts of ridiculously bad behavior.

There is a divide between different groups of trans people and just how distinct they consider crossdressers.  White trans people who transition young--some of (but certainly not all of) the most vocal opponents of crossdresser inclusion in the trans community--are less likely to have gone through a lengthy period of crossdressing before transition, and the trans communities they find themselves in are more likely to be relatively homogenous.  Trans men as well are not quite as likely to have gone through a period identifying as crossdressers (although some of us certainly have).

Trans communities of color have historically been very likely to blur the distinction between binary trans people, crossdressers, and drag performers out of necessity and similarity of experience.  Older trans people as well have often gone through years and years of crossdressing to cope with that.  The mentality that crossdressers are somehow so irredeemably different from the rest of us that they need to be distinct and excluded doesn't accurately represent the whole diversity of the trans community at all, where different sub-communities have chosen to categorize each other differently (whether by chance or to survive).

Sometimes the issue is more that people confuse crossdressers with other trans people.  There are plenty of asinine arguments against transition that hinge on connecting us with people who crossdress, whether for fun, as a core aspect of identity, or as a sexual fetish.

And I'm not going to go into that too deeply, for one reason: It doesn't fucking matter.  This drive mirrors some of the same goddamn reasons cis gays have tried shoving trans people out of the LGBT community.  You can't just exclude an entire group of people because you think they make the rest of us "look bad."

You know, Chaz Bono said some things when he was more relevant that made the trans male community look pretty fucking bad, but he's still a trans man, and don't get me started on Caitlyn Jenner.  Throughout trans history there have been trans people who have misrepresented the community, and others who have been used by cis people to misrepresent the community.  And they're still trans, regardless.

Finally, I want to talk a little about history here.   Trans people love talking about how we need to know our history, by which they often seem to mean "people need to remember that trans women started the Stonewall uprising."  And while that's certainly a priority, I feel like people aren't recognizing that the trans community has changed rapidly in its perception of itself over the past decade or so, including the language it uses to describe itself and other concepts.

Like, it was not super long ago at all that the phrases "FTM" and "MTF" were not universally considered problematic, and the acronyms we used to replace those--"AFAB" and "AMAB"--are receiving the same treatment now.  But there are people who use all four of these terms for themselves, because we all come to the trans community at different times in our community's history and we have the right to define for ourselves what those terms mean to us.  Most people have forgotten that there have been periods of time and pockets of community where nonbinary people preferred not to consider themselves trans and were talked about separately, or when "genderqueer" was used to mean what "nonbinary" means today.  And similarly, a lot of people forgot or never experienced that crossdressers had been included under the trans umbrella for years--and quite explicitly so--and that the wider community acceptance for just assuming they can't be considered trans ever is relatively recent.

There aren't a whole lot of hills I'm willing to die on as far as transgender related language.  So many other little quirks and fads and attempts at creating The Next Big Problematic Thing I just roll my eyes about, call people what they want to be called, and move on with my life.  But I'll be damned if I'm going to endorse excluding a group of people who have been in my community for years because the bad analysis of some joker on Tumblr or the people who unwittingly took that analysis as if it were universally sound, because it just isn't.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Arguments For Why Men Are Marginalized In The Pagan Community (And Why They're Bullshit)

As a Pagan who often works within a men's/masculine mysteries framework, I follow a select few Facebook discussion groups for other Pagan men who work within men's/masculine mysteries frameworks. I am not a member to hate-read, but occasionally it kind of feels like I am.

A recent discussion started with a question that is eerily common in sentiment in the Pagan community.  Paraphrased, it went something like this: "How do you deal with the man-hating that predominates Wicca, as it feels I cannot do anything right due to my XY makeup."  I'll mention that the discussion itself afterward wasn't that bad, with some reasonably good talk of distinguishing call-outs of male privilege from "man-hating," and most of the discussion about groups and Pagans that really are pretty solidly anti-man are focusing more on the connection of these groups with transphobia and transmisogyny which is a pleasant surprise (on an aside, don't refer to your maleness in terms of "XY," for fuck's sake).  But I think this is an important topic to make open, because it's something I've often had to deal with in Pagan settings.  I'm going to expand this beyond Wicca, although due to demographics most of what I'm talking about will at least be connected to Wicca.

When men talk about the feeling of being left out or "marginalized" in Pagan spaces, there are some common pieces of "evidence" I hear that I'd like to talk about... and why they're not evidence at all.

1. "Dianics don't allow men!"

"Dianic" has become almost synonymous with Pagan covens that exclude men and trans women from membership.  This isn't entirely accurate, though.  Not all exclusionary groups use the term "Dianic," nor do all groups using the term "Dianic" exclude either men or trans women.  For now I'll focus on exclusionary Pagan groups.  Although there is absolutely no good excuse for excluding trans women from a women's group that couldn't also be used to exclude many cis women, the idea that it's "marginalizing" or "oppressing" men to exclude us from some Pagan groups is wildly ludicrous.

