Man-Womanly

“It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple;

one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. … Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One’s Own

Fatal. Deadly. Obsolete. Impossible.

To be a man pure and simple.

Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.

What follows is not a pure endorsement, but a mediation on Woolf’s words. How I wish I could just embrace Woolf word for word, but I can only embrace Woolf for what I believe she was trying to say. In her words I see myself, and many others, struggling to define themselves within, or outside of, the two-gender spectrum.

Most of us know there are not two genders.

Still, that won’t stop me from using man and woman here, because that’s how so many people will define us. Woolf is, I believed, trapped in the language of her time. Terms like “opposite genders,” “woman-manly,” and “man-womanly” to me, speak of a system she’s aware of, but using the system’s language. Were it possible for her to be introduced to the modern gender studies vocabulary, I don’t doubt she would happily adopt in terms like “gender spectrum.”

She might instead say: “It is impossible to be a man or woman purely. Period.” It is not so much that opposite genders must be married, or consummated, but that on this gender spectrum, we all lie defined between two ideas. If “Particle A” was man and “Particle B” was woman, and the rest of us were just particles nestled in between, we could only be defined by our proximity to Particle A or B, but we could not occupy the same space. The manliest man that you can think of is not a man purely. Men and women are ideas, the manliest man you can think of is, or was a human being, and humans are not ideas.

 

On Donald Trump

Forgive and progress.

Democracy happened last night. The result was not what I wanted, and it kept me up at night, but I have no adjectives that you haven’t heard before. I could tell you that this was the most dangerous vote in our country’s history, I could say I feel ashamed by my country, I could express my fear, but others are already writing about this much better than I ever could. I don’t see a value in serving up the same emotions, in a diluted, weaker voice. I can’t serve up anything but an imitation of the real thing.

See, Women, Muslims, LGBTQ, POC; so many others have already given this election result the descriptions it deserves, and here I am, a part of the demographic that voted 63% in favor of Donald Trump. As a part of the 31% of white men who did vote for Hillary Clinton, I’m left with a lot of questions, and I’m holding out hope of finding answers.

There has to be a lesson here.

I trust the people I ally with when they say Hillary Clinton lost this election in part, or entirely because of, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and islamophobia. For the 59 million votes cast for Donald Trump, at least 1 of those 5 traits is present in each voter. For the 6 million votes cast for third-party candidates, I don’t know. I hear arguments that voting for ideology over the safety of say, the black community, is a form of racism, and I see where that’s coming from.

A part of me worries about the fact that white, rural America sent a message last night, and that progressives aren’t going to listen, and if we don’t listen, we don’t retake the White House in 2020. With a Republican Congress, Donald is going to get things done, and if he pleases his electorate, and has good approval ratings, he’ll run again. When he does, if progressives again call Trump supporters unquestionably racist, sexist, etc. we will lose.

We’re going to need some of Donald Trump’s 59 million voters on our side in four years.

In the GOP postmortem of the 2012 campaign, it was concluded, more or less, that you can’t win the Latinex vote if the first word out of your mouth is “deportation” or they won’t listen to the next sentence. Progressives have no ground to gain by calling 59 million Trump voters racist, as they will too, ignore our very next sentence. We cannot and will not give up our morals and principles though, it’s the right thing to do and it makes us who we are. Young people, by and large, are on our platform, and they’re passionate about it, but old, generations-long racism and sexism, status-quo gender and sexuality norms, and deep-rooted Christianity is not going to die out in four years.

We’re going to have to teach and educate some people, and out of those 59 million people, some are redeemable. If you don’t believe that, then where is the hope? The time to forgive is coming soon; forgive those sins, heal, teach, and progress.

My Beard Did Not Invalidate My Femininity

Maybe I’m stating the obvious,

but when I started growing a beard this year, as a part of a New Year’s resolution to just be a hairier, happier human being — I wondered what facial hair would do my gender performance. I have messed around with facial hair in the past, but that was back before I changed my presentation drastically. With infinity scarves and fanciful flourishes came a clean-shaven look, and that felt right. That’s the me that a lot of people first met, everyone in the social justice academia space, whether it be secularists, the LGBTQ community, feminists, or all of the above, they met clean-shaved me. And hopefully they picked up on some queues I was throwing out there.

I suppose the concern about growing a beard was two-fold: I did not want to be perceived as being more masculine, nor did I want so sub-consciously start acting more masculine just because I was getting beardy.

