Saturday, December 30, 2006
I would like to counter with another theory. Femmes turn to lesbianism because they are sick of looking for guys with huge dicks which they can keep up long enough to truly indulge their lady friend. I have developed this theory based on my own experiences with femmes. Show them a dildo which falls within the parameters of average penis-size (about 5.5 inches long and 4.75 inches around) and they look at you like you're stupid. That's about as small a dildo as you can find. My lady friends and I generally start with something about 6.5 inches long and 5.5 inches around, but within a month or so, they express interest in something bigger, like this—which is easily bigger than 95 percent of men's penises. This makes femmes' statistical chances of finding the right lesbian for them at least as great as those of finding the right man, since lesbians make up at least 4 percent of the biologically female population. Add to that that dykes can keep it up literally forever and that only a statistically negligent percentage of us are afraid to go down, and well, there you have it.
While I'm on the topic of femme identity, I feel I must express my confusion about femmes' frustration with what they perceive as their invisibility. I understand that straight people must constantly be reminded, and that men continue to approach femmes even after they've been told (often with a "confession" that they "find it really hot"). That part sucks, I'm sure.
The part I don't get is that femmes often say butches and transmen mistake them for straight. It's not like the femme-lovers among us don't know that sometimes femme dykes look straight. So if we see a girl we like, we make the effort to suss it out. All it takes is the tiniest bit of flirting and voilà. (If you don't know how to flirt, I'm sorry, you have no business being a butch-loving femme—that's the unspoken deal, girlie girls plant the seed, and dudes take the risk of saying it out loud. )
I've met most of the femmes I know in explicitly queer settings—dyke clubs, dating sites, parties. But even if you're a femme who's not "on the scene" enough to have lots of face time in such settings, surely you have a few friends who are dykes. Those friends, in turn, each have a few friends who are dykes. And dykes like to gossip, so it won't be long before a big chunk of the community knows you like the bois--or the ladies, as the case may be.
And finally, there are those little signals to send off. Your attitude. A leather bracelet or a studded belt. A coded T-shirt or a foxy tattoo. All of these options make me wonder if the femmes who complain most about being invisible in the dyke community are completely devoid of sexual energy and personal style. Is that just wrong? Chime in, femmes.
I remain baffled by the Massachusetts high court decision calling on legislators to vote on a citizen petition to put an anti-gay marriage amendment on the ballot, but CNN offers this bit of explanation:
The high court in its ruling rebuked lawmakers for [tabling the petition], saying drafters of the provision that allows citizen petitions "did not intend a simple majority of the joint session to have the power effectively to block progress of an initiative."
I suppose I'll have to take their word for it, but don't constitutions generally specify when a two-thirds majority is required?
The same decision that exhorted lawmakers to vote also rebuffed the attempt by the gay-bashing group Massachusetts Family Institute to sue lawmakers personally. The Advocate reports that the group's president has now turned to threatening legislators personally. "Lawyers take an oath to uphold the constitution," he said. "Any legislator who’s a lawyer should be very attentive to the ruling."
Friday, December 29, 2006
The bill's sponsor, by the way, was Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole. I hope he freezes to death. Or falls into the Artic as a result of global warming.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
The outgoing Wisconsin attorney general submitted an opinion today arguing that the state's recently adopted amendment banning gay marriage does not invalidate domestic partner benefits or protections. The opinion is only advisory, however, because the state's high court has final say in interpreting the amendment.
Because Pope Benedict is so easy to dislike, I'm linking to this little ditty, which passes on Italian rumors that the pontiff is a homo (on the basis of his rather swank shopping habits) and quotes some real gems of pontifical homophobia.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Yesterday I went to Marshall's, a discount department store right on the border of Danville and San Ramon, because my coworker Alice said they had a great sale on ceramic bakeware. Department stores have always depressed me partly because of the lighting, partly because of the blistering motion of careless mass production, partly because of the chemicals they put on the clothing. Nevertheless, there was an entire clearance rack of men's pants and i found some exciting lemon yellow Tommy Hilfiger golf pants for 8 dollars and a really nice dark reddish-brown pair of thick dress corduroy slacks-- a style which I've never understood conceptually, but which would be perfect for work--, and for only 11 dollars some bright orange cargo three-quarter length shorts which i thought would be a great addition to my wardrobe if i ever got top surgery and then decided to go back to Waikiki. Anyway, on my way into the ladies dressing room something happened which had never happened to me before. Usually if someone thinks I'm going into the wrong room they say "um, this is the LADIES room" or "are you SURE you're in the right place?" or they look around panicked wondering if perhaps they're in the wrong place, as if they are on a ship that's just hit a wicked jerk of waves and they're wincing for the storm. But yesterday, as i was heading into the ladies dressing room with my ridiculous pants the apparently female employee who chatted with me for a minute and gave me my plastic thingy with the grand total number of my pants not to exceed 6, stopped me and said accusingly: "Are you a MAN?!" Well, I was stumped. No one had ever asked me this before and it sounded like a rhetorical question. Am I a man? What separates the boys from the men? For once it didn't seem to be a question about gender or how far i can throw a football, but about the direction of my life. Have I learned anything in the last decade or do i keep making the same mistakes over and over again? If I am finally a man, am I a mensch? And am I never to be a boy again? Does being a man mean I will suddenly start to do things right for a change, or that I will handle my ongoing bushels of fuck-ups with more grace and less vanity? Rites of passage as an inquiring, slightly paranoid, and often remorseful butch are vague and troubling and here I was being faced with a question I'd only toyed with in those joking with myself moments. But surely it's about time I take myself seriously. I stood still for a minute holding on to my pants. Stammered a little. Said "no." Walked right on into the Ladies Changing Room feeling strange and proud. I will have to add the term butchlekeit to my yiddishkeit slangishkeit. I am a man and I'm not a man and this knowledge is rich and complex in ways which i hope the intellectual butter of life will always be churning-- and yet is that because I'm an emotional masochist or because in my heart of hearts I feel we should all be confounding the most difficult questions with simple answers, and asking ourselves the most simple questions and making the answers harder than the pecs I get to imagine flexing above the hot waistline of my new orange shorts.