There are a couple things to remember, here.  First, woman-only groups aren't that common; in fact, many women are uncomfortable with the concept and wouldn't touch groups like this with even the longest of ceremonial wands, especially those for whom gender balance is fundamentally important to the way they practice their religion.  Several have actually been led to believe that woman-only groups are sexist against men, and choose not to involve themselves for that reason.  "Wicca/Witchcraft is about gender balance!" is an extremely common belief in our community, therefore, woman-only groups are not nearly as common as people assume.

Barring that, though, woman-only groups are still not oppressive to men, because men are welcome practically everywhere else in the Pagan community... and actually, the free-loving atmosphere the Pagan community gives to Pagan men can be a pretty goddamn toxic experience for Pagan women.  I know I've talked before about the sexual harassment I've seen women receive at clothing-optional events if they decide to go nude, with obnoxious Pagan dudes thanking and praising them for being naked as if they do it for our enjoyment.  Although not all Pagan women desire time away from men, it's reasonable that many do or would even choose to worship separately from us to get away from that toxic environment.

Finally, there are groups in existence that do not allow women.  Some of them are men's groups by design (which people could easily find or create if they weren't so busy complaining about women's groups).  Others are so invested in having a 50/50 balance of men and women in their group that they wind up actively barring women from membership in one of the many regions Pagan women significantly outnumber Pagan men.

2. "There are so many more women than men in the community!"

One of the problems that arose with the use of the word "minority" to represent a group of oppressed people is the assumption that when the tables have numerically turned it automatically means the oppressed is now the oppressor and vice versa.  The problem is that you can't take a privileged person, plop them in a group where there is a numeric majority of an oppressed group of people, and have that dynamic magically flip, even if that dynamic is flipped for an extended period of time.  A white person who goes to a conference frequented by people of color doesn't magically become oppressed for the day, a straight ally at a gay bar still has straight privilege, and Pagan men are still men--with all the privilege that entitles us--even if there are many fewer of us in the community than there are women.

3. "There are Pagan women who legitimately hate men!"

OK, maybe there are women who hate men for ridiculous reasons, lack nuance when it comes to privilege between different groups of men, and/or have even actively harmed some Pagan men.  This isn't indicative of a trend, though.  Most women don't hate men, feminist or not, Pagan or not, Wiccan or not.  It's not a problem that should concern us.

Furthermore, I think it's important to separate the mere emotion of hatred with actual oppression.  There are women out there who actually do hate men, and they're still not oppressing us.  They don't have the institutional power to do that, so their feelings about us are pretty much just that:  Feelings.  And unless they're actively violent (which, believe it or not, isn't exactly a huge trend), the only thing they're hurting in us is... again, feelings.  And it's OK to have your feelings hurt, but at least recognize that that's what's going on and not institutional oppression.

4. "There's so much more emphasis put on the Goddess/Goddesses than the God/Gods!"

What Gods and Goddesses people worship are their own business.  You have every ability if you so desire to worship only The God or a set of male Gods and it won't make you any less Pagan than somebody who worships The God/Gods and The Goddess/Goddesses equally.  On a personal level, the Deities I worship most often include three Gods and one Goddess (add in Deities I worship sporadically and it's more equal, but I mostly worship Gods and have gotten embarrassingly little flack about it from Pagans).

But I'm going to take this one a bit further... the drive to emphasize The Goddess/Goddesses is one that has more to do with a reactionary response to Christian oppression of religious minorities than it does some imaginary misandry.  What I mean is that so many people come into Pagan religions because they cannot fully identify with the Christian God, and coming from that environment they tend to latch more closely onto The Goddess or Goddesses instead.  And you know what?  That's actually great.  One of the biggest benefits of polytheism is that you can worship Deities who you personally identify with, whereas in monotheism if you don't identify with the God that's been chosen for you you're pretty much screwed.  For many people pretty much all Gods fit that bill... that's their business and not indicative of anti-male oppression.

5. "There aren't enough books for Pagan men out there."

Oh, you really think that, huh?   If you are interested in spirituality directed specifically toward Pagan men, there are books out there by Christopher Penczak, Michael Thomas Ford, A.J. Drew, Alan Richardson, Dagonet Dewr, Robert Moore, Isaac Bonewits, Dancing Rabbit, and several others that either that deal with men's mysteries, men's Paganism, the sacred masculine, and related topics.  The point is, there are plenty of resources out there, people just choose not to look for them because they'd rather complain that women get all the press.