But growing a beard didn’t change anything!

At least, it didn’t change anything about my gender performance. My overall style does feel a little bit different because it’s not a tightly-trimmed beard, so the whole “fancy flourishes” thing feels like it’s become a “scruffy artist” persona.

The most interesting thing about my beard is that I think it actually highlights anything feminine about my gender performance, rather than mask it. It creates contrast; it might make feminine performances more surprising; more jarring; it might make someone stop and think.

 

Let’s Talk Blade Runner (1982)

I heard Netflix was going to pull Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner on May 1st, which was the incentive I needed to finally watch this landmark film that I had ignored on my “Watchlist” for years. All I really knew going in was that this was a defining film in the Cyberpunk genre, starring Harrison Ford and dealing in topics of Descartes reality; what is real, how can we tell what is real? Perhaps I’m forgetting my philosophers, it’s been years since I’ve taken a philosophy course.

Anyways. First things first: did I like the movie? Yes, but it’s not perfect. For the record, I watched the theatrical cut – and from the sound of it I would have much preferred the director’s cut, which doesn’t include the really cheesy ending. That Rachael is this extra special Replicant that won’t die in four years feels overly optimistic; especially when Tyrell establishes with Roy how difficult it is to make the Nexus 6 Replicants live as long as they do. The ending of Deckard and Rachael driving off into the woods, with that line about Rachael being special and all of that, made me want to gag. There was already such a great “ending” with Edward James Olmos’ line “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?” Deckard reflects on that line  one more time, takes Rachael into the elevator to escape, and fade to black. Perfect ending; the Blade Runner goes on the run with his last target. My only problem with this is that this pivotal philosophy comes from EJO’s character Gaff, who isn’t established at all. Here’s all you, as the viewer, know about Gaff.

  1. Deckard’s former boss.
  2. Has a thing for origami, which makes him mysterious, I guess?

That’s really it – and maybe I’ll pick something up on a second view, but just because he’s mysterious doesn’t exactly earn him this moment. He needed dialogue. He needed something to make this turn in the story earned. Under-use of EJO = Strike #1.

Rachael Is Sorely Under-Used = Strike #2

I’m almost of the mind set that this should have been Rachael’s story. Deckard serves as our noir detective, and as a genre piece this is important, if not crucial. But it is easy for me to re-imagine this movie where Rachael is the focus, and Deckard the supporting character.

I’m not sure what the trajectory of Deckard’s character is. He’s tired of violence, does his “one last job” falls in love and runs away. I suppose he comes to understanding the humanity of the Replicants; but as someone tired of killing them, he must already be sympathetic on some level. Deckard isn’t so different from an American Slave Hunter, right? These Replicants that are Tyrell Corp. property occasionally escape the off-world colonies where they are forced to work, and as a Blade Runner it’s his job to retire them. Roy and Leon even explicitly say to him how “To live in fear… that’s what it is to be a slave.” Is Blade Runner basically the story of a reluctant Slave Hunter realizing his targets were more human than he could have imagined? I guess I should say that I’m absolutely sure of Deckard’s trajectory, I’m just not sure whether it sustains the movie on its own. It leaves me with a lot of philosophical quandaries; very few regarding Deckard, and almost all concerning Rachael.

Rachael is a Replicant who doesn’t know she’s a Replicant when we first meet her. It’s only the Voight-Kampff test administered by Deckard that builds any sort of doubt about her reality, and their confrontation in his apartment  that shatters her reality. We see plenty of Rachael, all her scenes are pretty pivotal, all give the mind so much to chew on… even the uncomfortable scene where Deckard forces himself on her (which I’ll come back to later…)

I Just Wish We Could See More Of That

Following Rachael’s doubt about her humanity, the destruction of her reality, and then the discovery of her purpose – to live and enjoy life – changes the movie completely. In the already packed 2 hours of Blade Runner, I understand we can’t both have this Cyberpunk detective story and a gripping tale about an AI realizing it’s an AI. That might not even make for a great movie, but I think it’s a movie I prefer rather than an uninteresting detective story set in an interesting world. Does that make sense? The world of Blade Runner and the crisis that Rachael and the renegade Replicants face is very interesting, but watching Deckard track them down… isn’t. It’s a means to an end of getting to that philosophical stuff. Since it’s just a means to an end… we could hypothetically trim that down and see “more of that.” By the way, since the unicorn dream sequence doesn’t exist in the theatrical version, the idea that Deckard is a Replicant never really came to pass, even though I was waiting and waiting for that shoe to drop.