For the non-consumers among us—and I think we are pretty strongly represented in the transgender community—it is odd to depend on products to supply one’s identity and sex organs. It leaves no doubt about how successful sex is at moving merchandise. It doesn’t matter how little money a guy has; if he or his partner want a phallic upgrade, one will be obtained. And, generally, it reminds us how deeply products—the newest thing—are an inextricable part of existing in this culture.
But because this week is also returns week, I would like to gripe about the poor quality of tranny products. The transman needs two things: something to flatten out his chest and something to fill out his pants.
Let me remind the newcomers to this brave new world of gender that a penis has three separate functions. I’ve already said it fills out the pants to bewilder probing eyes trying to determine if it’s a he or a she. It also works as a sex organ. And, finally, it pees.
Problem is, there is no single artificial penis that can reasonably perform all three of these functions. It seems “an enterprising FTM transsexual” has recently designed a dick that works for both all-day wear (packing) and peeing. I have yet to try this one, but I have doubts that it's comfortable enough to wear all day, every day (look at that pokey little nozzle thing!). And the lovely people at Good Vibrations tell me that chubby people can't get the angle to work for them (think wet pants).
Most transmen opt to wear a non-peeing flaccid penis in public. Ideally, one should also have a special harness made for comfort as opposed to the stability needed for sex.
Packing and playing, or having sex, with the same implement is a problem that has yet to be solved even by the most enterprising transsexual. Some folks wear dildos made for sex when they go out, but an hours-long erection is painfully uncomfortable and, in my opinion, looks absurd. The only other choice is changing cars mid-race. It's no fun: You lose any illusion of authenticity and, more importantly, spontaneity. (This dildo, made of soft material with a wire inside, has been around for a while. It allows you to fold down your erection while you're out and about, but the wire breaks so quickly that San Francisco's Good Vibrations doesn't even sell it.)
A dildo made for sex (silicone is a must) runs about $70, and a harness (leather is a must) about $75. So our tranny's total outlay for a dick can be as much as $145.
Now he must also buy a chest binder of some sort. The ones I've tried don't get you flat enough to pass and succeed in making me, a feminist transguy, feel like a Victorian women in a corset. I need a fainting room at the top of the stairs. Not only does most health insurance not cover top surgery, but (and I'm sure I'll take heat for this from some happy breastless men out there) I think they do a shitty job. The massive scars the surgery leaves are a neon TRANNY sign flashing in any locker room. If I can't pass significantly better than I do with my current manboobs, I'm not going under the knife.
My question is: are these problems really so insurmountable? I'm on board with the notion that constructing a truly (triply) functional penis for transsexual FTMs may be impossible. But the pack-and-play and surgery problems seem utterly solvable; the real problem is that transfolk are considered too small a market with too little disposable cash. And yet, what we do have, we spend on too many partial solutions.
P.S. For a hilarious Onionesque story on butch lingerie, click here.
Monday, December 25, 2006
The story begins with Akinola telling the story of the only time he has knowingly shaken a gay person's hand and how "he sprang backward the moment he realized what he had done."
But it doesn't lapse into crude caricature of Akinola. No, it puts his gay-hating in a post-colonial context. Akinola is using American churches' paranoid homophobia to fuel his grab for power in the global Anglican church, whose center is Canterbury, England. Church leaders from developing countries have long felt marginalized, the story says.
Indeed, Akinola's rabid intolerance of homosexuality is close to the cultural norm in Nigeria, a country that is debating laws that would punish any expression of gay identity—including two gay people sharing a meal in public—with jail time. The article quotes Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies saying the Christian church in Nigeria "is in the midst of Islam. Should the church in this country begin to teach that it is appropriate, that it is right to have same sex unions and all that, the church will simply die."
So homophobia is a weapon against the colonial power—which is itself fairly ambivalent on the issue—in a battle to hold onto the colonizer's faith. The seceding Virginia churches have allowed Akinola to colonize a little on his own. But those churches have a long, distinguished political history in the U.S. (George Washington attended one), and it seems quite obvious that Akinola's power over them will end as soon as it becomes inconvenient. But for now, they are more comfortable aligning themselves with Akinola's views of homosexuality than with the Episcopal church's.
This is the Times' Christmas coverage of religion. Peace on earth and goodwill to men. And women.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
At least one county in Ohio has sniffed out the loophole and closed it. You must solemnly swear not to be a transsexual to get a marriage license in Clark County, whose county seat is Springfield.
The Springfield News-Sun reporter thinks the policy is a real hoot, because people obviously know if their partner is transsexual. Not only is that not necessarily true, but the reporter assumes that no one would knowingly want to marry a trans person. Maybe that's for the best.
Now go to the Men for Men section, and you will find brief posts requesting specific sexual acts, often at specific times or locations. And often, you'll find a cock shot. As in, like what you see?
Is this evidence that men are innately, biologically different from women? It's hard to deny that possibility. There is the cultural argument that men are taught to value their desire more than women. The other cultural argument that springs to mind—that women need to fear for their safety more than men—doesn't hold water for same-sex encounters.
Do gay men really have more social approval for their desire than dykes, who have often (though not always) mutinied against the social limitations on women? I would argue that they do indeed. It's a complicated issue, but I think homophobia is stronger against men because most men, in the cockles of their balls, know that, in a pinch at least, they would have sex with another man. And I'd venture that a lot of straight men—and god knows this transman—are jealous of the easy access that gay men have to sex, for which Craigslist can serve as Exhibit A. Meanwhile, lesbians can't overthrow 20-some years of being taught to suppress and mistrust their desires by just waving a Magic Wand. Although they do try, repeatedly.
But there's another difference between the Men for Men ads and the Women for Women ads. PNP, or party 'n' play. It means crystal meth will be part of the encounter.