By contrast, it's actually harder to find newer books directed specifically at Pagan women.  Books available tend to be older and are often baldly transmisogynistic.  Many of the available books are entirely based on one or a few aspects of assumed-female biology... especially books dedicated to menstruation or childbirth, which is both cissexist and exclusive of many women who have some sort of disability or preference that prevents them from going through these (on a related note, men's mysteries books are more likely to focus on archetypes and roles, about half of the ones I personally own are explicitly trans-inclusive).  There are plenty of books that emphasize Goddess and divine feminine, but they're less likely to be actually directed toward women, and many books that maybe should emphasize women try like hell not to to avoid offending whiny Pagan men.

But it's not a question of who has more resources.  An unfortunate reality is that really good Pagan books are really fucking hard to find across-the-board, and if we seriously want good books on Pagan men's spirituality we need to focus on that rather than assuming that all the good books are for women.  That's simply not true.

6. "I'm constantly afraid I'm going to offend a woman at an event!"

The solution to this is actually to stop saying and doing shitty things.  I'm sure there are unfair women at Pagan at events, but largely it's a case of Pagan men saying to Pagan women the same shitty things men say to women in other contexts and expecting to get away with it because they're coming into the community assuming it's a revival of a bunch of hippie free love shit (which, by the way, was already toxic to women in the sixties and seventies).

The point is, this is not a case of men being marginalized in the Pagan community, but of men being upset in one of the few cases where they're being told they cannot marginalize women.

In conclusion, although there are some cases where a man might feel left out or underrepresented, it's just not the case that we are marginalized in the community.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How Many Times Have I Told You Pope Francis Is A Bigot And You're All So Shocked Anyway

Alright, listen.  I know that my own personal multiple warnings about how Pope Francis I is a homophobe--who fought tooth and nail against same-sex marriage and adoption in Argentina, was lauded as somehow being non-homophobic despite doing jack shit to change any of the church's policies, said that same-sex relationships "disfigure" God's plan, and in fact there were plenty of times he said repulsive shit about queer people that I didn't mention because I'm fucking tired, like comparing trans people to nuclear weapons and ignorant comments about why trans people need to just accept our bodies--aren't exactly mainstream news material, and even most of my personal friends do not read what I write here.  But come on.

Right now--just like clockwork, honestly--I'm seeing waves of people who just learned that Pope Francis doesn't believe that same-sex parents love their children as much as opposite-sex parents, and they're all freaking out and crying about how shocking it is that their special little guy Francis would go and do such a thing.

But there's nothing goddamn shocking about it.  His behavior has been pretty consistent throughout his post so far:  Say some stuff that looks really progressive and friendly when you live in a dystopia, like that maybe we should protect the environment some more and maybe homelessness is bad and stuff, and people coo over him and drown out all the disgusting comments he's made about queer and trans people, and consistently so.  It doesn't matter that he made some token gestures saying that people shouldn't beat us up or entirely eject us from our families and churches, because "love the sinner, hate the sin" is not love at all when the thing you hate about somebody is integral to their core identity and existence.

Pope Francis is a bigot who is filled with hate, no matter how many of us he gives token hugs.  The fact that he is lauded so much for being slightly less awful than prior popes is nothing but a testament to the fact that liberal Catholics have insultingly low standards for who passes for progressive.  And you know, I know that this is a really ranty post, even for me, but it's one of those things where I'm just that appalled that I just sit here, jaw agape, over the fact that people are so suddenly sad over a thing that literally is not new news.  I want to go up to people and just shout "people have been trying to fucking warn you about this since this guy was selected, and yet all you could do was dance around imaginary daisies about how progressive he is by church standards because nobody wants to publish his shitty comments, just the minutely hippy ones."

But on the other hand, why don't people know this?  Are we just that lax on sharing the information we learn when it happens to be hurtful or might offend members of an oppressive majority faith?  I mean, it was in his fucking Wikipedia entry even.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Why I Didn't Become A Professional Activist

So a while ago I went to a banquet as a university alumnus to be a keynote panel speaker on the subject of campus activism and how it affected my life and future activism.  There I was--a person who attempted to become a professional activist and wound up switching to a career where I have practically no opportunity to do any sort of wide-reaching activism at all--surrounded by people who are either professional activists or who had careers that were very focused on things like community betterment (things like running homeless shelters and LGBT youth programs, programs for uplifting people of color, abortion funds, etc.).  Most of us were contemporaries at said university, and after the program I mentioned I felt a little-out-of-place, like I was just some random computer guy stuck in the middle.  The reality is that I was extremely active on campus as an activist when I went there, and so it made perfect sense for them to invite me back.  I had a good time, but I do regret not elaborating perhaps a bit more about why I wound up not becoming a professional activist or at least something that would allow me more opportunity to better the world.

Here's the reality of the situation: I wound up caught in the young activist meat-grinder, one of many glowing and enthusiastic student activists who wound up working a shitty low-level canvassing job or some other shit job that helps make a nonprofit organization run.

