Monday, January 30, 2006

Parental Approval - And Piercings

The biggest fights I've ever had with my parents have been over my appearance. There was one particular fight in high school that I remember vividly. I had received a large bag of hand-me-downs from my mother's friend's kids in New York. In the bag was a long, green, Indian cotton skirt. That night, I planned my outfit for the next day around that skirt and a pair of white long underwear. This was in '85 or '86, when it was cool to wear long underwear so that it was visible under skirts and jeans (in the case of the latter, the underwear would show through numerous holes and tears). Within a year or two, this fashion caught on with the masses in the form of leggings, but long underwear was more hardcore.

I walked down the stairs in my outfit the next morning, and my father hit the roof. I was caught completely off-guard. The gist of his complaint was that 1) underwear of any sort that was visible was "vulgar," and 2) what I wore ultimately reflected on him since I was his daughter. In essence, then, in my teenage mind, I was being told that my body was not my own; it was up to my parents to make decisions about what I wore and how I appeared. Now, most of us probably would agree that parents do have some responsibility for ensuring that their kids meet basic standards of decency. But you have to understand that I was not wearing a Madonna-style bra and bustier with fishnets. We're talking LONG UNDERWEAR. And a mid-calf-length skirt. Certainly not provocative in the least - think "homeless-chic."

But my father was caught off-guard, as well, as I did not go down without a fight. I was furious at the thought that he had - or at least, believed he had - the ability to dictate my dress, and even more angry at the idea that I was being policed because of how he imagined my dress would impact on him (i.e., "what will the neighbors think?"). Dad never imagined that I would react with such rage and tears, and he has said in later years that if he'd known how upset I would get - how much it all mattered to me - he never would have made such a big deal out of it.

A second blow-up occurred when, shortly before senior pictures were taken, I decided to cut my hair. I'm not going to argue that what I did was my best look - I basically achieved the effect of crossing a Mohawk with a mullet, and in my case, there was a little French poodle, as well - but I liked it. My parents, however, were convinced that I had done this specifically to sabotage my school picture the following week (I didn't - I hadn't even realized at the time that the pictures were coming up), and their response (after yelling) was to refuse to order the picture. (I'm not sure I even showed up for pictures, since they had made clear that we wouldn't be purchasing any. It never occurred to me to buy one for myself, which is too bad - I'd kind of like to have it today). That fight was so bad that I left home the next morning promising them that I would not return, and indeed, I was trying to find a place to stay before my mother finally held out an olive branch.

I was in college before I got my ear pierced (just the left one). My father was clearly disappointed in me for, as he said, "mutilating" my body. He also didn't appreciate my expression of individuality in having just the one pierced (this was before it was common to see just one earring on a person, or a different number of holes in each ear). A few years later, when I got the other one pierced, he had the same response, until my mother and I pointed out to him that I was actually conforming to societal standards by having the second ear done.

You may have guessed by now that my parents are very concerned with appearances. On top of this, my father cannot stand any type of permanent modification such as piercing or tattooing (I shudder to think what he'd say about serious forms of modification such as tongue-splitting). I think, of the two, tattoos are the worst in his mind, and just mentioning that someone has a cool tattoo will prompt him to give a lecture to anyone within earshot. On this, my mother concurs, although she is usually the one who is likely to come around and even compliment the new look at some later date.

So, I'm 37, and I want a tattoo and a facial piercing, and I'm kind of afraid to get either. I still cringe at the thought of the "I'm very disappointed in you" lecture that I know I would get, a talking to that still, to this day, has the ability to make me feel ashamed all the way to the soles of my feet, even if I've done nothing wrong. I am saved only by my own indecision, because for the last 10 years, I have been unable to make up my mind as to what image or words I want permanently on my body - or where exactly a tattoo or facial piercing should go.