Drugs decrease inhibitions. Many dykes I know would love to be able to have sex on the fly the way gay men do, but they worry about being able to get it up for someone they've never met. I wrote in a previous post that I desire more like a man than like a woman. The caveat is, there has to be some energy between me and a potential sexual partner, and you can't determine that over the internet. There's also the issue of your would-be partner's ability to let go of their inhibitions, and sometimes dykes aren't able to do that. Anonymous sex should be fun athletically, rather than emotionally. When I have looked into anonymous sex (I won't say if I've done it or not), it has been with butches or FTMs because they seem more likely to be able to provide that.
Men are able to objectify sex partners in a way that women generally can't—it doesn't matter if a guy is ugly if he has a nice cock, or if he's a douche if he's good looking. That skill makes anonymous sex much easier. Maybe it's the macho athleticism specifically of (trans)man on (trans)man sex that makes it good for anonymous play. But, then again, I'm pretty sure I could get it up for a good-looking girlie girl, even one who was completely brain-dead, if I had crystal meth coursing through my veins. So is crystal meth the biological difference between biomen and biowomen?
If this were Sex and the City, we would cut to me typing, and by the end of the episode I would have an easy, heart-warming answer. But this is not so easy or heart warming. Gay men engage in self-destructive sexual behavior, and too many dykes still have trouble enjoying sex. And even thoroughly sex-positive dykes still wish they could have more sex in the bathroom.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
I love Mary Cheney. That’s right, the Republican activist, corporate vice president of AOL, and daughter of the vice president known as "Vice" and "Dick."
Her pregnancy has finally forced some mainstream coverage of gay families.
William Saletan has a fantastic piece in Slate today, debunking Mary's conservative former friends' criticism of the family she hasn't even had yet. (The Washington Post also features a package on sperm-donor families today, including one that uses Mary Cheney as a jumping-off point. Apparently the package includes another version of Saletan's Slate article, but I can't find it.)
Saletan gives an overview of the scientific literature on gay parenting. He says that even though many studies have set out in bias to find evidence against gay parenting, none has ever succeeded. In fact, the strongest evidence suggests that kids of gay or lesbian parents are probably better off (horror of horrors, they are more likely to have experimented with same-sex relationships—but few actually turn out to be gay).
But the religious right is no more willing to admit this than Grandpa Cheney is to admit that there are no WMDs in Iraq, says Saletan.
If the direct evidence doesn't bear you out, look for indirect evidence. So conservatives have developed a subtler argument: On average, children do best when raised by their two married, biological parents.
Let's take this argument a piece at a time. It's true that two parents are better than one. It's also true that married parents are better than unmarried ones. But those aren't arguments against gay parenthood. They're arguments for gay marriage.
Saletan gives a crash course in how bogus the arguments of bogus religious groups like Focus on the Family really are. (I call it a bogus religious groups because, having looked at its 1099, I learned that Focus on the Family spends 4 percent of its budget on direct service, and 96 percent on bullshit studies and selling James Dobson's products, whose profits don't disqualify it from nonprofit status because they go to him as an individual—never mind that he then "donates" them back).
-- Biological parents are better, because they are less likely to abuse. Sure, if we're talking about biological fathers versus stepfathers or boyfriends.
-- Lesbians make bad parents because so many have been raped. Come again?
-- Kids of gays will associate with gays, and gays are more likely to have STDs, criminal records and pedophilic predilections. Saletan doesn't get into this one too much, because all of the statistics, to the extent that they exist at all, refer to men. And Mary Cheney and her partner aren't, as far as anyone knows, men.
Having looked at some research by Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, I would bet that by STDs, they mean HIV: Allow a disease to go untreated in a minority population for years, and then bash the minority for being contagious. Nice. I've debunked their data on pedophilia here. If they use the same logic for criminal records, they call anyone who's had sex with a man in jail gay, and thereby prove that gays are more likely to have a criminal record. One Family Research Council study co-authored by former actor Kirk Cameron and someone who appears to be his brother, compares the charges against homosexual and heterosexual parents in custody suits. First of all, these are just assertions made in a custody case. Secondly, if you read the fine print, you'll see that the homosexual custody suits were found "systematically"—i.e., looking for the claims they later claim to have proven—while the heterosexual cases were found "randomly." It's that easy to tear these guys down.
Mary Cheney's pregnancy shows two things. These people have no shame and will bite the hand that feeds them sooner than turn the other cheek. And, even Mary Cheney, Republican activist and corporate hack, doesn't think there's anything wrong with gays and lesbians having babies.
Friday, December 22, 2006
China, meanwhile, allows just 8 percent of the roughly 12,000 orphans that get adopted each year to go to—ahem—"single-parent" homes. And, even so, all applicants must sign a statement saying they are not gay.
Guess what? Things just got worse. As China relaxes the one-child rule, fewer and fewer babies are available for adoption. China announced stricter eligibility requirements yesterday. And by stricter, I mean draconian. Those who will no longer be eligible to adopt in China include not just unmarried people, but also obese people, disabled people, those over 50, those whose net worth is less than $80,000, and those who take medication for anxiety or depression.
I've always imagined that any babies in my life would come from China. Apparently, they won't. Goodbye, sweet Mei Lin.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Just as an aside, I have a hard time thinking that prison time isn't cruel and unusual punishment when we know that people are abused in these ways and denied decent health care. Doesn’t imagining yourself in jail for a year seem so awful as to be basically unimaginable and worth avoiding at all costs—even, say, pleading guilty to something you didn’t do, or turning on a friend who doesn't deserve it (which can be a real issue when drugs are involved—read Eric Schlosser's Reefer Madness)?
The 365Gay story mentions a recently settled suit in Hawaii and reports by Human Rights Watch and the ACLU on the New York facilities, which suggest that things are especially bad for trannies and queers. In Hawaii, several youth sued after being repeatedly threatened and humiliated, and in one case smeared with semen. The kids won. In New York, Alyssa Rodriguez was put in a boys ward, refused the hormones she'd been taking for years and punished for her feminine behavior. Now, she has sued and won. The facilities will enter a five-year agreement with Lambda Legal in which they will be schooled in LGBT sensitivity.