Let me tell you a bit about this job, because it was a doozy:
  1. Eight hours of standing work begging people for money each work day.
  2. You were constantly worried about being fired if you didn't make a ridiculous quota every single one of those days, with long-term experienced employees often kicking in ten or fifteen bucks of their own money just to meet the quota and avoid getting canned.
  3. $6.25 an hour (at the time that was minimum wage, and they really tried hard to find excuses to pay less).
  4. There was "volunteer" work on weekends but if you weren't able to go people treated you like trash.
  5. People who quit due to the high-stress environment were just described by the managers as leaving because they just didn't care enough about "The Cause."  In fact, pretty much every problem a person had on the job was attributed to them just not caring enough about "The Cause."
I quit this job very rapidly and could not get hold of them to even ask about my final paycheck afterward (when I initially applied for the job they called me back within literally thirty seconds, but never got back to me about owed wages no matter how I tried contacting them).  I found out that this organization has a very deep history of chewing up enthusiastic activists and spitting them out shortly afterward, especially those who were in the same position as me, without the experience or skillset to get a more involved and better paying position among those few jobs available to aspiring professional activists.  They flood job boards oriented toward idealists, boasting that you can make money working "for progress."

This is the kind of job that only feels reasonable long-term to ascetic activists--those who are so dedicated to "The Cause" (or who want to look like they are) that they willingly forgo not only enough money to survive, but most of their free time and a good chunk of their dignity as well as they grovel on the streets for money.  I occasionally see them described as a "liberal sweatshop" in critiques of their methods, with the few overwhelmingly positive reviews of their workplace seemingly by the people I just mentioned who want the prestige of eating dry beans and rice for "The Cause,"with a few speckled throughout who just happened to be really damn good at getting people to donate.

I could have just switched gears and tried finding a better position, but I'll be honest:  This experience disillusioned the fuck out of me and changed the entire way I view professional activism.  I had all these idealistic beliefs coming out of college, all these experiences in campus activism, only to find that the only job available to me was this shit?  And that if I did get a better job there would be a good chance it was being funded by stressed-out low-wage workers?  Honestly I'm kind of surprised I didn't give up activism altogether.  For all I know I could have been two steps away from reverting back to Libertarian Teen Me back in the nineties.

So yeah... I'm still an activist.  I'm not as loud or flashy about it as I used to be and I definitely don't make money off of it.

One of the questions we were asked was how our careers facilitate our activism.  The implication seemed very directed toward professional activists, but for me--the computer guy who gave up on trying to get an idealistic job--the answer is as follows:  My career facilitates my activism because I cannot be an effective activist if I can't eat, pay my bills, and comfortably decompress.  It facilitates my activism because without it I would not have enough money to purchase books to donate, to print out literature, to drive to events, to donate to peoples' fundraisers, to buy Internet service to keep abreast of all the things happening in the world.  I don't need my job to be explicitly activist in order for it to facilitate my activism, and I encourage people who are interested in activism long-term but who may not have the personality to make it in the nonprofit sector (as I do not) to recognize that your activism is still valuable.

I do not, by the way, mean to disparage the work of organizations.  Not all of them contract out to startlingly unethical fundraising businesses, and they do a great deal of important work.  But there are many, many ways to be an activist.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Lee Hurley Is Wrong On Trans Inclusion, And Here's Why

Metro recently posted an article by a trans man named Lee Hurley arguing that we should drop the "T" from "LGBT."    The basic argument being made is one that has been argued about pretty much ever since people started separating gender identity from sexual orientation.  Lesbian, gay, and bisexual are sexual orientations... and transgender isn't.  So why include it?  It's oh so confusing for the heteros, after all, who constantly conflate transgenderism with a super-extreme form of homosexuality.

The poll at the bottom says 58% of readers support dropping the "T" from "LGBT," a testament to the fact that most of the people reading this article are cisgender and looking for any excuse not to care about the T anyway.  And all validated by a trans man, imagine that!

I already wrote in the title that Hurley is absolutely dead wrong in his assumptions, but I think it's important to talk about not only why he's wrong, but why in hell any trans person would even argue this.  Because although my suspicion is that most trans people would disagree, it's also not that uncommon a belief.

Why Do Some Trans People Want The "T" Out Of "LGBT?"

The basic argument is practically always the same, and although I already went over it I'll quick reiterate:  Lesbian, gay, and bisexual are all sexual orientations.  They refer to who you fall in love with, or who you want to have sex with.  "Transgender" is a label used to describe a person's gender, or rather how they come to discover that gender (On an aside, Hurley makes the claim that adding the "T" is just like adding an "F" for female.  This is ludicrous.  "Female" is a gender.  Transgender is not a gender.).  By adding the "T," they maintain, it confuses heterosexuals into thinking that "transgender" is a sexual orientation and giving them license to think trans people are just the extremest of extreme homosexuals.

