21 January 2010

A brief treatise on wanking

Some readers may recall that Melissa McEwan recently broke the stunning news that John Edwards is a wanker. But enough about Mr. Edwards, I'm interested in wanking. Not just generally, but also strictly for reals linguistically. Several folks in that thread asserted that “wanker” was a gendered insult. My initial reaction was also that, yeah, when guys are insulted by the implication that they'd rather masterbate than, say, talk honestly with loved ones about important matters, they are in fact wankers. When women do the same, they're, er..... and then nothin'.

I'm not that interested in building a strawwang here, so I'd like to point out that Liss, deeky, Merriam and/or Webster have already put forth that wankers (and wanking) are gender neutral. Good for them. But I digress. I can find less reputable dictionaries written by uninformed Americans that say otherwise. And in the end, isn't that what really matters?

Here are a few questions for y'all to discuss:
Is wanking a gendered term (in your estimation)?
What gender(s) of people do you hear referred to as wankers?
What's the frequency?

More importantly:
Are the terms that you can think of for masturbation typically gender-specific?
If so, are there more terms alloted to any particular gender?
Is there any gender that you hear more typically insult by implied masturbatory exploits?

And best of all:
What's the origin of these terms?
Are they descriptive?
When we say a masturbational term is gender-neutral, is it because the term has gender neutral roots, or is it a term that refers to one gender (e.g. guys) that people frequently expand to include references to folks outside of that gender?

I've always had the impression that there's a lot more talk about masturbation in males than in the rest of us, regardless of whether insult is implied. This also makes me think that there's a larger culturally understood vocabulary for male masturbation than for female masturbation. Both of these hypotheses may also explain why many of us perceive wanker as a gendered term.

My minimal research hasn't been of much use. I'm not the type of person to suggest that my partner pose such questions to women she meets at a gay bar. Regardless of what certain folks in the Psychology department at Northwestern think, this isn't a valid methodology for scientific research, so I'd never post the results here :cough: weird looks :cough:. A brief survey of fiction in our household yielded similarly tangential results. Maybe we should be reading Philip Roth. In any case, I thank the internets for turning smut into work. (If there are any academics out there that write off erotica on their tax returns, do let me know.)

To wrap up, academic jibberish, cultural erasure of female sexual agency and vague references to how testosterone and Darwin totally make for teh horny (for reals, in * totes objective science reality * ) explain all.

Most comments that refrain from mentioning Inuit people and snow are encouraged at this point.

08 January 2010

I make everything not about Mary Daly

My heartfelt condolences to friends of Mary Daly, and to the women everywhere who her work touched in a positive way.

I don't have a lot to say about Daly, but rather the reaction to it in the feminist blogosphere. Her work and its legacy is continuing source of harm to a lot of transsexual people, notably transsexual women. Daly's brand of feminism didn't take into account the realities of people of color, or heterosexual women, or a lot of people, really. Yet, she was an extraordinarily important figure in 20
th century feminism and inspired countless women to fight for social justice.

Various bloggers (as is not uncommon, I'm crushing on Sady at Tiger Beatdown) have framed Daly's legacy as a complicated and not entirely positive one. What's depressingly unsurprising is the amount and nature of the acrimony I've seen. Some commenters attacked Melissa McEwan for, well, I'm not exactly sure what, but their point seems to be that she wasn't being mean enough to Daly. Oh! Is anyone in the mood for transphobia? I've seen folks use Daly's passing as an opening to give their opinions about what's wrong with transsexual women (e.g., why Daly was right), tell us what to do with our bodies, imply that we don't know how to read, rehash what they think is wrong with the term “cis.” Also, you may have never heard that Leslie Feinberg makes stuff up (I don't get it, but I hear that a lot from folks who tend not to like trans people). And there were these trans people once who were really mean, so you know, all trans people are.... Bingo!!!!! Speaking of not racist, did you know that Audre Lorde was on the drugs?

Historiann makes a lot of really good points about the blogosphere's limitations, although I have to disagree with what I see as her implication that transsexual women are some sort of fringe group, and that we can't please all the people all the time, and.... Anyhow, the thread on that post contains a subset of the nasty things I mentioned above, verifying some of the issues that Historiann sees with discourse on internet.