In a sense, though, the Hawaii decision is more exciting because it shows that even in states other than the few, the proud, the tolerant (California and New York) some baseline of regard for LGBT people is now considered normal. And mandatory. Maybe it's because I just started getting Google Alerts on trans issues, but it seems like a quiet trend is forming. New Jersey passed anti-discrimination laws for trans folk with its sell-out civil unions bill. And Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico and Rhode Island also include gender identity as a protected category.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
I tried to explain to my sensitive employers that the issue for me is not pronouns, but nouns and assumptions. I wasn’t very good at explaining it, and ultimately decided to go with "he," hoping it would serve as a constant reminder to people that they shouldn’t assume that I feel women things, or am interested in women’s activities, or have what they assume are universal women’s experiences.
Of course, there are still people who slip up. Looking right at me—let’s just say that I get called sir fairly regularly and haven’t purchased anything in a women’s department in over 10 years—people will actually say things like "Your mom taught you how to knit, right?" When I look at them like the angry bulldagger that I am in that moment, they will even insist, "Oh, come on! At some point in your life you’ve knitted!" They’re sure they’re right and I’m just trying to be something (a man) that I’m not (because I do have the booblets).
Once, a coworker was telling me about a good coffee shop. She leaned in and said conspiratorially, "and, there’s a great little bustier store right next door." (I’ve never been entirely sure if she was implying that I would buy a bustier for myself or for someone else.)
When this happens, I feel my phantom penis cinch up back to my belly button. It’s also like I’ve found myself with a huge—huge—chunk of spinach in my teeth. Like, oh my god, maybe I’m not a man after all. It’s not like I secretly do want to buy a bustier (for myself, anyway) nor am I afraid that my closeted love for the color pink will be revealed. Somehow masculinity, I think because we privilege it so much, is inherently competitive, inherently something you find yourself trying to do better.
Of course, I also get really irritated with the person who’s made the weird feminizing assumption about me. Sometimes more than others. There’s a kind of hierarchy of who deserves an ass-whipping and who doesn’t. I think the "bustier" girl gets a low score. She didn’t explicitly insult me, certainly not on purpose. The knitting offender gets a higher score, and probably a chastising remark. The winner is a 5’5" guy with tribal tattoos from the gym (I know, I should’ve holla’d back!). When I asked him to hurry up on one of the two benches he was alternately using, he said patronizingly, "We’re doing supersets, baby." Here, the "baby," mixed in with some high-tech gym vocabulary, was intended to scare biological females away.
Alas, because I didn't even fully process the baby right away and was more focused on the bench than anything else, I didn't give the jerk the lesson he deserved. I said only, "I don't care what you're doing. We're both here to work out, and we have to share the equipment…and don't call me baby, that's just rude!"
Immediately after the incident, the supply of come-backs that queers develop over years and rarely ever use came flooding in. (The best ones: "You could call my girlfriend baby if you could even imagine someone so hot!" and "Your girlfriend calls me baby when I'm fucking her with my 10-inch cock, you midget!") Seems the hierarchy is a little complex to be utilized on the go.
But I did manage to resolve the mystery, at least partly, of why people say such apparently nonsensical things to a tranny dyke. The tribal-tattooed midget jerk obviously had a pat answer that he would use with any biological female challenging his right not to share equipment. Which made me realize that the "bustier" comment was also probably an autopilot remark. A neuron fired in my coworker's brain that said "biological female" and then out popped "bustier." Our cultural thinking about gender is that tangled up with our a priori need to determine whether people are male or female. Wouldn't it be better if we thought about people like dogs—I mean, who really cares what their sex/gender is?
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Minimum wage in Texas, place of your bloggerbot's previous residence: $5.15
Minimum wage in California, state where he now blissfully resides: $9.14
Unlike Texas, California also protects its citizens from discrimination on the basis of gender identity. So does New York City. Protective laws, or lack thereof, will likely determine the outcomes of two cases hot off the wire. A transgender woman in New York was refused admittance into Loehmann's dressing rooms. She is suing, and will almost certainly win because the store's policy violates city law. A woman in Texas had an employment offer rescinded when the would-be employer, River Oaks Imaging and Diagnostic, learned she was transgendered. She has sued. According to the suit, the company claimed "she misrepresented herself as a woman," brazenly announcing the reasons for its actions because there are no laws against them.
Go west, young man, go west. (Or move to New York, but I hear there are no butches there.)
The Washington Post has weighed in on the Santhi Soundarajan scandal. I'm disturbed that the coverage is in the "Off the Beaten Path" blog, whose author claims to "scour the far reaches of cyberspace to find the oddest news from around the world." But the Post's Executive Editor, Jim Brady, contributed to the piece, giving it some credibility. The Post clarifies that, indeed, Soundarajan's condition was in no way self-induced. It doesn't indicate whether her condition may have given Soundarajan a leg up, as it were, on the competition. Amazingly, the Post proposes testing all athletes and creating a third, gender neutral competitive classification for those whose test results are ambiguous. We just hit the mainstream through the back door, as it should be.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Well, and, fags maybe are a bit oversexed. To be continued.
Two D.C.-area Episcopal churches seceded yesterday, establishing themselves as a jerry-rigged Virginia branch of the African Anglican Communion under the leadership of Archbishop Peter Akinola. Akinola is Nigerian, and supports that country's laws prerventing gays from meeting in public and sentencing them to jail time for their private encounters. The churches' votes were a reaction to Episcopalians' growing acceptance of homosexuality, which culminated in the 2003 election of an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, as bishop--a move which was obviously more extreme than joining a ravingly homophobic church from another continent.