But, I'll tell you a secret. Yesterday afternoon, on a whim, I ducked into the Piercing Pagoda and added two piercings to my right ear. Vanilla as these piercings are, I have to admit to feeling pretty radical! I like to think of the event as one more step toward being able to shrug off parental disapproval. As I sat in the chair waiting for the young woman to pull the trigger, I looked down at my kid playing happily on the floor. To him, it was perfectly natural that Mommy would get her ear pierced. He didn't care which hole went where or what went in it, and I was even tempted for a brief second to ask him if he wanted his own piercing. He's a kid who knows his own mind, and we have disagreements often over who gets to decide what we're going to do and in what time frame. For the moment, though, I can draw a deep breath, hopeful that at least he and I won't fight over his hair or his clothes.

And if we do, I hope that he will be able to hear my concerns. And then make up his own mind.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Children: The Anti-Drug

Last Friday was the end of the term here, and I had all kinds of plans. I started out with dinner and drinks with an old friend whom I haven't seen in some time, and then moved on to dancing and drinks. And a few more drinks. Now, I'm not a big drinker - I don't understand people who willingly tie one on every weekend. I hate nausea and the feeling of being hungover, so much so that, until Saturday, I hadn't actually been hungover since sometime in the early '90s. But Friday night I was ready to drown the considerable stress of the month and have a good time, and I may have had just the teensiest bit too much too drink.

So imagine that you are me, and you get home at around 4am, legs and feet sore from dancing, head still fuzzy (I got a ride from a friend - drink responsibly!), and you collapse into bed. Next, imagine that you are awakened some little while later, while it is still dark out, and that you don't know exactly what woke you but there seems to be a small person in your bed asking you to wake up and "snuggle." So suppose that you, like me, are so sleep-deprived and out of it that you thoughtlessly say, "no."

And the next thing that happens is that the small person - who is very likely there in the first place because he has had a bad dream - begins wailing hysterically and inconsolately at - no exaggeration - the top of his lungs. At something like five in the morning. It is a lot like being at close range to a fire engine siren, and you worry that you will soon be evicted from the building.

And then, after you miraculously manage to get said small person settled back down, the exact same scenario repeats again three hours later.

The More You Know.

Cause for Celebration

I just noticed that there have been 100 hits from my local area since this blog started a few weeks ago. I'm sure many of them are from me (I don't think the counter knows the difference between me checking my blog and anyone else checking it), but still. 100. Wow! Pretty cool. That means there are at least a few other people reading!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

But Isn't Sex Supposed to Be Funny?

So, I've been watching Coupling lately, that Britcom that inspired an apparently horrible American version that lasted for about a week. I remember everyone moaning about how awful it was that the American version wasn't more like the British one.

Newsflash: Coupling is really not a funny show.

I like British funny, I really do. I once laughed for about a week straight at an episode of Fawlty Towers. Like every other geeky American kid, I used to memorize Monty Python sketches. I watched every episode of every Britcom that PBS broadcast from Good Neighbors and To the Manor Born to The Vicar of Dibley and As Time Goes By (except, of course, for Are You Being Served?, the purpose and popularity of which I have never understood). And I've been told by some British friends that many Americans don't understand this sort of humor. But I DO. So I was thoroughly prepared to enjoy Coupling.

But Coupling is sadly not very funny. There is Susan, who strikes me as a typical sexually aggressive female character as written by a man - controlling in her relationships but great in the sack, so her having the upper hand can be excused. There's her boyfriend Steve, who looks enough like the husband of a friend of mine that it causes me continual confusion, and who is the decent-average-bloke-who-is-typically-ignorant-about-the-ways-of-women-but-nevertheless-gets-to-shag-the-most-attractive-one-because-his-innocence-is-charming. There's Jane, who is a freakin' loon. There's Sally, who is concerned mostly with aging and whether or not it's showing on her. There's Patrick, who is the beauty with no brains type - and apparently, very well-endowed. And then there's Jeff, the one character for whom the show is worth watching. Jeff can be tiring because he's so predictable - whatever the interaction and whomever the woman, Jeff will screw it up. However, he manages to do it in a fairly entertaining way - and it's worth noting that it is only when Jeff has any dialogue that I ever even chuckle.

So, mostly, I watch what is supposed to be a hilarious show in stone cold silence, with the occasional chuckle when Jeff is on. Which is actually not unlike what happened when I used to watch Sex and the City, except with SATC, there wasn't even occasional chuckling.

