Posts tagged: theory

Ba(r/t) Mitzvah

By , June 15, 2010 12:08 am

Hello again! I’m back from Minneapolis, and done (for the moment) with posting ridiculous photos from my trip. Last week, before I left, I participated in a panel discussion organized by the National Council of Jewish Women, as part of their Chicago chapter’s effort to build bridges between Jewish and LGBT communities. I was speaking as a “transgender activist,” which sort of amused me, and spoke alongside Lisa, a  representative from the Center on Halsted and the Rabbi of Or Chadash.

Jewish Star on rainbow pride backgroundThe conversation was really interesting, and I’ll get to the meat of it later in this post. First, I want to talk about an interesting and thorny topic that came up during the discussion section of the evening. I claimed that, to truly integrate and embrace the LGBT community, Judaism needs to move away from inherently gendered ceremonies such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. That, even if the ceremonies are ‘equal’ (which is effectively true in liberal Judaism today, even if that wasn’t always the case) the idea of ‘separate but equal’ for boys and girls is a bad precedent to set at the threshold to adulthood.

I know this is going to be a tough pill to swallow for many Jews, and I said as much at the panel discussion. The idea of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is ingrained in the idea of those ceremonies. But it’s flawed, problematic, and oppressive, particularly for trans Jews.

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Vector Identity Theory

By , May 25, 2010 9:21 pm

Hi all! This guest post is from Violet, a regular commenter at The Thang Blog and all-around awesome gal. Enjoy!

Hi. I’m Violet. Rebecca has been kind enough to let me have some of her blog space for a guest post, and let me dip my toe carefully into the world of writing for a wider internet audience. Identity-wise, I am a twenty-something white currently-abled trans-female-spectrum genderqueer and sexuality-queer tomboy geek engineer. Except to the extent I’m not. But this post is about identity labels, so bear with me. Rebecca has previously posted about identity labels as keywords here, which I think is awesome, and I wanted to add another different (and geeky) way of looking at them to the discussion. This post is adapted from something I wrote more personally last year.

By “identity labels”, what I mean are nouns and adjectives that you use to describe people — “woman”, “man”, “goth”, “punk”, “masculine”, “feminine”, “trans”, “queer”. These things are useful for communication. Labels can function as a shorthand to tell people about what your life is like. They allow people with attributes in common to find each other and compare notes. I use them a lot.

The problem is that they’re wrong. Or, rather, not quite right. Any time you have an identity, it comes with a pile of stereotyped behaviors that any given claimant of the identity might or might not share, and it tends to reduce the perception of the claimant down to those stereotypes. Oops. (Rebecca, in her keyword post, also got into the possible confining nature of labels imposed by others.)

Now for the geeking out. Don’t worry — if you don’t speak math, I’ll give an example in pictures below.

I often view labels as vectors in some huge or infinite-dimensional vector space. Given a set of labels — say, {male, female} or {straight, queer} or {gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, questioning, ally} or whatever — finding out how you identify is a process akin to estimating the projection of your personal self-vector onto the subspace covered by the basis of labels in the set. Of course, that basis is never orthonormal; that would be too clean. It’s not orthogonal or normal at all. It’s just a mess of huge-dimensional vectors that you have to try to match yourself up against, throwing away all those components of yourself that aren’t in directions available to you in that basis. Worse, the self-vector is a function of time. The way you project on to a certain set of labels changes over the course of your life, sometimes even non-continuously. Even the identity labels change over time. Does being a goth mean the same thing now as it did fifteen years ago?

For an example of how my thinking about labels works, people sometimes ask me “are you male or female?” What they mean is usually something like this:

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Pro-choice Survey via the Abortioneers

By , April 25, 2010 3:04 pm

From Angry Feminist Doc, via The Abortioneers. Feel free to copy the questions to your own blog.

Do you Agree or Disagree with the following statements:

1. Every woman has the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy regardless of when during the pregnancy. I’m conflicted, but I think my answer is ‘yes.’ If the baby could survive unassisted outside the womb, I feel uncomfortable about aborting the pregnancy. But, ultimately, that’s such a tricky thing to define I’d rather err on the side of the woman’s rights, not the baby’s.