A huge proportion of trans people are not straight post-transition, with a very large chunk being bisexual or otherwise interested in multiple genders and another sizeable chunk being gay or lesbian.  In fact, I know multiple straight trans guys who feel almost marginalized in trans spaces because they feel like people assume they're bi.  The main demographic of trans critics of inclusive T are heterosexual trans people who are worried about being seen as anything but heterosexual.
As somebody who was gay for the first few years of social transition, I agree that the confusion this causes was and continues to be a fucking bane on my existence.  In addition to straight people constantly whining that I should have just stayed a lesbian (I never was a lesbian, I was heterosexual as a woman), cis gay men constantly made ignorant-as-fuck comments about it.  Cis gays in general viewed my transition as "choosing to be a gay man;" and many of them got frustrated or angry at this "decision" because they viewed transgenderism as nothing more than a way some gays and lesbians "chose" to escape their accursed homosexuality.  I'll talk about how true or false this idea is later, though, when I talk about why the T needs to stay.

Although I don't know very many trans people at all who support breaking off from the LGBT community, practically all of the ones I do know are straight... and usually talk about that a lot when they suggest exclusion.  A pretty big percentage of Hurley's essay (keeping in mind it's a very short essay, of course) is explaining that he's straight now.  Basically, the main demographic of trans people willing to make this suggestion are straight people who don't want to be seen as gay... something I see as more homophobic if anything.  Quite mildly homophobic in the great scheme of homophobic things, but still homophobic.

"But Jackson," you may be asking your computer screen right now, "he is right, you see, there's a big difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, I learned this in all my Queer Theory 101 courses."  And you're right.  The very base assumption that sexual orientation is independent of gender is pretty widely accepted in the queer community.  The problem is that there's nothing in that statement that actually gives a reason why LGB and T should be separated.  It's an irrelevant fact when placed alongside the immense social history the LGB and T have alongside each other.  Hence......

Why The "T" Totally Does Belong In "LGBT..." No Matter What They Tell You

Hurley says he "gets" why the T was originally included in LGBT.... sort of.  He spits out something about marginalized communities sticking together and trans people having "roots" in the LGB communities... but what he doesn't seem to get is that historically it hasn't just been "roots."  For the majority of recent trans history, unless you were reasonably wealthy you didn't come out as trans and then somehow grow out of the gay and lesbian community like a lot of newer trans people have the opportunity to do today.  Trans women in particular were heavily involved in and in many cases instigated many of the actions the LGB community traces its own roots to.  Stonewall in particular (an event so powerful in the gay psyche that major organizations are named after it and Pride season takes place during its commemorating month) was driven by trans women.

Lately there have been a lot of strides for some groups within the trans community--particularly well-integrated trans women and men--and without fail the media has been presenting these gains as having been ushered into place on the backs of the gay and lesbian movement.  Although the success of the same-sex marriage movement certainly has had an effect on peoples' views of trans people, it's historically ignorant to talk about it that way when so much LGB progress has been on the backs of trans people, trans people who were later carved out of the movements they were instrumental in creating!  The reality is that trans people aren't a group haphazardly tacked on to an already-existing community, we've been integrated with and mingling with the LGB community ever since it first started existing cohesively, whether they wanted us there or not.

History is just the half of it.  The fact that heterosexuals--and in fact often queer people--confuse transgenderism as a sexual orientation is a part of why it's so important for us to stick together as a community as much as possible.  Legislation and social progress that benefits LGB people also benefits trans people (for an example, I have every legal document changed except one... and that one document would have made me ineligible for an opposite-sex marriage before same-sex marriage was made legal here).  Legislation and social progress that benefits trans people often benefits LGB people, especially those with "stereotypical" habits and dress.

I already alluded to this, but almost half of trans people are not heterosexual.  Without fighting for trans issues, the LGB community would be ignoring the needs of an entire class of LGB people (although based on their history with queer people of color and other marginalized groups I wouldn't particularly be surprised).

Finally--and this is one I know a lot of trans people hate but I'm fucking bringing it up anyway--the distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation just isn't that goddamn set-in-stone.  I know, it's all progressive to talk about how they're totally unlinked in any way, but that's simply not true.  A large number of trans people wind up with entirely different sexual and romantic tastes upon transition because how you relate to one gender is often linked to what your own gender is.  There's a stereotype out there that trans men often turn gay after testosterone.  Trans women often become more interested in women, even if they were only into men before.  I became pretty hardcore pansexual after years of only being interested in men.  Making a hardline distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity is in the same category as making a hardline distinction between sex and gender... it looks good in your intro to feminist queer theory final report but it's not really in-line with the whole reality of the situation, which is much more malleable and individual.