Santhi Soundarajan, 25, took the silver medal for India in the women's 800-meter track event at the Asian Games last week. Afterwards, she submitted to a voluntary gender test. What exactly a gender test is remains a mystery, but Sports Illustrated reports that "a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist and internal medicine specialist" conducted it. An Indian official indicated that Sounderajan appeared to have (quoting SI) "more Y chromosomes than allowed."
Where to start on that one…than allowed? By whom? It's not clear what the Asian Games' standards on gender are. And it seems that the chromosomal abnormalities that more or less resemble the official's descriptions do not have any bearing on how fast someone might run. (Research, thanks to Wikipedia, here and here.)
However, South Asian Media Net quotes former International Olympic Committee member Ashwini Kumar saying that “the prize money is so high that athletes take to shortcuts to win." So perhaps there is some chromosomal abnormality which is both a cinch to bring on and makes you incredibly fast.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Being a bulldagger in the workplace is a lot like being a bull in a china shop. After working for years outside conventional office spaces, I hadn’t realized how, by refuting mainstream, middle-class assumptions, the alternative worldview I’d come to hold was actually a point-by-point rejection of the way you need to act in an office. (My office is cooler than most, but it’s still got fluorescent lighting and a cubicle city.)
You're wearing that to work?
First and foremost, to fit in at the office, you need to look middle class: The office is the cathedral of the middle-class. The less style you have, the better. The goal is not to be so individual that people have to confront the raw fact that you have a background and a personality that you embody even at work. (This is the limit on our tolerance of difference: It’s OK to be gay or black, it’s just not OK to act gay or black, because that makes mainstream folks realize that they, too, are just a sub-culture.)
The best way to show that you fit in is to opt for clothes from the Gap, preferably khaki, or for preppy classics like wool sweaters and corduroys. The worst way is to wear vintage clothes. Vintage is the essence of alternative culture: You buy from a separate market, and you don’t spend all of your disposable income buying things—new couch, new leather jacket, new dishes, tsotchkes by Pottery Barn. Vintage clothes look great on the street, but in the fluorescent light of the office—where most people don’t recognize the look you’re going for anyway—they just look poor. And poor says, you don’t belong here. The other half of butch fashion is working class uniform chic. Also not a good way to remind your bosses that you're not, in fact, the janitor and that you would like to be considered for that exciting new editorial position. Butch fashion is, overall, a good way to put your name at the top of the layoffs list. Which is likely why butch dykes make, on average, much less than femme dykes (preliminary data, according to the Williams Institute).
That's just inappropriate.
I've spent years finding a way to be my brainy self and my butch self at the same time.
In queer culture, including GLBT nonprofits, it's pretty normal to talk about sex (sans details) and make sexual jokes. Sexual jokes are not acceptable in the straight workplace, and your coworkers let you know by giving you that pinched-mouth, eye-rolling look that says "What you're saying isn't refreshingly naughty, it's frighteningly beyond help." Suddenly your hip, smart, progressive coworker is looking and acting a lot like a church mom. And yet, the straighter the environment, the more I feel the need to say something that marks me as queer; it's hard to do that without being sexual in some way.
Advancing the homosexual agenda
Of course, butches also face the same hurdles that other minorities do. If you're the only woman on the board, you don't want to focus too much on women's issues for fear of being dismissed as a stereotype. Likewise, if you're the only dyke—which is always the case everywhere but
Even at a publication where people are by and large not homophobic, it's hard to get gay issues covered. Gays make up just 4 to 9 percent of the population. So when I proposed a graph looking at how being mainstream pays—men earn more than women, straight men earn more than gay men, married heterosexuals earn more than cohabitating heterosexuals, and preliminary data suggests that gender normative queers earn more than gender deviant ones—the greatest interest was in the comparison between the two kinds of heterosexuals. The concern was legitimate in its way: Most readers are heterosexual and middle class. Facts about other groups aren't as interesting to them about facts about themselves. Yet, the idea that they have pruned their personalities to fit in the workaday world is not an idea that they can capture; they can't see the forest for the trees.
In which I impersonate that feminist who has no sense of humor
And even well-meaning non-homophobic coworkers occasionally fail to see that gay jokes simply aren't funny. Most homophobia, at least of the quotidian variety as opposed to the getting-tied-to-the-stake-and-lit-on-fire variety, comes in the form of jokes. Often the humor behind the telling is meant to be something like "of course I don't really believe it, but you've got to admit it's funny." Larry David, with his endless "not that there's anything wrong with that" shtick, is the worst at this. If there's nothing wrong or titillating about queer sexuality, why are we talking about it ad infinitum?
Now, if I were to point out either of the previous two points to my coworkers, I call the phenomenon that would ensue "Hell hath no fury like privilege called out."
We’re all getting drinks after work.
There are a lot of really great straight people out there. Just do not put them all in a room together! They start to speak another language. Suddenly, the smart, powerful, feminist women I work with reveal that they, too, love to talk about clothes. Words I don't understand occur about 2.3 times per sentence. My coworkers don't understand why I never get drinks with them, but that's why. The one time I tried, I was introduced to the word cougar, and learned that my young male coworkers were so easily impressed by the mere sight of a pair of boobs, that they almost went home with said cougars. (This brings out the "boys, let me tell you how it's done" side of me, which I think ultimately doesn't help advance the homosexual agenda.) The 35-and-up crowd, which is technically my age group, busies themselves talking almost exclusively about real estate. (People who spend their days keeping their personalities to a minimum in tiny office cubicles compensate for it on the weekends. They sprawl out in enormous vehicles and take to the open road. They head to the largest store they can find, with the biggest things: Home Depot. There they buy things to fix up their homes, to personalize the one space they can.) I have nothing to contribute to the real estate conversation, because being butch and middle class eerily resembles being a vegetarian polar bear—I keep looking for the foliage.
Just a quick note to let you know I do my research: The Human Rights Campaign has done a study of employment realities for GLBT people. They find that everything is peachy, and getting peachier every day. But their survey is voluntary and there are only a few states with discrimination laws covering sexuality, much less gender performance, so HRC has only a carrot to use. Read between the lines, though. HRC sent the survey to more than 1,500 companies. 446 responded; 203 prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Legislators took the cowardly course yesterday, opting for civil unions. I can't get too riled up about that personally because I don't believe in marriage anyway. But I do think the people who defend the institution of marriage are starting to sound a lot like Neanderthals.