Look, it's not that I don't like shows that focus on sex in a light-hearted way. But can't they actually be funny?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Some Things Should Be Left to Die

I can see the signs - the '80s are upon us again. And so, here is my Top Ten List of '80s Things That Should Be Left to Die:

10) Old-style stirrup pants. Leggings are fine, and the new-style stirrups are fine (they look more like footless tights, so the stirrups don't stretch up the sides but just go under the feet), but the old-style ones were never attractive to begin with and should have a special circle of hell that is all their own.

9) Those awful Holliscrombietopic t-shirts with "cute" sayings on them that I can remember from when I was 12. Like, "I (heart) New York." There is nothing cool or interesting about that shirt. I mean, there might be, if you had one that actually dated back to 1981 that you dug out of your parents' closet. But if it's mass-produced, it automatically loses its coolness.

8) Ditto for any band t-shirts with logos from the '70s and '80s that weren't actually purchased in the '70s and '80s. See above re. loss of coolness.

7) Most '80s bands. This one is kind of controversial. Let me put it this way - a band that is coming back purely to ride the retro wave probably isn't worth seeing again (and probably hasn't got anything new to offer). There are some exceptions to this - New Order's new stuff, for example, has a sound that is at once very contemporary and also very much in line with what they've done in the past.

6) I haven't seen these yet, but skinny ties, especially if they come in flourescent colors. That's just not a good look for anyone.

5) Actually, come to think of it, flourescent anything should be avoided at all costs, including, but not limited to, socks, scarves, t-shirts, and gloves.

4) Large, ugly plastic jewelry. That one's just personal.

3) Elf boots. I'm not talking about the Laura Ingalls Wilder-style lace-up boots, or even the knee high Medieval-type boots. I mean the ankle-high boots with the little flip at the top that look like they should be accompanied by a wand.

2) Tapered jeans. Tapered jeans look horrible on everyone who has curves - they are the '80s version of low-rise jeans, so let's learn from our mistakes, shall we? Jeans that are cut wider at the bottom have the effect of balancing one's figure. Tapered jeans emphasize the middle of the body, drawing further attention to the size of one's hips and butt. You have to ask yourself why anyone would voluntarily wear them.

And, the number one Thing That Should Be Left to Die:

Leg warmers. Trust me on this. Unless you are a dancer, put those things away. They are the ultimate in poser fashion - they virtually scream, "look at me - I'm not a dancer, but I want to look like one."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Why Some Animals Eat Their Young

Last night was one of those times when I just wanted to run screaming from motherhood.

I picked up the kid at daycare. Within about five minutes of getting him home, I was already beginning to go a little crazy. He's got a couple of "talking" toys that are very loud, and he loves nothing better than wandering all over the apartment pressing their play buttons. Oh, wait - there is one thing he loves better than that, and that is being loud and silly. He says nonsense words in a grating voice, and he does this often. That may not sound like a big deal to you. Try this exercise: ask someone to say to you, over and over again, while sitting right next to you, "You know what? You know WHAT? You know WHAT? NOTHING!!! Hahahahahaha! UUUUUUUHHHHH! UUUUUUUUUUHHHHHH!" And see how long it takes before you have to restrain yourself from beating him or her over the head with whatever is handy.

I took him out to Target to pick up a couple of things for his daycare and some yoga pants for me. To his credit, he actually stopped the annoying loud silly talk, but he kept up a steady stream of chatter and questions, grabbing at various items on the shelves, and repeatedly poking me in the butt with the dressing room number tag while I was trying on the yoga pants, so that I came close, a couple of times, to simply leaving him in the cart and walking away.

I always wonder how I appear to others at these times. Sometimes, it is all I can do while in the moment not to burst into hysterical laughter at the imagined sight of myself (lips grimly pressed together, nostrils flaring, curls tossing, as I stomp along, pushing the cart) and him (a beautiful, even angelic child, sitting in the cart, rocking his body from side to side, singing a tuneless chanting song designed to make me go utterly insane, and then, just when I've decided that one of us must die, he says sweetly, "Mommy, can I have a huggy?"). I do occasionally catch a smile or even the sympathetic eyes of other shoppers, but only if I don't express my frustration. If I speak sharply to him, forget it - I am a horrible parent, and they won't meet my eyes.

