Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You Can't Complain About Cramps

One of my father's stories that I have always, always hated is one from his days in highschool. The assigned-females of the student government were trying to get equal rights and treatments- and the assigned-males responded with "If you do, then you can't use your periods to get out of things" and that any difference that having high estrogen rather than testosterone causes would be ignored as well.

And that they backed down proves that women want to be treated as second class citizens and that they'd rather be given the "privilege" of getting off class (which actually means a lower quality education, particularly for people who have a difficult time self-teaching, putting them at an even greater disadvantage) than the privilege of being treated and seen as a human being.

First, hormones are a big deal. Hormones effect most changes in your body. Adrenaline, the hormone that can allow people to do super-human things in times of crisis, is a hormone. Hormone imbalances in the brain can cause you to have severely limited or altered functioning. In terms of sex-related hormones, your levels effect a ton of things such as fat distribution and loss/gain, ability to gain muscle, even height when you're still not past puberty. They also have a good deal of effect on how you think, based on evidence from trans men and women who have started hormones (one trans man tracks the changes testosterone had on him emotionally/mentally. Here's one just from 3 months:
It's been much harder to notice the little subtlties that I once noticed. I think sometimes I notice them, but I don't appreciate the importance of them anymore. I've been trying really hard to take notice of the little things and really think about what they mean. Similarly, it's much harder to multi-task. I've found myself much more methodical and more withdrawn from socializing with perfect strangers. For example, I'd much rather be in a quite library putting books in order than helping customers at a video game store. I've always had this personality, but it's definitely more intense now.
Plus, the differences between assigned males and assigned females who aren't taking anything that would effect their levels and are not intersexed are, like every other difference between the sexes, generalized. There are cis women with high testosterone levels and cis men with low, just like there are cis women who can outlift an average man and cis men who couldn't outlift a weaker woman. But, there are physiological differences between having high testosterone/low estrogen and low testosterone/high estrogen (and fairly big differences between hormone levels in people with ovaries over the course of a month). And those should not be ignored.

Now, for the part that makes too many people squeamish: periods. People's periods are, depending on your social group, not really talked about. I've seen a lot of instances where a cis woman had a genuine disorder related to her menstrual cycle that was literally disabling every time she menstruated- but she spent years with no idea because people don't actually talk about what it's like. I've also seen cis women who will go to the doctor to find out if they have a problem with that and a nurse will discount them as being whiny because "we all have to go through that"- assuming that everyone's cycle is identical to their own.

We also cannot forget that society was built by cis males for cis males- at least western society- without taking the needs of cis females, trans males, trans females, intersex people, or non-binary people into consideration. At times they created laws with the explicit intent of continuing to keep non-cis males as second-class citizens. In the 1700s, (perceived/assigned) women in the US were not taught to write as "there was no reason a woman should know how to write"- limiting their ability to communicate their thoughts in a permanent manner and making it so that most literature was, inevitably, produced by (perceived/assigned) men. One of our much hailed Founding Fathers, John Adams, found the idea of agreeing to his wife's request to "Remember the ladies" in laws to be laughable, referring to the thought of women's rights as the "despotism of the petticoat"- or tyranny, if you aren't sure what despotism is.

It is very probably that things would be different had society been built by women for women, or at least with women in mind and with allowance for them to ask for their own needs to be met. Perhaps, rather than weekends, we would have a week off of work every month- or maybe only having one day weekends and a mini-vacation that was actually a time to rest rather than a time to have to do work that your boss expects you to do in your spare time without pay. Maybe medicine would have developed to actually find out when menstruation actually has a serious impact and how to better fix it (I believe we're working on it) and assigned-females would feel empowered to talk about their period and how awful it is without being told that they're just being whiny- so that, if there is a problem, it can actually be fixed. Maybe we would have figured out much, much sooner how to keep people who give birth from dying and, today, focus on how to make them comfortable rather than on how to control them (trigger warning: equates people who are capable of giving birth with "women", erasing both the gender of those who do give birth and are not women and those women who, for whatever reason, are not able to give birth).

But that is not the case. Instead, we live in a reality where health concerns that are either specific to mis/assigned females or not prevalent in mis/assigned males (everyone with breast tissue can get breast cancer, including cis men, yet it's still seen as a "woman's disease") are only just now not being dismissed. And, still, the ones that are most talked about are ones that "diminish" a woman's sex appeal. There are a great deal of diseases that can effect women and cause them extreme, even lifelong pain, yet we focus on the ones that cause them to lose their hair or breasts. It's as if we still haven't gotten out of the disgusting idea that a mis/assigned female is defined by zir ability to attract a man and bear his children or to act as a sex object for male fantasies- rather than by who ze is.