2. Abortion should be allowed even beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy. Yes.

3. Parental consent should be required for any teen under the age of 18 requesting an abortion. No.

4. Women who have more than 5 abortions are irresponsible. Not inherently – everyone’s situation is different.

5. Women who have more than 10 abortions are irresponsible. Same as above.

6. Women should not use abortion as a form of birth control. I agree, but I don’t think there should be legislative actions or rules in place to push women in that direction.

7. I think reproductive health advocacy organizations should promote the use of emergency contraception in order to decrease the number of abortions in the US each year. Yes, but not because of reducing abortions is, in and of itself, a “good” goal. Rather, there are (to my limited understanding) a safer, less expensive way of preventing and aborting the pregnancy.

8. I feel uncomfortable if a woman has an abortion because of the gender of the pregnancy. I do. But (like number 6) I can’t imagine a legit way to legislate this out of existence that doesn’t cause more problems than it prevents.

9. Male partners should have the right to be a part of the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Erg. I think women (usually) have a moral imperative to bring the male partner into the discussion, but I don’t think that should be put into law.

10. I think a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion is an absolute and inalienable right no matter what.

I mean, I can think of ridiculous situations where I’d say “no, it’s not a right.” If aliens came and impregnated a woman with their baby and said they’d destroy the world unless she carried the child to term, sure. Lets prevent her from aborting to save the human race. But I can’t think of any real-world scenarios where I don’t think abortion should be an absolute right.

The Labels and Keywords of our Identities

By , April 24, 2010 2:13 pm

What is the difference between a label and a keyword?

Recently, I spoke with some other trans women about the pros and cons of labels. I was saying that labels can be a very powerful force for personal identification: by labeling myself, and choosing what labels to apply and how, I can forge my own identity out of its many disparate parts. I choose the labels ‘woman,’ ‘trans,’ ‘Chicagoan,’ ‘Jewish,’ ‘geek,’ and so on, and I get to decide what those labels mean for me.

Another woman in the group countered, “But what about when someone else places a label on you?” She said part of her problem identifying as ‘trans’ is all of the negative baggage associated with the word. Her feelings of discomfort were exacerbated by a generational gap: I was probably half her age, and the labels ‘trans’ and ‘queer’ meant very different things to her than they do for me.

Our different ideas of the emotional weight of those labels got me thinking about the semantics of the word label, and what other words might better describe how we create our identities.

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Review: Humpday

By , April 12, 2010 8:35 pm

Full disclosure: I wanted to dislike Humpday. I really did. It’s about two straight men who decide to make a gay porn film together, and I remember seeing previews and thinking, “Ugh, that’s gonna be really homophobic under the guise of being indie and counter-cultural.” The Netflix description didn’t reassure me, talking about “sex communes” and elevating dares. (I can’t actually find this description on, but it was the one that showed up on the ‘Watch It Now’ streaming menu.)

I was pleasantly surprised to be (mostly) wrong.

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You don’t get to out me

By , March 31, 2010 8:48 am

I did end up sending an email to my friends, along the lines of what I discussed in this post:

Hey friends!

This is kind of an uncomfortable email for me to write, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about and need to address:

Please don’t out me. That is, please don’t tell people I’m trans.

I love you all. I’ve said this over and over again: I’m privileged, blessed, and really fucking lucky to be surrounded by friends like you. In a world that isn’t too kind to people outside the norm, you all pretty much shrugged your shoulders when I came out. Not because it wasn’t important to me, but because it didn’t change our friendships.  I really value that. I love being able to have conversations and debates, to share joy and sorrow, with people who I’ve known for years, and who have known me.