Bush called in 2004 for "an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of man and woman as husband and wife."
The day after the New Jersey decision, Bush said, "We believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman."
The same day, racist George Allen said, "I’m for marriage between a man and a woman while my opponent is against it." Actually Democrat James Webb, who won, does not, in fact, oppose heterosexual marriage; he does, however, oppose gay marriage.
The Arlington Group, a creepy coalition of congressional Republicans and Christian right organizations which has been one of the most powerful forces behind anti-gay marriage amendments, defines its mission as "Protecting the traditional institution of MARRIAGE being between 'one man and one woman.'" Perhaps they got a little self-conscious about the caveman-like repetition of "one man and one woman," and so included the quotes. Or then again maybe they have no basic understanding of punctuation.
In a creepy twist, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, who beat Harold Ford, said "I voted...to prohibit same sex marriage because it protects...the sanctity of marriage between a man and women."
And finally, New Jersey Senator Robert W. Singer, a Republican who sponsored an amendment to yesterday's civil unions bill that would define marriage as—you guessed it—the union between a man and a woman, explained, "I believe the foundation of our state is families, marriage, one man, one woman."
The problem is, when you try to add any substance to the the caveman formula, you quickly get into trouble. Len Deo, the president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, made that mistake yesterday, saying "People have rights, but they don’t have a right to redefine an institution that’s served us well for 2,000 years."
Which institution would that be?
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I never cease to be amazed at how many people express earnest concern that butch/femme dynamics and FTMs reaffirm normative gender roles. Admit it, dear reader, you've been worried that Gender 3.0 is doing the Man's work.
The criticism of masculine identification comes from many directions. There are lesbians on Craigslist (I'm a dyke looking for someone else who looks like a dyke; I'm not interested in butch/femme), old-school feminists and crunchymen.
As for old-school feminists, read Dorothy Allison and others. I don't have the energy to go through it again (although, unfortunately, lots of young lesbians seem perfectly willing to recreate 70s politics again and again).
It's hard for me to understand why some lesbians of my generation get so outraged by butch/femme. Butches and femmes single-handedly created lesbian culture. They fought at Stonewall, literally. But nothing is better than theorizing about what you don't understand. And because I don't know any butches or femmes who judge and criticize lesbians who identify as andro or resist gender categorization altogether, my theory is this:
(1) Lesbians who don't find butch/femme hot are irritated that it takes up so much of their cruising space. There is a scarcity problem in lesbian culture, so their concern would be perfectly understandable if they would just be honest about it. But butches and femmes are actually minorities in the lesbian world, so why all the tweeners feel like an oppressed majority is perhaps the subject of another post.
(2) Some lesbians who resist categorization do so because they're really not clear on who they are. The presence of butch/femme dynamics has created a language of gender in the lesbian community—not just butch and femme, but tomboy femme, femme-of-center, soft butch, faggy butch, andro, lipstick lesbian and so on—with which fluency is expected, so these uncertain lesbians feel pressured to define themselves and get grouchy.
Now crunchymen are, in my experience, some of the worst, most insidious sexists out there. They don't clean up after themselves; they have a creepy sense of entitlement and inflated self-importance that they will never admit has to do with their gender. And they accuse me of reifying gender norms.
Let's imagine for a moment that I do just that. I believe I deserve special treatment because I identify as male. How far do they think I'd get with that? Do they think bosses and cops will bow down before my grubby tranny self? Because they don't. Cops treat me like any freak who needs to be controlled: Wear Lesbian Avengers shirt; get arrested. Bosses pretty much treat me like a girl, who, like any girl, has no right to take herself so seriously. But then they justify their sexism by claiming to think of me as a man—and one who, obviously, reaffirms normative gender roles. And just so we're clear that I don't subscribe to normative gender roles, let me make explicit that women bosses are every bit as bad about this as men. And lesbian bosses can be the worst, because they feel a little castrated.
But if I did hold pretty conventional views of masculinity and femininity, why should I take the fall for those norms? I mean, wouldn't it be more productive to take one's complaints to centers of power like the military and the boardroom? Is one lone trannydyke doing more to affirm gender norms than to break them down? And why do I have to explain what I think masculinity is and why I think I'm more masculine than feminine before people will accept my choice to identify as male?
That's like asking someone to define the meaning of life before giving them a birth certificate.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Special note to fags: stop calling butches ladies. It's annoying, and we're a lot stronger than you.
When I break down and go into the women's room (usually at the airport), some woman-passing-as-a-transvestite will shriek and pronounce that I'm in the wrong restroom. (I'm embarrassed to admit it, but someone once told me to tell my mother I was too old to be in the ladies' room. But that was years ago.)
Restrooms are the only trans topic anyone could call overdone, so I won't dwell there for long. But I do have a few quick complaints about the men's room. No one likes to be presumed guilty until proven innocent—of crapping. Oh, and guys, did you know women's rooms sometimes have fancy fountains and stuff? That's because they're not always filthy.
But back to Murphy's Law. When you identify as butch, somebody will say "you're not that butch." Let's call this butch denial, which is a lot like climate change denial—it's not that hot! Denial in both cases is an attempt to remain on the firm ground of the status quo, without having to change the way you think or act. (Pretty much just to be mean, I'm linking to Senator James Inhofe's [PDF] magnum opus of climate change denial. And to Mother Jones' proof that ExxonMobile funds the scientists Inhofe cites.)
To get butch deniers to admit that it's possible to be genuinely masculine in a female body, you'd have to be a catastrophe of butchness—6'5" with a body builder's physique and mean to boot: Hothead Paisan on meth and testosterone. But at that point, it's no longer a question of masculinity in a female body; the body has been brought in to line. And, what's more, this Incredible Hulk/Hothead Paisan hybrid would be such a laughable stereotype that the deniers wouldn't have to take hir seriously. So no need to change one's thinking--or lack thereof--about gender after all. Phew.