It is very, very possible that some of the mis/assigned females on that student council had extreme period pains that genuinely caused them to be unable to do classes sometimes- and refusing to acknowledge the reality of that would have been extremely problematic, the same as telling a person with the flu that they have to go to school despite barely being able to stand upright because "Well, I don't think the flu is as big a deal as you say it is". The argument of "You are only allowed equal rights if we're allowed to ignore your physiological needs" is no argument. It is really saying "We are so opposed to you being treated equally, but we are sick of you asking for it so we will throw you this moldy bone and find a new way to mistreat you".

And it says volumes that anyone could take people refusing that as evidence that any group wants to be abused.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Damage of Socialization

(warning, I think this post is fairly cis-centric and seems to take "assigned and socialized with the expectation of being female" to mean "woman", but getting into that with trans people is a big barrel of complicated that I'm hoping to tackle later so I can't blame anyone.)
From Another Post About Rape
Women who are taught not to speak up too loudly or too forcefully or too adamantly or too demandingly are not going to shout “NO” at the top of their goddamn lungs just because some guy is getting uncomfortably close.Women who are taught not to keep arguing are not going to keep saying “NO.”
Women who are taught that their needs and desires are not to be trusted, are fickle and wrong and are not to be interpreted by the woman herself, are not going to know how to argue with “but you liked kissing, I just thought…”
Women who are taught that physical confrontations make them look crazy will not start hitting, kicking, and screaming until it’s too late, if they do at all.
Women who are taught that a display of their emotional state will have them labeled hysterical and crazy (which is how their perception of events will be discounted) will not be willing to run from a room disheveled and screaming and crying.
Women who are taught that certain established boundaries are frowned upon as too rigid and unnecessary are going to find themselves in situations that move further faster before they realize that their first impression was right, and they are in a dangerous room with a dangerous person.
Women who are taught that refusing to flirt back results in an immediately hostile environment will continue to unwillingly and unhappily flirt with somebody who is invading their space and giving them creep alerts.
People wonder why women don’t “fight back,” but they don’t wonder about it when women back down in arguments, are interrupted, purposefully lower and modulate their voices to express less emotion, make obvious signals that they are uninterested in conversation or being in closer physical proximity and are ignored. They don’t wonder about all those daily social interactions in which women are quieter, ignored, or invisible, because those social interactions seem normal. They seem normal to women, and they seem normal to men, because we were all raised in the same cultural pond, drinking the same Kool-Aid.
And then, all of a sudden, when women are raped, all these natural and invisible social interactions become evidence that the woman wasn’t truly raped. Because she didn’t fight back, or yell loudly, or run, or kick, or punch. She let him into her room when it was obvious what he wanted. She flirted with him, she kissed him. She stopped saying no, after a while.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fetishizing Non-European Cultures

My gender makes it difficult to have any interest in European languages. They are difficult, genderwise. The best Spain & German could do to make "gender neutral" language was to change a/o to @ (spain- Latin@ vs Latino/Latina) and capitalize the 'i' in female words (German- Pilotin becomes PilotIn). I don't think French even has a word for "it" and just uses 'he' (I zoned out in class and looked into it for all of 1 hour this summer, correct me if I'm wrong). Europe is just very, very, very bad with gender. And this has grated on me even before I realized I was a non-binary. It also makes me hate English with a passion- not just for gender, but for how flipping impossible we have made it to speak without either erasing/othering/discriminating against a marginalized group or being completely incomprehensible to the lay person. Although that might be a problem in all lanugages.

At first I thought that I just hated languages- then I found Icelandic and fell instantly, truly, and deeply in love. This love has only deepened- every time I'm reminded that you can avoid using pronouns and make the adjectives neutral, that hetja mín (female noun) can be used to refer to a werman and it's still a deep complement (lit. "My hero!"), that some the word for human being is female. And I've found other languages as well- I believe Japanese is much better about gender as well, I've heard from a few non-binaries that it's easier to be referred to or talk about people without revealing gender or it being obvious you aren't. Russia also has adjectives and even verbs that bend easily to gender, including neuter, and using gendered nouns that don't bend to the person's gender is common and, again, not misgendering. China... it depends. Thailand- I'm hesitant, the view of trans women is either good or bad, and I really want to know which (they are lumped in with gay men and drag queens as "ladyboys" and "kathoey", lit. "not man" and not seen as women but something else- not nice to gay men either) is either good or bad, and I really want to know which.