I managed to get him in the car, at which point he immediately went into full-blown, out-of-control, tired kid mode (in this case, that meant loud singsong silliness).
So I started driving. I jammed the ear buds of my iRiver (which I always carry with me for just such an emergency) so far into my ears that my eyes started to hurt, cranked up the sound, and listened desperately to The White Stripes' "Blue Orchid" and Death Cab for Cutie's "Soul Meets Body," over and over on an endless loop. Meanwhile, the kid sang "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" over and over on an endless loop of his own.

For an hour.

After which he still was not asleep.

There is no end to this story because, unfortunately, there is no end to this scenario.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Boob Job

Life is hard on breasts.

For a woman, breasts are femininity. This is why it matters how big they are - because we know that there is an ideal that we're supposed to meet, we know that there is a certain size range within which we are supposed to fall, and increasingly, in the era of implants, we know that our breasts are supposed to have a certain shape.

But feminist academics and activists made the female body a site of feminist resistance. Wendy Chapkis and Naomi Wolf are just two examples of writers of a rich body of work that deals with the politics of beauty ideals and their impact on women's sense of themselves. Feminists argued that women's bodies needed to be understood on their own terms. We began to reclaim our bodies and to find beauty in their "imperfections."

In doing so, my feminist friends and I made some sort of peace with our breasts. We recognized that they were changing shape as we were becoming older and we accepted that fact. When we looked around at the older women around us, we saw breasts that rested lower on their chests. Everywhere we looked, we saw a variety of breasts pointing in all directions with varying degrees of size and perkiness.

And then, somehow, the breast landscape changed. Now, when I talk with other feminist academics, we express great dissatisfaction with the state of "the girls." Two of my staunchest feminist friends - both moms in their '30s who breastfed their babies - are already saving money to go to Brazil for boob jobs and tummy tucks. At a minimum, we all suddenly understand how it is that a woman gets to the point of considering plastic surgery. Moreover, when we look around, we are more likely to see plastic bodies as plastic surgery becomes more and more routine.

But if even feminists are planning to undergo plastic surgery, who will fight for women's natural bodies? Because, pretty soon, we won't remember what they look like.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Anti-Abortion Etiquette

Warning: rant to follow.

Sunday was the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. As is our local custom, the pro-choice community held a commemorative event, which featured a showing of the new documentary film, Sacred Choices and Abortion: Ten New Things to Think About. The film explores the pro-choice history and traditions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. It is a serious, thought-provoking, well-made film.

And the mistake that we made is that we didn't use the discussion guide, which would have helped to focus discussion for the pro-choice community. Instead, we allowed an open forum, so that the discussion was led, not by thoughtful reflection, but by scripted questions from a small percentage of antis who were in attendance.

Now, let me be clear. I think it's important for people on opposing sides - or in what Naomi Wolf would call the "mushy middle" of this debate - to educate themselves about the different perspectives on the issue as well as about the actual facts of abortion - when it happens, how it happens, why it happens, etc. And I generally don't have a gut reaction to seeing people whom I know to disagree with me on this issue at events that are pro-choice - unless they are there as protestors (and I really don't like that, but as they say, I'll defend their right to be there). I do have a few friends who are pro-life, even though I'm an activist for reproductive freedom (though this group of friends keeps getting smaller because they keep changing their position and becoming pro-choice - I wish they'd cut that out, as it ruins the diversity of my friendship group). I can respect the pro-life position, and I've more than once gone well outside of my comfort zone in order to try to understand this position and to facilitate thoughtful discussion. And I'll do it again.

But, I naively expect a few things in return. I expect not to be harassed (which I have been, and my stories are really piddling compared with those of the women and men I know who are more visibly associated with pro-choice politics). I expect to be treated with civility. And, I expect that when we hold an event, the people in attendance who are there because they disagree will not showboat and attempt to change our minds with feeble arguments. I can understand that they would feel upset and moved to speak, but there are times for that kind of interaction, and there are other times for listening quietly.