As for femmes, Murphy's Law says that no matter how many times they come out to straight people, said people will "forget" that they are, in fact, lesbians. Now, lady-lovin' butches and trannies might not forget repeatedly, but we've been known to assume the worst (heterosexuality) until told otherwise. Sorry ladies.
And now, for two "user-driven content" opportunities (it's the interweb, after all!): femmes, post comments with your experiences with Murphy's Law of Gender and Sexuality. And, butches/transmen, in the spirit of Holla Back, send me pictures of the women-passing-as-transvestites, Midwestern butch straight ladies, and others who have challenged your right to be in the women's room. Or wiener dudes who've challenged your right to be in the men's room. (Let's face it, at this point, you all have my email address!)
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Eating too much soy turns men gay, reports WorldNetDaily, a conservative news site run by Joseph Farah, a member of the vast right wing media conspiracy masquerading as a defender of the First Amendment.
This article has less scientific evidence than it says a "soy-damaged" man has testosterone, so there's no need to argue with its thesis. But let's look at it as an example of what's wrong with the right-wing media's case against queers.
-- It says "homosexuality" when it means male homosexuality. I've written about that elsewhere, so I won't repeat myself.
-- It never actually talks about homosexuality at all. What it does say is:
In fetal development, the default is being female. All humans (even in old age) tend toward femininity. The main thing that keeps men from diverging into the female pattern is testosterone, and testosterone is suppressed by an excess of estrogen.
Setting aside the obvious problem that gender performance and sexuality aren't the same thing, the article presents a worldview in which masculinity is under constant assault by femininity and must therefore be defended. Is this really a problem we should be devoting time to?
-- The big scary word "homosexual" also diverts attention from the real problem with soy, which is caused by the big businesses whose metaphorical dicks Christian conservatives love to metaphorically suck. (Our industrial agriculture system forces farmers to grow too much corn and soybeans, which big companies buy cheap and put into every processed food they can sell.)
-- The article attempts to generate more essential behavior differences between men and women. Women eat soy; men cease to be men if they do. That's almost as dumb as having men's coats button one way and women's another.
-- Most right-wing writing about gay issues uses facts as loosely as this one: Soy simulates estrogen; estrogen is produced by women (though it's also produced by men, just as testosterone is produced by women); therefore soy causes men to be like women, a.k.a. gay.
-- And, finally, the piece never says what's wrong with being gay. I mean, for a reactionary publication, couldn't they do better than the meak claim that "homosexuality is always deviant," especially if it's so easy to catch? Pussies.
Your butchbloggerbot is up on current events. So what does he have to say about gay evangelicals? Given his propensity for in-betweenness, he's of two minds (and from this point forward, he promises to stop using the third person).
On the one hand, you go, guys! The GLBT community is diverse, and ought to be tolerant of all things except hate. The view of religion that the men and women (mostly men) in the article embrace is ostensibly not one of hate. As such, it is a move in the direction of dismantling the false marriage of conservative hate politics and religion. An extreme reading of religion has allowed the right to get away with too much crap for too long, including having pastors tell their parishioners how to vote. That ain't in the Bible, people—and it sure as hell isn't in the Constitution!
On the other hand, orthodox religion lends itself to this kind of abuse. (Religion has a long history of justifying ill treatment of infidels—just a quick glance at the Middle East will do, where Jews abuse Arabs and vice-versa and Sunnis abuse Shi'ites and vice-versa. Lots on Sunnis and Shi'a on the MojoBlog these days).
In order to keep people in line with its rigid logic of us vs. them and right vs. wrong, religion tends to shun sexuality. All sexuality—hence the absurd condemnation of contraception among Catholics and some religious-righters. That's because people in touch with their sexuality quickly learn that (a) attraction can’t be explained or changed, (b) what’s taboo is hot, and (c) it’s possible to take something taboo and do it consensually, making consent the only right/wrong issue in sexual behavior. Being in touch with your sexuality might also lead you to get intimate with people who don’t share your ideas or your background, forcing you to take a crash course in empathy for the other. Sunnis falling in love with Shi'ites, Christians falling in love with Jews: not good for orthodox religion. If gay evangelicals are actually bringing sexual love back into the religious equation, props. But at least one of the men in the Times article has made a purity vow, so I question whether there's not still a healthy dose of self-hate and mistrust of sexuality going on.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
The hipster army—the 20-something with the Beatles cut, a 60s suit and sliver tie with awkward dress shoes, and his friend with the form-fitting black jeans and low-rise Converse sneakers with thick, longish hair—is what gets to me. These guys wear gender with such light irony. They embrace the strength of masculinity, but wear strength’s concomitant burdens as a grief of sorts, not belligerence. To their wash-and-wear masculinity, they bring the politics of nonconformity and the sheer aestheticism of androgyny. These guys are hot. They’re the men I want to be.
There’s no comparable way for masculine or transgender dykes to ride the line of gender. Instead, we gear up with Harley-Davidson T-shirts, big boots, shaved heads—at worst, all three together—and, of course, the de rigueur baggy jeans. These hide our asses and hips. You see, I can’t wear tight black jeans. I would look like one of those creatures that’s one thing on top and another on the bottom: a butch upper body soldered onto the lower body of a hipster girl who’d suddenly gotten too big for her pant size. (It’s key to the hipster look in either gender to be skinny and have absolutely no muscle tone.)
I could take testosterone, and my body fat would shift, like magic, away from hips and ass and onto belly. That would be great, except I’d also turn into a bushy-bearded short man, possibly bald, definitely dickless. That hardly feels like a solution to my particular gender dysphoria. Then, after my voice changed—if it did—and I developed body hair, I would have to lower my dose only to have my fat distribution—the very thing standing between me and gorgeous, casual masculinity—return to its feminine default setting.