And it's possible it applies to the indigenous people who Europeans completely fucked over when taking over what is now the "Americas" as well, as they held trans people in a bit higher respect than the white people who feel they "own" the country did, and I don't even know about Africa or Australia (same thing in terms of being fucked over by Europeans, though) because they're erased in our USA-centric, Euro-centric, White-centric curriculum. I also don't think it's as easy to find resources for studying it- aside from Thai & Icelandic, all the languages I've listed are taught at my college and it's easy to find resources on them. For at least 2 languages in Chinese, too. (There are at least 10 spoken languages in China)

Russia, Japan, Thailand (as well as what are now the Americas, Africa, and Australia)- they all have something in common. They're not European and, for the most part, the people there aren't white. Except Russia. I think, I actually have a hard time keeping track of all the distinct cultural identities we've erased and shoved into "white" to reinforce our privilege and which we aren't counting as "really" white to, again, reinforce our privilege.

With Japan, I've seen too many white anime "fans" who go around completely butchering the Japanese language (this is at least part of why I used to hate Japanese with a passion- my knowledge of it was "NARUTO CHAN IS SUGOI KAWAII DESU NE BAKA GOMEN NASA~I"). And, at least Americans, don't really have the greatest track record with Asian women. I don't know where the line between admiration and appropriation is- does anyone? Do I just like these languages because, to my white European ears, they sound "exotic"*? Am I assuming that they'll be better about gender because I'm idealizing the culture as being so "unusual" and "different" to European culture rather than being aware of the reality? Am I just an Asiaphile trying to justify this?

I actually don't know, it's hard to tell. I've seen people of color complain when white people use something from a non-white culture because, too often, it's appropriation (hint: If you don't know the country, just the continent, you might be appropriating). Does that include language?

* Japanese, Thai, Korean, and everything else that I've never been raised on sounds a bit like nails on a chalkboard to me. (I'm getting better with Japanese because I'm listening to it more- but at first it was painful) Sooo, hopefully not?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Misassigned At Birth

I'll be honest, I don't like the term transgender. It's incorrect- it implies our genders cross something when, with the exception of multigender and genderfluid people, they really don't. It works with transsexual in a way- most people do see their sex crossing over to the other. I know a neutrois who now considers itself "transsexed" because it finished transition.

But our language is difficult and trans people aren't accepted enough for me to figure out a viable alternative (although, of course, it's hard to find one that works for everyone no matter what you do). As I mentioned before, my definition for transgender is "an adjective describing a person who’s gender (part or all of it) does not match the sex they were assigned at birth". And I've been thinking about it- and I kind of like the idea of misassigned at birth. I've seen a few trans women say "the doctor should have said "it's a girl"." and, as I've been pointing out a bit lately, not all trans people feel that their body is wrong- just how people perceive them. Misassigned works better for me.

Aside from bodily issues that transsexual deals with, a big problem for trans people is that they were assigned and raised and, in no small part due to this socialization, are still perceived as the wrong sex. It also helps that a lot of people can have issues with the idea of "assigned-____" because too many people assume that it's a correct assignment (doctors know everything, right?). Misassigned emphasises the mistake that was made, that the assignment was not correct.

Like I said- it won't work for everyone. Some trans people don't think they were misassigned. But I hope it's a step in the right direction.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I was reading over an article about a woman of color dealing with reactions to her taking care of her children (varying from "his he yours" to complimenting how good a nanny or babysitter she is and asking if she can be hired) or asking a racially diverse family "Where did you adopt [your child]?". To "is zie yours?": mixed feelings here- if the question is "are you really his mother or did you adopt him/is he a step-child?": that's busted, because an adopted/step child can be just as much yours as a "biological" child, and because it's probably at least a bit race based (if they looked the same, no one would assume the kid is adopted). People assuming she's the nanny? Busted. But if people just ask if a kid is the adult's rather than assuming? Not so much. One homophobic person replied demanding to know why it's okay to not assume a person is straight because "What? You think I look butch?!"- busted. Which allows for an excellent way to start my post. The difference between "Is this a "traditional" family or two mommies?" and "You’re one of the most prompt babysitter’s I’ve met.".

The question "Is it a "traditional" family or two mommies?"- is showing tolerance, depending on the tone ( a sarcastic or "two "mommies"?"- not so great) and reaction to "two mommies". The doctor is showing that zie is accepting of same-sex couples having children together and is (hopefully) non-judgemental about the fact that some children are raised by two parents who are not hetero. Not only that- but it makes no assumptions*. It isn't calling the person a lesbian- it's keeping an open mind because you can't tell sexuality by looking at a person. Assuming that everyone you meet is straight  does damage.