So, like any good blogger, I'm going to discuss Mary Daly by changing the subject to something entirely different. Germaine Greer, goddess be praised, is still with us. She's also written some incredibly hateful things about transsexual women. I'm not talking about “back in the day”, either. As late as 2009, she's been publicly railing against us-- there's simply no way one can talk about Greer's transphobia as a historical phenomenon that contrasts with her recent private views. As the whole Rachel Padman outing shows, Greer hasn't just been interested in saying mean things about trans women-- she's actually had the follow through to actively hurt specific trans women. All of this, I don't like so much.

Speaking of which, last year I was exploring programs to involve the public in urban ecology and insect conservation. I occasionally do this sort of thing, on account of how it's somewhat related to my job, and my Ph. D. research, and I find it interesting and worthwhile. It turns out that there's this great group out in the UK, Buglife, that does really great things. I was impressed, and spend some time poking around their website. Eventually, Germaine Greer's name turned up. Multiple times. On account of how she's the president of the organization.

In my mind, Germaine Greer has done some things that are, well, I don't like the word unforgivable, and I'm not sure if it applies here, but it's certainly close. She's also done (and is doing) some really laudable things. Oh! Here's the kicker-- devil Greer and angel Greer are like, totally the same person! What do you do with a person like that? I've often wondered what would happen if I met Greer for cookies and tea. I mean, wow... what would we talk about? Would we be able to talk? Anyhow, we're not exactly neighbors, so that's an unlikely scenario.

Mary Daly and Germaine Greer symbolize a much larger issue that I face as a transsexual woman-- that of a world of people, including fundamentally good people (which frankly, is most of them) that say or do (or don't do) certain things that offend me. I know plenty of people who say great things about Daly or Greer, do I cut them out of my life for siding with “the enemy”? Should I stop listening to Le Tigre on account of the band's mention of Greer in Hot Topic? Do I owe Kathleen Hanna a letter?

This isn't just about famous feminists or the lineup at the Michigan Women's Music Festival. Literally every day, I find myself interacting with people, friends even, who are blinded by cissexual privilege. And yes, I am using the words literally, every, and day correctly-- heads it's salad for for dinner, tails you've said or done something that I've found deeply hurtful. Sometimes comments come out from people who don't know that I'm trans. Other times, acquaintances know that I'm trans, but say things about trans people that they don't intend to apply to me on account of how I'm totally not like other trans people. Every single day of my life I need to deal with people who I have a complicated relationship with-- including friends and loved ones who are really, truly, awesome people, yet don't entirely get the trans thing. Transphobia-- our society is soaking in it, and I can't simply choose to live in a alternate universe where this isn't the case. People are complicated. Life is complicated.

Which brings me back to Mary Daly, who as C. L. Minou points out in something she posted while I was working on this, is a complicated woman. Wave-particle duality comes to mind. Discussing Daly's life isn't just a matter of choosing between black or white. Daly doesn't simply present as a shade of gray. Her legacy can be both black and white. How one chooses to eulogize Daly depends on where one is coming from. While am I resolute in my conviction that it's important to acknowledge all of the harm Daly did to my community, I also respect that this does not prevent her from being a “good person”.

Discussing complicated people is difficult. However, if I can find I way to navigate society, and if physicists can find a way to explain light, I'd like to think we can have a respectful conversation about the legacy of Mary Daly. Thank you to each and every one of you who has attempted to make that conversation a reality.

11 December 2009

Dear Bilerico....

I hate you. Please go away, and take your smug cissexual "allies" with you.

I really can't muster many words at the moment. After hearing about [TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of epic transphobia] your latest failure, I'm heading home for the afternoon for some hot tea and a soothing bath. Maybe I'll hide under the covers for a while.

Seriously? This shit [I'm not linking to it, wade over to the original piece at your own risk] is a hazard to my mental health. I can't be the only trans person who feels this way. I'd add that your shit is also a hazard to my physical health, given the logical consequences of having yet another public "dialogue" about such "challenging" issues.

And yes, I do struggle with mental illness, and yes, I am seeing people about it. Look, I know a substantial portion of the population hates me, views me as broken, defective, deviant, and dangerous. I know that there are plenty of folks out there who, either through privilege or active hostility, want to hurt me and my family. I know this, because it's fucking happened. And yes, I know that plenty of supposed cissexual "allies" speak harshly about me. This shit can be hard to deal with, you know?

Surely, you know what it's like to live on guard. You've had practice steeling yourself against the next, unpredictable blow in a society that most of the time barely tolerates your existance. You know it's stressful and painful. I know this, because prior to several months ago, I regularly read many of your posts and the accompanying comment threads. Ironic is not the word I'm looking for. Cruel, perhaps.