Also, No Means No

I’m sure somebody’s going to think that I can’t have fun or I’m not thinking out Deckard’s state of mind here… but Deckard forcing himself on Rachael was weird. He kisses her, she tries to leave his apartment, he forces her to stay, and “teaches” her to enjoy physical contact? That’s the implication at least but noooo. It makes Deckard feel like a creep, why does he just assume Rachael, being a Replicant, can’t decide on her own that she does not want any part of this kissing? Rachael is established as having emotional responses, valid emotional responses, so I’m just not sure why Ridley Scott, who has a pretty good track record with his female characters, had to have her “transformed” in this way. I suppose, maybe, if Deckard is a Replicant and you think of this scene as the one where he discovers emotions… ah I don’t know. No matter what, this scene just felt weird =Strike #3. 

Still, all of those strikes basically amount to me enjoying the movie a little bit less. I’d give Blade Runner a 4/5 as a movie, and like… a 2/5 on the feminist scale of 5 being “most feminist,” and 1 being “not feminist at all.”

 

On Kate Bornstein and Language

TW: Potentially Transphobic Language

Last week the University of Pittsburgh welcomed Kate Bornstein as the keynote speaker to their GSWS “Gender and the Body” conference. She talked about herself, Tibetan Buddhism, postmodern theory, gender theory, and going deeper than tackling patriarchy, but rather society’s all-encompassing hierarchy that includes mental health, religion, gender, race, sexuality, intelligence, etc.

There was a lot of really good stuff here, and as somebody who hasn’t been in a University class in close to a full year, it was really stimulating. I need to be presented with new, challenging ideas like this.

And quite frankly, all of us young GSWS students could use a lesson from historical figures like Kate Bornstein.

I’ve had a copy of Kate Bornstein’s “A Queer and Pleasant Danger” for over half a year, and seeing her in person is going to propel me to finally read that, but during her keynote I realized I had read her work before in GSWS 101, Gender Outlaw. Excerpts at least.

Seeing Kate is like seeing a Trans Treasure, an icon, and I count myself very lucky to be able to hear what she had to say. Hypothetically, even if I didn’t understand or agree with what she was saying, I would have respected the ?#@* out of her opinions (but I often understood and agreed).

Towards the end though, Kate veered into a subject that I think may have offended some, and as she noted, some people left the room at this point.

I want to talk with those who were offended, rather than triggered by her comments, and I’ll clarify the difference.

Kate Bornstein talked about why she identifies with the word Tranny, and the history and etymology of the word. Tranny, largely understood to be a  Transphobic slur, had friendly communal roots, according to Kate. I found her perspective so refreshing and interesting. Perhaps there are some similarities to gay men who can use the f-word endearingly, or black people reappropriating the n-word; I’m not sure – neither of those words originated with positive connotations as Kate claims the “t-word” did.

But if the t-word triggers you, sends you into an emotional spiral, and you had to leave while Kate used it, I’m not taking up any issue with you! You do you, you do what you have to do to stay safe. But the hypothetical situation of people being critical of how Kate identified, and explaining her identity, and the history of her identity, is disappoints me.

Instead of learning from Kate, some must have left hoping to send a message that her language was offensive.

Like I said earlier, Kate is a Trans Treasure, somebody who’s been around the block and seen some ?#@*. The idea of some 18-21 year old young inspired idealistic person walking out to show Kate “you shouldn’t use that word” is so disappointing, because that same person is walking out on an explanation, something that might expand their view on a situation. Context matters here! This is Kate Bornstein, keynote speaker at the GSWS conference, do you really think she’s here to stir things up, or cause harm?

Kate humorously flip-flopped on those who left, “I’m not sorry. I’m a little sorry… I’m not sorry.”

I just think it’s important to hear some radically left ideas, especially if you’re painting yourself as a radical. Kate’s 68 and a cancer survivor, and we were all so lucky to hear her speak. Now, would I be here advocating that we all listen to old Trans-exclusionary-feminists just because of their years of experience? No. Would I advocate that we all go listen to MRA’s on campus because they’re also radical? No. All I’m advocating for, is for some young GSWS majors who think they might know everything about what words we should and shouldn’t use, and consider language to be the be-all-end-all, to reconsider.