The statement "You’re one of the most prompt babysitter’s I’ve met"- is showing intolerance. Or, at least, close-mindedness. And it makes assumptions. It's assuming that an adult who is not close enough to the skin tone/facial structure/hair color or quality of the child cannot be the child's parent, because two people who aren't obviously of the same race couldn't have had a child. It also assumes that she couldn't be related to the child in any way- not even by friendship. That this person who is darker than the child couldn't possibly be a good enough friend of the "white" family to be taking care of the kid.

Next is intent or "what are they really asking". For example, "Is zie yours"- on the surface, tame. But not when the real question is "Is zie your biological child?" (as opposed to adopted/step/kidnapped/whatever the person thinks) and can be followed up with "Where did you get zem?" (because you couldn't be related to a kid with that much darker/lighter hair color/skintone/eyes than you!) or "I mean really yours" (because only biological children are REALLY yours). Obviously, this is pretty messed up for the same reason that assuming the person is the nanny/babysitter is- it's clear that the asker doesn't believe that mutli-racial children exist and doesn't think that a parent who doesn't look "enough like" their child is "really" that child's parent.  But sometimes the question is asked because the person is aware that  they can't exactly tell family dynamics just from meeting people and asking avoids complications that assuming creates- and then it isn't really a bad question.

Next I'll go with entitlement. Take this scenario: Person 1: "That's a really cool bracelet you have. Where did you get it?" Person 2: "Actually, it's a really long story and I'm just not up to telling it right now and I don't really know you well enough, sorry." And person 1 replies in one of these ways: 1. the person says "Oh, alright, if you ever feel comfortable telling me then" and leaves it at that. 2. the person demands to know what the backstory is, pestering the person about it.

If the response is the first: That's good. Person 1 is respecting Person 2's wishes. If the response is the second: VERY BAD. The person clearly feels entitled to this knowledge about Person 2- regardless of how Person 2 feels. (and, if Person 2 relents, it's very possible that zir right to making these decisions will be further attacked by Person 1 saying "I don't get why you didn't just tell me that in the first place") This one really depends on your relationship- but if you have a close enough relationship, you know what questions you are and aren't allowed to ask already.  This guide is pretty much for near strangers. And when you don't know someone well, you have no right to know anything about them that they don't want to tell you

That said, I hope we have a pretty decent grasp on good vs bad questions. Good: Respecting the person, not making busted assumptions, not having an underlying question that you can't ask because it's offensive. Bad: Disrespecting the person, making busted assumptions, having an underlying question that you can't ask because it's offensive. That said...


Ask about anything and everything! Ask about pronouns! Ask about orientation (when relevant) rather than assuming straight! Ask about personal space/contact limitations! Ask about acceptable/unacceptable labels to use for the person!  If you don't know: ASK!

And this goes to people being asked, too. If a question makes you uncomfortable: Ask why it was asked. (and don't make busted assumptions, either!) if a person asks you what your sexuality is- don't assume that they think you "look gay", maybe they just don't want to add into the bustedness of heteronormativity. If someone asks you your pronouns- don't accuse them of saying you look like a [opposite gender], maybe they just realize that you can't tell a person's pronouns by looking at them. (you can guess correctly 90% of the time, but you can't know).

For the world to be a place where privilege no longer hurts people (especially regarding things that aren't visible)- we need to ask. We need to stop assuming things. Don't assume everyone is straight (or even sexual), don't assume that you know someone's gender & pronouns from looking at them, don't assume that they have the same education/views/experiences/abilities/needs as you, don't assume that one aspect of anyone's life/personality necessarily determines how they feel in any other part of their life, don't assume that a person in a wheelchair or with a seeing eye dog or anything else needs your help just because they're in a wheelchair or have a seeing eye dog or anything else and you aren't. Just don't assume!

But we also need to be in a place where questions CAN be asked. I do NOT mean that you have to answer every question- I already made it clear that people 100% have the right to say "I don't want to answer that". But reacting violently because someone doesn't assume something? That's not going to get us anywhere (and, of course, it's mostly privileged people who do it- because privileged people are allowed to get offended when a person asks them something that attacks their privilege and are also allowed to demand answers and get offended when we don't get them).

*okay, well, it does. It assumes a monogamous relationship in which the two partners have binary genders. Baby steps....