At least I could let my hair get bushy and wear tight T-shirts, right? Tight T-shirts wouldn’t work. And bushy hair on a female face doesn’t impose the same irony that it does on a male one—the boxy strength of the face violated by messy long hair, which is usually a little greasy. The softened face that says mainstream masculinity—pig-faced, fist-pumping spectator sport—is dumb. And says, I’m not confused, or filled with some stereotypical, irrelevant rage; I’m just waiting for something better to come along.
Saturday, December 9, 2006
I’ve been told several times in the last few weeks that I’m a dying breed. I’m a butch dyke of 35, living in
But gender is a funny thing: It’s all relative. I thought being a dyke had taught me that lesson — I notice who’s more butch, who’s more femme, and a million permutations thereof. But the boom in testosterone-taking ex-butches has revealed how butch itself is a relative category. The more tranny boys there are, the more not taking testosterone seems like an expression of some unacknowledged allegiance to femininity. No, I don’t feel any connection to the word woman, but feeling awkward in the women’s bathroom doesn’t mean I feel like I was born to use the men’s room — especially when, testosterone or no, I will always have to sit to pee. I can’t bring myself to think that making my body adhere to the man category is the answer when, after over ten years of queer life, the gender binary (woman = feminine, man = masculine; woman ≠ man) strikes me as comically clumsy — naïve and absurdly autocratic.
Don’t panic: I’m not going to argue that all FTMs take us back to overly simplistic ideas of gender. Such generalizations are useless and don’t ultimately advance the ideal of gender chaos. But the physical trappings of manhood — except one or two that testosterone can’t give — have not been the things I have aspired to or identified with. I may walk and fuck a lot like a man, but mostly I am masculine in the ways I feel: I am tough and fiercely self-sufficient and find myself in pissing contests, even though I think they're stupid; I go awkwardly rigid when it comes to tenderness and vulnerability; I feel completely entitled to experience desire without guilt, shame or obligation and to speak my mind as I see fit. At times, I do want to feel testosterone running through my veins, like a drug I was meant to have, to give these feelings physical form. Would a low dose (one too low to change my voice or body hair) make me more of a man, in society’s view? I don’t think so, because society cannot see gender anywhere but on the physical body. I think I would still be seen as a mannish, militant lesbian who doesn’t know her place by those who disapprove of me, and as some version of butch by those who get it.
But I’m not a woman who refuses to accept her place; I’m not a woman — for me, personally, the word is irredeemably steeped in its connotations of motherhood and nurturing. (For this, I blame the Second Wave feminists.) The constitutive thrill of being a male-identified dyke is feeling like those prescriptions simply don’t apply. Problem is, femmes and other gender-savvy dykes tend to be the only ones who recognize this basic fact of masculine gender identity.
People, in my experience, have a strong desire to be seen for what they are, or, at least for the good things they are. That’s why the thought of injecting testosterone crosses my mind at times — say, when I’m sweating my balls off picking up trash for the city to work off parking tickets. I’m in Dickies and an old T-shirt. It’s me and the homeboys; there are no straight women or femmes or even middle-class folks doing it. Then somebody comes up (with the class-blind expectation that because I “work for” the city, I will have handy information at my fingertips) and addresses me with “Miss!” Miss? I may have the tiniest hint of breasts, but doesn’t the combination of actions, attitude and attire speak louder? People who call me “miss,” or who apologize profusely after calling me “sir,” mistake me for some poor old frump who can’t help but look mannish. But I am more in charge of my gender than they are: I have negotiated it; I know who I am and I like it.
Some butches probably transition because they’re tired of dealing with these situations. Their choice may be politically retrograde or politically radical or neither — only time will tell. But nobody said it would be easy to overturn social expectations, and it’s really no surprise that society willfully misreads attempts to loosen its categorical shackles. One such attempt comes in the form of folksy advice: It’s best not to give a fig how others see you. Aside from the fact that no one is comfortable being misread profoundly and negatively — they may not have experienced it, but I’m quite sure they wouldn’t like it — this advice ignores the basic fact that refusing to see people in all their complexity furthers the cause of discrimination.
But that same tone deafness is what has allowed the category of butch to exist at all. “Butch” is a space between the poles of gender and would play quite differently if the poles disappeared. The current explosion of FTMs is already shifting how it plays, and what it's called. As a dyke dude, I could feel emasculated by FTMs’ ballsier embrace of masculinity. Sometimes, say when I see them at the gym lifting twice as much weight as I can, I do. But sometimes I feel ballsier than they are for pushing the gender envelope in a more active way that FTMs who pass — or at least for walking away from a potential pissing contest with them. Being butch is a claim that can be rejected (unlike, say, being biologically female), and some butches and tranny boys respond by needing to be more masculine than the next dyke to feel masculine at all.
I will admit to being uncomfortable with the popularity of transitioning to the extent that at least some people are doing it to win at that game — a perfectly reasonable desire for your early twenties, but not one worth shaving a few years off of your life for. (Testosterone is hard on the liver and may be linked to various kinds of cancer--no one knows because no one researches it.) But because male-identified dykes are also often judged harshly for reaffirming patriarchal biases, I’m inclined to abstain from judgment. I generally think it’s better not to fret that FTMs are limiting the scope of gender play in the dyke community. The decision to transition or not to transition can be a reflection of which aspects of masculinity different people connect with, or which strategy they employ to break through the walls of binary gender. Or maybe the polarity that has resulted from some butches’ choice to transition reveals what most lesbians already knew: Gender is so complicated that sleeping with biological females is not a very strong glue with which to hold a community together. (Note to homophobes: It’s our shared experience of oppression that really connects us as a community.)
Whatever the case, testosterone isn’t a magic key to a brave new world where gender diversity — and perversity — are valued. That should go without saying. Meanwhile, some of us are still holding down the butch fort, which is — in case it’s never occurred to you that butches look working class because we can’t get better jobs— still very much under attack. Now it’s also on shifting ground.