Stop digging. I don't want to hear you talk about fostering dialogue (on whether my identity is valid), or challenging readers (about whether bigotry is acceptable), or about how you're not a safe space (Good for you! It must be so fun and "edgy" for you guys to not have to worry about people who aren't you). This is all so last week for me. And every week.

Thus, I ask you to STFU already. Seriously.

H/T: C. L. Minou, via Shakesville

N. B.: Hate is a strong word, and I'm not entirely sure that it's the correct word for what I'm feeling. I need time to process. Lest anyone Bilerico apologists take this as evidence of my hateful, unbalanced nature, permit me to remind you that I'm not the one passing off hate speech as part of a "debate".

30 November 2009

Why I love the internet

Here's a demographic breakdown of imdb.com ratings for a documentary on roller derby that I'm waiting to see. I was a bit shocked to see that it had a rating of 3.7 stars, especially considering I'd heard great things, including nice reviews from the two commenters. Then I looked at the breakdown of ratings. Notice anything?

20 November 2009

It's almost as if the Democrats have problem with the ladiez

As pretty much every person in the United States has noted, there are problems with the health care legislation under consideration in Congress. The bills assume women are aquaria, and that people who don't have insurance are lazy jerks who need to be punished (and here I am, thinking that being denied a basic human right is punishment enough). Minor issues.

However, the Senate Democrats have given me yet another reason for outrage. Under their bill, elective cosmetic medical procedures will be subject to a 5% tax.

Here, in a nutshell, are my main objections:
1) Women and transsexual men are the primary market for elective cosmetic medical procedures.
2) The people who get to decide what medical procedures are "elective" and "cosmetic" are typically cissexual men.

I understand the rationale for this tax. Democrats don't have the spine to make good people pay taxes. Why collect taxes from hard working folks who eek out a living speculating on real estate. If anything, they deserve a hug-- it must have been hard laying off all those people. Can't we just make the cast of The Hills pay for everything? Those folks are so annoying-- especially the superficial women. I suppose I should applaud the Democrats' creativity. Normally I'd expect them to raise taxes on cigarettes and Taco Bell, but they've found an even better target for their hatred than smokers and fat people.

I'm sure the Democrats counted on this being a non-controversial item. After all, only rich snotty women have elective cosmetic medical procedures. Except, as I alluded to above, there's a rich history of considering women's health issues to be tangential, even cosmetic, compared to real health problems.

I know I'm supposed to be placated by the fact that there's an exemption to the proposed tax for people who really truly need it. But again, who decides what is medically necessary? And where have I heard that term before? Oh, right... every time someone denies healthcare to transsexual people.

It's not enough that I already pay through the teeth for insurance that doesn't cover most of my medical bills. Never mind my eminent bankruptcy, due in part to the cost of past "elective cosmetic" medical procedures. And forget the fact that I've spent a great deal of time in the past several years trying to figure out how to pull tens of thousands of dollars out of thin air. And the fact that these medical bills aren't tax exempt, like "normal" medical bills for "normal" people. I'm sure I can always just pick up another job to pay the extra tax, just like I did that one time-- er, until I got fired for not having already completed the medical procedures I was trying to save for. But still, better to tax people like me than to make hard working, decent, normal people pay taxes. Thank guys, it means a lot. I'd write you a large check for your next campaign, but, well, you know.

As it turns out, someone over at one of those big blogs for normal feminist women was on the case, too. Apparently this isn't such a big deal, as lots of commenters noted that real feminists wouldn't ever have this kinda of icky surgery. Apparently this tax is downright progressive. At least the author has confirmed that she really wasn't considering trans people when she wrote the thread. Also, people with disabilities are icky.
Blogroll revised.

04 November 2009

They're Coming to America

Apparently immigrants are totally coming to America for the sole purpose of taking advantage of the world-class health care that we just give away to anyone who shows up at a doctor's office. And of course, this is a huge problem, because then a bunch of healthy foreigners are going to be roaming our streets.

From the New York Times:

Under some plans being considered by Congress, more than one million legal permanent residents and about seven million illegal immigrants who currently have no health insurance would be excluded from coverage, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.