In conclusion, although I suspect a lot of people see removing the T as some sort of weird progressive thing, this suggestion ignores a lot of real-life reasons why trans people are actually included in the acronym to begin with.  There's no good reason for exclusion, no matter what some hetero trans guy tells you.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pridefest Milwaukee... OR, How To Recognize Your Complicity In Transphobia

So to begin, I'm a regular attendee of Milwaukee Pridefest, which takes place every year at the Summerfest grounds in June.  Excepting a couple years when I was way over in a different part of the state, I've gone pretty regularly since I think '06 or '07.  And as an out trans person, that has been a mixed bag of fun and troubles.

Admittedly, quite a bit of this isn't directly due to the organizers of Pridefest themselves, such as the multiple times I've been sexually harassed or that time somebody decided to chuck a used, cum-filled condom on the hood of my car or--one of my favorites--when somebody set up a history project about Lou Sullivan and wouldn't shut the fuck up about how "weird" it was that somebody would transition just to be gay.  Still others are pretty much a result of not giving a fuck, like the lack of support for trans musicians (they seem far more likely to seek out a cishet "gay icon" than a trans performer).

Anyway, yesterday I happened upon Pridefest's new blog post, in which they talk about some policy changes they're making in possibly the most annoying way possible.  It's one of those things where I read it and think "You know, I am really happy about the things that they're trying to do here, but still... what the fuck."  The policies themselves are great and exactly what I would have suggested, but the way they're advertising it is just so.... gross.  And I think it's important to explain just why it's so off-putting.

Let's start with a couple really important facts. It is a fact that there are people who report being asked to change restrooms by Pridefest security, including when people were taking shelter during a tornado warning.  Whether or not this was Pridefest's policy, it still happened.  It is also a fact that there have been cases where bringing up trans inclusion on Pridefest's Facebook page has led to defensive and ignorant responses (such as going on about drag shows when people ask why there are so few trans performers booked), whether they were meant to be or not.  Finally, it is a fact that their restroom policy was so poorly advertised that practically no trans people even knew it existed (personally, I didn't even know they had a single gender neutral restroom, and I've been attending for years).

With all that said, why is Pridefest Milwaukee spending all this time acting like they've been some sort of shining beacon of tolerance toward the trans community?  It says right on the page that this organization has been around since the late 1980s.  It's a huge stretch that any organization started that long ago which is mostly run by gays and lesbians has "fully honored" trans participation since its beginning.  Practically none of them have.  And because you can't just up and change the past, the very best one can expect from an organization like this is "we recognize that there have been problems in the past, here are the things we are doing to change that."

This is what Pridefest could have done.  It's what Pridefest should have done.  Instead, they've written a lengthy blog post trying to make it look like they were in no way complicit in the awful ways trans people have been treated on their grounds, that it's all a result of "zoning laws" and "misinformation."

But my favorite (by which I mean worst) sentence is this one:
There are no signs stating that your restroom choice must match your ID, nor do our security guards have the authority to challenge our guests’ choice of restrooms.
The reason that this sentence is such useless drivel is that practically nowhere that does police gender identities in restrooms has signs explaining this.  Venues practically never even consider that trans people might show up at their establishment until some asshole cis person complains, and even then they're unlikely to actually post anything.  This sentence makes it seem like it was somehow trans peoples' responsibility to just assume that no signage equals no policing, something that most trans people know is bullshit.

They're fixing that problem by putting gender neutral restrooms on maps and marking them clearly.  That's fantastic!  But it's still fixing a problem they were complicit in causing.  That doesn't line up with their apparent belief that they've been entirely trans-inclusive since time immemorial.  Not admitting that is a huge problem.  If they can't admit they've ever been wrong, how can we trust them to rapidly respond to other problems as they come up?

Another sentence of note:
We are disappointed that our organization, policies, and long-standing provisions may have been misrepresented.
But they weren't misrepresented, though.  The things I talked about above are things that really happened.  Their policy might have been misrepresented, but their shady enforcement of that policy wasn't.  Their lack of publicity for that policy is not a misrepresentation.  The "trans friendly" policies and amenities they're talking about are useless if nobody knows about them, especially their own goddamn security (and every volunteer is directly representing your organization).

The whole tone of this piece reeks of "we're sorry nobody understands how awesome and inclusive we are so we're going to publicize the fuck out of it" rather than "we acknowledge that our lack of proactivity has hurt people in the past and we pledge to fix that."

So in conclusion, I am genuinely glad that Pridefest is working on making pro-trans policies more open and obvious, but it's an insult to trans peoples' intelligence to frame it as "clearing up misrepresentations" without recognizing their own historical complicity in the problem.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Want To Talk About These Biggest Loser Contests At Work

This essay has depictions of extreme and likely unhealthy diet tactics.