But staying in Chicago after high school and college has also made transitioning occasionally more work than I’d like. To pick a really easy example, I went to the bank yesterday and the teller was the mom of someone I went to elementary school with (and not someone I particularly cared for, at that). She knew she sort of recognized me, but totally didn’t know how to respond to my presentation as Rebecca. It wasn’t a problem, and she was respectful, but it kind of threw me out of my stride to have to say, “Yeah, I’m going by Rebecca now…”  Even though I love Chicago, and am glad I’ve stuck around, having to be reminded of that pre- and post-transition disconnect takes its toll.
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Trans Lit – searching for our reflections

By , March 25, 2010 6:40 pm

It has been quite a while since I’ve done a post on trans fiction, hasn’t it! The LGBT literary site Lamnda Literary had a post a while back by Cheryl Morgan titled Is There, or Should There Be, Such a Thing as ‘Trans Lit’? The post has lots of interesting links to authors who have written on or about trans issues, including links to various trans comics and trans fiction sites. (Some of which I’ve linked to from this blog, and some of which I’d never seen before. Check out both the main post and the comments.)

But I have to admit, I was (and am) a little confused by the question Morgan is asking. It seems self evident – even in the links within her post, not to mention those in the comments – that there is trans literature being generated. (Morgan seems to define ‘trans lit’ as ‘fiction,’ a definition I don’t have any problems with.) More broadly, she seems to be creating divisions where none need be:

Yet what would “trans literature” be like? When we talk about the literature of an identity group we mean that members of the group want to read about people like themselves. African-Americans want books with African-American protagonists; lesbians want books with lesbian protagonists; and so on. But the trans community is very diverse, and different parts of it have very different needs. Cross-dressers, for example, often read, and write, erotic fantasies about cross-dressing. Pre-transition transsexuals reportedly read memoirs and theory voraciously in order to find out if transition is right for them, and how to survive it. Post transition, however, they often settle happily into their preferred gender and have no further need for trans books. They are often content identifying with characters of their preferred gender and don’t want to be reminded of what they see as a painful past life.

Those who regard themselves as in a third gender, as gender-free or gender-fluid, and those who are intersex, will probably want books about people like themselves. Obviously there is a real need for a literature for them. However, they are only a part of the trans community (and apologies to any of them who do not want to be regarded as part of it), so the market is even smaller.

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Talking to high schoolers

By , March 20, 2010 12:26 am

High School MusicalI spoke to a high school health club on Friday – the one who emailed me the questions I’ve been answering the last few days – and had a really good time. They weren’t too knowledgeable about queer/trans issues, but I much prefer well-intentioned and open-handed ignorance to feigned understanding… And they were all willing to learn, which counts for a lot in my book.

Most of the chat was pretty expected, with me going over my (abridged) life story and transition, talking about how hormones have changed my experience of emotions and sex, and so on. I did have one student ask, “So, if you did get…the surgery, and you like women…how would you have sex after?”

One of the other students waved her fingers in front of his face, which made me laugh. I also directed them to Early to Bed, which is actually only a few blocks away from their school. I hope, for the sake of his current and future partner(s), that he learns about the options available beyond penis/vagina.

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Dances with Avatars

By , December 28, 2009 9:52 am

I saw a 3D showing of Avatar last night, and really enjoyed it. I thought it was beautiful and relatively engaging. I’m not positive if needed to be almost 3 hours long, but it did allow for a lot of room to establish the world and the characters. That said, it was a really racist, colonialist movie that also fit comfortably within the sexist paradigm of Western culture and storytelling.

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“Transgenders” versus “Transgender people”

By , November 12, 2009 2:32 pm

I was reading an article recently – well written and respectful – about transgender issues, and couldn’t help but notice the use of transgender as “transgenders” (as a noun) rather than “transgender people” (as an adjective).

Many identity labels can be used as nouns or adjectives, but others can’t. A hypothetical article that said, “Lesbians polled at the Health Center said XYZ,” wouldn’t raise my eyebrows, nor would “Lesbian women polled at the Health Center said XYZ.” (Other than being a little awkward, since ‘lesbian’ implies ‘woman.’) (But lets not get into that again!)

At the same time, saying, “Blacks polled at the Health Center said XYZ” seems awkward and dated. Using “Jews” or “Italians,” though, doesn’t seem problematic. (I’m picking examples pretty much at random, here.)

What about “transgenders” versus “transgender people”?

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