Under all plans under consideration, immigrants who are excluded from new programs, including illegal immigrants, would still be required to buy health insurance.

and it goes without saying that:
Democrats broadly agree that illegal immigrants should be excluded [from participation in government health care programs]


30 October 2009


I’d like to totally undercut my credibility by mentioning that I hadn’t heard of this particular case prior to today. I’d be grateful to hear from folks with knowledge of asylum policies. I’m especially interested to hear how the US compares to other nations.

I ran across an absolutely better-than-bad, and in many ways good [trigger warning for descriptions of domestic violence] story in the New York Times this morning. The Obama administration has recommended that the US grant political asylum to Ms. Rody Alvarado Peña, who entered the country after escaping from an abusive husband in her native Guatemala background here. According to the Times, activists are hopeful that Alvarado’s case will set a precedent for abused women seeking asylum, and that it will ultimately lead to a coherent, humane asylum policy. If a Federal immigration judge goes along with the administration’s recommendation, Ms. Alvarado will be allowed to stay in the US, rather than being sent back to a potentially deadly situation. This is good news.

Not to be a buzzkill, but this story reminds me of something Angela Davis brought up a couple of weeks ago when she was giving a lecture out here. She mentioned the understandable happiness that many New Yorkers were feeling when Governor Paterson signed a measure that prohibited the shackling of pregnant prisoners during delivery. Clearly, the legislation in question was good, but a couple of things come to mind. First, it’s shocking that action from the legislature and Governor was a prerequisite to treating women like people. Second, New York became the sixth state to ban this practice (the Federal Bureau of Prisons did so last year). I’m pretty sure this doesn’t call for an “in your face, Jersey!,” ya’ know? Third, Davis said (a quick scan of the internet didn’t produce any links) that this piece of legislation had languished in Albany for 9 years, presumably because somebody was concerned about with the cons of not shackling pregnant prisoners.

Back to Ms. Alvarado’s case. She’s been in the United States for fourteen years. She’s also been in-and-out of immigration court for most of that time. While Ms. Alvarado has been living in limbo, her two children have grown up in Guatemala. As in the case of prison shackling, nobody (as far as I know) is debating the veracity of Ms. Alvarado’s story. The hand-wringing has been about whether the government should actually care enough to intervene. The US doesn’t have a policy in place that allows victims of domestic violence to seek asylum here. This case also doesn’t appear to be about whether we might, you know, create such a policy. Rather, Ms. Alvarado’s case turns on the issue of whether we can interpret existing statutes that protect politically persecuted classes to include her.

America’s policy towards battered women (or at least those who are being battered by spouses in foreign countries) appears to be getting better. As a result of slow deliberations, the U.S., according to the Times headline “May be Open to Asylum for Spouse Abuse.” Certainly, this is a step in the right direction, but also cause for us to consider our government’s hesitancy. I see two big stumbling blocks.

First, American society writ large seems to be concerned that people might actually want to come live here. Which people? For lack of a more nuanced way of putting it, plenty of Americans seem worried that poor brown people or other folks who totally don’t deserve the awesomeness that we have built for ourselves with our own hands and Godandthebibleandpickuptrucksamen are going to start coming here. Thus, we put would-be immigrants in the position of having to defend their right to live here. In the case of Ms. Alvarado, this means that rather than simply saying that she wants to be here, she has to give us a good reason. Moreover, someone, somewhere, gets to pass judgment (I believe the person in question is often called a judge, for obvious reasons) on whether that reason really is “good” (not in a philosophical sense, of course, but rather in the sense that it jives with how someone chooses to interpret the laws and policy that someone else has chosen to make).

Second, our distrust of certain foreigners and our concern that folks might actually be able to claim asylum has led to painfully deliberate policy. Ms. Alvarado and women like her can only claim asylum if someone in the American government decides that abused women are a politically persecuted class. The fact that the U.S. government may actually recognize that abused women constitute a politically persecuted class is interesting in its own right (and is yet another reason for a half-hearted parade). By the way, do you smell the lawyers yet? Fourteen years worth of lawyers? Obviously, there is an appeals process in place, ostensibly to protect applicants like Ms. Alvarado, who the government has ruled against. Still, it is Ms. Alvarado who is on trial here, not her abusivehusband. While in theory, our asylum policy is set up as tedious to minimize the number of people sent back to dangerous situations, as far as I can tell, the reality is just the opposite. Using this case as a benchmark, it appears (shockingly, I know) as though the American immigration system functions to minimize the chances that the wrong people might accidentally end up legally living in the United States. How else does one explain fourteen years and counting?

[crossposted at Shakesville]