I'm going to start with the conclusion here, first: If you're in charge of a Biggest Loser contest, or considering suggesting one, or have any power in deciding whether to start one... I'd like you to strongly reconsider that.

I am overweight by about, oh, maybe fifty pounds.  Like many other people, I have struggled to lose weight, something which I continue to attempt time and time again and will likely continue to attempt for the foreseeable future.  And with apologies to those for whom even the mere mention of the subject is enough to make them angry, I am not really ashamed of dieting.  One thing I am pretty adamant about, though:  Dieting should be a choice people make based on their own preferences.

There's a phenomenon that's been going strong for a couple years now, which is the idea of a workplace weight loss contest.  Usually they call it "The Biggest Loser" after the hit TV show, and there's often a cash prize.  The contest that inspired me to write this has a cash prize for the winner of $500 ($100 is pretty common), something I overheard over the water cooler recently.

Right now the person winning the local Biggest Loser contest has been doing it primarily by fasting throughout the day, eating very little when he does eat, and trying his hardest to lose water (through sweating before weigh-ins among other more concerning things).  His reasoning is competitive... he only diets during Biggest Loser contests, and only because he wants to win the cash prize at the end.  He'll gain it back when the contest is over and then next year do it all over again.  This is a well-known fact.

Although this is a really extreme case, I was reminded of when my mother was still working.  Her workplace also had a Biggest Loser contest which she did pretty well in... basically by eating nothing and beating the hell out of herself emotionally if she ever did eat anything enjoyable.

Note I'm not even talking about the television program "The Biggest Loser."  A lot has already been written about how absolutely nasty this program is.  But you know what?  At the very least, the television show has trainers.  And while I have no doubt there are workplace programs that also involve some sort of trainer or savvy person, I have yet to actually encounter one.  Instead I encounter people with stories (most of which they think are just hilarious) of people going to great extremes to win the contests.

This is the sort of thing that naturally happens when you reward people for losing weight as quickly as possible with anything other than their own self-satisfaction.  When your only standard is sheer weight, it doesn't matter exactly how that weight is lost.  It could be fat, but it also could be water, muscle, or some other human body component and it would still count as weight loss.  This leads to financially desperate or particularly competitive people in those situations deliberately losing weight they know to be temporary (water, especially) and not eating anything close to a nutritionally adequate diet for that hundred or so dollars.

Has there ever been any winner of a workplace "Biggest Loser" knockoff who has long-term maintained their weight loss?  Probably.  But everything about this method of motivating people is destined to promote temporary, rapid, unhealthy weight loss without concern for whether or not it's actually good for the person in question.

More importantly, what do programs like this do for people who are already an average weight?  Already underweight?  Or perhaps more importantly, people with eating disorders?  Is having a month or two long contest in which a bunch of people who may or may not have any idea what healthy weight loss even looks like obsess over every calorie going to be good for people who are an inch from relapse, who may be too ashamed to even bring it up?  And as somebody who has an easily-triggered eating disorder, I would not make the case that you should stifle discussion about food or diet among co-workers, but this particular phenomenon is a particularly nasty and harmful one even if people don't have eating disorders.

To reiterate the conclusion I stated at the beginning, I have seen practically no evidence that this practice is anything other than useless weight-shaming ridiculousness that doesn't result in what it's meant to result in.  If you have any say, please stay away.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why I Freaked Out And Left The Munch Last Night

Note: This essay has to do with the local kink community (although it talks about problems that are found much less locally) and has reference to some really uncomfortable kinks, including references to rape play and violent race play. Venues, names, and very specific stories not relating to myself are not mentioned due to typical munch etiquette.  When I use phrases like "man in a dress" I am specifically referring to actual men in dresses and not trans women.

So although I want to get this out there, I'm also aware that I'm taking a bit of a social risk in even writing this if it happens to be read by any of the involved.  The thing is, the kink community has a very bad habit of taking any open talk of systemic problems within the community and labeling them "drama" to avoid actually dealing with them.  If you were triggered at an event and say something about that, it's "drama."  If you mention a poor response to a sexual assault in the community, it's "drama."  So something tells me that the statement "your policies are transphobic and you're probably pretty transphobic too if you defend them" will probably be taken by that community, crumpled up, and thrown into a wastebasket marked "DRAMA" to be ignored or possibly used as another piece of evidence as to why they need their transphobic policies to begin with.

To start the story off, I've been in the kink community in at least some capacity for maybe seven or eight years, mostly with online involvement as well as a little in-person stuff through campus events, largely because I lived in the middle of nowhere.  A couple months ago I moved to an area with easy access to not just one munch but three munches in addition to two high-profile play party groups, a different group specifically for bottoms and switches, and a local chapter of a national organization for people in full-time consensual M/s relationships, among others I am less aware of.  It was one of my goals to go to these so that I could get an "in" in the local community and cease to be that rando on FetLife practically nobody has actually met in person.