 

Let’s Talk Kim Kardashian

Kim Kardashian is a person I honestly, somehow, know close to nothing about.I know she’s of Armenian decent, and that she starred in a realty tv show, she has a video game that makes a lot of money, and she has two children with Kanye West. Oh and, she’s related to Caitlyn Jenner, but I don’t think by blood. And there was a sex tape. Even that I don’t know too much about.

Put briefly, I have never kept up with the Kardashians, let alone the most famous member of their tribe. So why do I want to talk about her?

Because nobody will stop talking about her*

*And more importantly, it seems like people won’t stop telling Kim Kardashian what, and what not to do with her body. This Sunday, March 6th she posted a mostly nude selfie that seemed to blow up the internet more than her Paper Mag cover did. I didn’t hear about this until it trended on Monday. Once I satisfied my curiosity with this supposedly shocking selfie (it was, you know, whatever) I proceeded to turn the Kim Kardashian part of my brain off for another day.

It wasn’t until today, International Freaking Women’s Day, that I had to think twice about this whole issue.

Suddenly that Paper Mag, which once featured Kim Kardashian, now featured Anita Sarkeesian, started to make sense.

Did Kim Kardashian earn a spot in the Feminist Hall of Fame? Maybe not, but her naked selfie, and the debate over it has drawn lines about what types of feminists people are. You either fell into the “This is an irresponsible example for Kim Kardashian to set and this is bad for women” camp, or you fell into the “Kim’s allowed to do what she damn well pleases” camp.

Now, to all my people in the first camp – I don’t think your feminism is necessarily bad, it’s just narrow. I bet you see a famous celebrity, who many young girls look up to, and you fear that by seeing her take nude selfies, or profiting off of her body in any way, young girls will think that’s the only way to feel good about themselves. You may be afraid that Kim Kardashian is reinforcing an expectation of feminine bodies…

But isn’t that the classic example of tearing down a woman in a patriarchal system, and explicitly, not the system itself? You can hide all of the Kim Kardashians in the world and it wouldn’t erase the burden of objectification in society. So that can’t be it. It must be this “responsible role model” concept then, right?

If a 35 year old mother of two, having the confidence to pose nude for millions to see isn’t inspiring in some way, then what will be?

I get it. We want young girls to be able to aspire to be many things.We want to promote the visibility of women in STEM so that they can have those types of role models; but let’s junk this notion that women in STEM are the best, or the superior role model. Women in art are inspiring. Women in music are inspiring. Women in film production are inspiring. And yes, women posing nude can be inspiring.

The Hetero Uber Driver

I like the label “Heteroflexible.” For years “mostly-straight” just wasn’t cutting it. “Mostly-straight” almost sounds defensive, like “oh heavens no I’m not all the way Bi or Pansexual, I’m mostly-straight!”

I like “Heteroflexible” largely because of the “flexible” idea. It conveys that I’m into the opposite of something, but not just my sex, like Heterosexuality implies. It’s like a game of Twister; I’m straight but I’m having a good time here so I’m going to make some adjustments so I can keep playing (that sounded better in my head, maybe I can revisit that someday).  I may be into the opposite gender identity, if we’re using a purely two-point spectrum, with all the flaws that carries with it. Still, “Heteroflexible” is a faster explanation than “Well I’m just not that into masculinity; I’m attracted to femininity and androgyny, cisgender, agender and transgender.”

But, I’m getting off track here. Even if I was just Heterosexual, I’d be bothered by the string of Uber Drivers I’ve had recently. The guy who shows me a nude of a woman on his phone, the other guy who talks about how much he likes lingerie football, the guy who drops me off at a bar and wishes me luck meeting women?

I’m not completely surprised that the assumed sexuality of a passenger is straight; that’s practically the sexuality everybody assumes of everybody in society, unless your performance tips them off, but how often conversations just veer into “girls are hot, right man?” just weirds me out. We can really talk about anything, it’s only 15-20 minutes of conversation, why does it have to go that direction?

Because male-to-male conversations are expected to go that way? When it’s just two guys palling around we can just talk about hot babes right? I don’t know how I have to act or what I have to wear to stop people from bringing that up in front of me, but I’d sure as hell like to know.