What started this mess (or rather, this particular part of the mess) is that as soon as I started associating with local people on FetLife, I started seeing their events and organizations.  One of them consistently has not one but two transphobic policies.  They are:
  1. Must wear "gender appropriate" clothing (seems to be limited to public events)
  2. Must use bathroom of "biological gender" (seems to be a universal rule)
I contacted one of the organizers to ask about this, and she responded back that the reasons they hold this policy include (words in quotes are her own words):
  1. We live in a conservative area.
  2. The policies are put in place by venues, not the organization.  They cannot find a venue that would not have this policy.
  3. Some "flamboyant" people were using women's restrooms "in drag" and making "actual women" uncomfortable.
I asked why, if the problem was so specific, the policy is so far-reaching.  She hasn't gotten back to me on that and I suspect she won't, having possibly already taken my concern and thrown it into that aforementioned "drama" wastebasket.

I was considering just not going to the munch last night for a variety of reasons, many of which admittedly had nothing to do with this, but much of it was centered on the fact that I expected the person I was talking to about the transphobic policies to be there and I quite frankly didn't want to see her face last night (either she wasn't or she looks significantly different from her picture).  I finally decided that I'd probably be fine, maybe I'd meet somebody new or something, and so I went.

And it was fine at first.  It was a small enough group that I wasn't ignored, and we had great conversations before the presentation.  And just in case any of the people in attendance are reading: Unless you're responsible for the policies I'm talking about, none of what happened was actually any of the attendees' faults, not directly anyway.  Rather, hearing people talk about the play party in question with its ludicrous "biological gender" bathroom policies and the sorts of things that go on there just flat out pissed me the fuck off.

Because here's the thing:  We are talking about events taking place specifically for people to have kinky sex, often with and/or in front of strangers.  So basically what you're telling me is this:
  • You're able to find a venue that will allow you to construct a St. Andrew's cross, tie a naked person to it, and whip them with a flogger but unable to find one that will allow visibly trans women to use women's restrooms.
  • Your clientele is expected to be comfortable with people (consensually) choking and closed-fist punching each other during sex but God forbid a cis woman is uncomfortable with trans people using the restroom in her presence.
  • Somebody can wear a collar that says "slave" on it attached to a leash but if a man wears fishnets that's just too far.
  • You can find space where a man can (consensually) act out a rape scene that could easily be confused for a real rape by bystanders, but you couldn't possibly find somewhere that wouldn't object to a crossdresser temporarily using the women's room.
  • The area is conservative which is why trans support groups have been able to hold meetings at a fucking Denny's in a pinch but an open kinky sex group couldn't possibly find a bar or restaurant that won't object to trans people who need to take a piss.
  • All of this gender conformity is so goddamn important that you would enact a policy so broad and sweeping that if really enforced would mean I'd have to use the women's room.  Because somehow that would make women so much more comfortable.
I feel like it should be self-evident why with these things in mind this is bullshit, but I have a few things to close on.

First I need to acknowledge that there's no way that these policies would actually be enforced for me.  Transphobic bathroom policies were not written to keep fully integrated trans men out of men's rooms, and if I show up in drag they will probably treat me with the same level of bullshit they would treat a visible trans woman or a crossdresser.  The problem is that I don't want to be the exception to a shitty, transphobic policy; I want the policy to stop existing.  It's not just about me and my comfort, it's about knowing the local community would easily sell out their own for a paltry amount of social acceptance and then chant ludicrous reasons why this is totally reasonable.

Second I should mention that this has nothing to do with "kink shaming" or painting your kink as morally better or worse than transgenderism or crossdressing.  I wrote a while ago in the essay "When 'Kink-Shaming' Really Isn't" that I'm an exceedingly open person when it comes to accepting other peoples' kinks.  I talked about plantation play parties and Nazi themed scenes and rape play... all of which are used as coping strategies by a not-insignificant number of oppressed people and people with a history of sexual assault and all of which are not necessarily indicative of being an actively dangerous person to non-consenting individuals.  It has to do with the ludicrous assumption that these policies have something to do with valid discomfort or venue demands or "the area is just conservative" among people who seem to have no problem finding space to act out things that are significantly more socially unacceptable in the vanilla world than a man in a dress, among people who are expected to uncritically accept wildly violent play.

Third, even if the original reasons for these policies were totally reasonable (and they are not), the fact that they responded with such a widely-sweeping policy over what was likely not a widespread issue is telling of the kind of regard they have for trans issues in general.  There could have been other ways to word this policy that wouldn't have been so transparently transphobic, but they chose to go with that instead and continue to defend it.

In conclusion, listen, I know it's hard to find places for your events, but this is fucking ridiculous.  In doing so, I can't imagine this community is safe for practically any local trans person.