The antis at this event were not really disrespectful - certainly not in comparison with others I've encountered. When they prayed for us, they did so quietly in another room so that we only found out about it when we happened by after the event. They didn't put up those little white crosses that arrogantly assume that every fetus would have been born a Christian. They didn't display the doctored photos of first trimester abortions. But they were annoying because they came in with the intent of making their position heard - and I know this, because one of them was literally reading from a script. I suppose it makes sense, and they certainly had the right to be there. It's just that it's a pretty ineffective way to deal with the pro-choice community in this town, which is a pretty pissed-off community, too, given the way that abortion rights in SD have been eroded. So we were not only annoyed, but we were also grumpy.

"How many pro-choice people have had abortions?" This was meant to imply, I think, either that pro-choice people are only pro-choice because they themselves haven't been through an abortion, or that pro-choice people are only pro-choice in order to avoid feeling guilty about having had an abortion - you just can't win with these people. And this was the first comment made after the film, in what was supposed to be a discussion about the film itself.

"You have a choice whether or not to have sex." This suggests that pregnancy is a consequence of or even punishment for sex, and that those who have sex deserve to get pregnant. The immediate response, of course, is that many women don't actually choose to have sex but are forced to, but I think it's important not to give credibility to the argument that those of us who do have sex by choice are doing something we oughtn't, something we should be punished for.

I want to point out that, if I choose to have sex, I am educated about birth control and I have the financial resources and a car to get me to a facility (of which there are still a couple in my town) that will sell me birth control. I therefore have the ability to control my fertility, and my God, my religion, my doctor, my Constitution, and my mommy all support me in this. So I don't see pregnancy as a consequence of sex in some weird game of whose morals are the best and who is most open to what God is handing out. I see pregnancy as something that women can, if given the information and the resources, control. And the fact that the same people who are telling me that my choice lies only in whether or not I have sex are also telling me that I must remain abstinent until marriage and that children and teenagers must not be given any other sexual education other than this - well, that makes me see red.

Bottom line, folks. If you're heading over to your local pro-choice community event with the intent of registering your disapproval, keep in mind that we already know you exist and we already know what you think. If you really want to affect the abortion debate, then go with the intent of listening to find out what the other side thinks. Notice that we are concerned with the societal issues that affect abortion, and think about what you can do to address those. Facilitate dialogue to try to find common ground so that we can move beyond the polarization and try to find some way to work together to reduce the number of abortions.

But don't hijack the discussion, and don't make stupid comments. It really doesn't help your side, and it just makes us think unkind thoughts about you.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Five Films You've Probably Never Heard of...And Should Rush Right Out And See

Actually, I started writing this post because I was thinking, after the "Movies That Make Me Hot" post, that a lot of my favorite films are ones that most people probably don't know exist. And there are a lot more than five. So I think I'll make this a recurring topic - maybe a regular one.

Anyway, here are five for now. Add 'em to your Netflix queue:

1) The Lair of The White Worm. This is Ken Russell at his, which might not be saying all that much, I guess, but it's a great, campy film with a plot that mostly makes sense. Starring Hugh Grant somewhat before he became popular in the U.S., Amanda Donohoe fresh from L.A. Law, and Sammi Davis shortly before Homefront, this is a comedic horror story about the Dampton Worm (apparently there's a real story there, or at least local legend) and an evil snake goddess determined to set it loose on the village. It's actually worth seeing just for the song, "The Dampton Worm," the lyrics to which can be found here. And click for a review and some pics.

Can you really pass up a film that boasts images like this one?

2) Picnic at Hanging Rock. I meant to go when this was playing at my college in the late '80s, but I missed it. For the next eleven years, I was haunted by the brief plot summary I'd read - several young women in Australia go to Hanging Rock for a picnic and inexplicably disappear. And finally, after waiting more than a decade, I managed to find a copy of the film in the public library. It didn't disappoint. This is an eerie tale with no resolution. It is maddening not to know what happens to the women - were they murdered? Abducted? Swallowed up by the earth? - but Peter Weir keeps us enthralled throughout. There are lots of shots where you crane your neck - if you could just see around that corner, if you could only see what she's seeing - and then you remember that it's only a movie.

3) The Parallax View. Conspiracy theories, government and corporate intrigue, Warren Beatty...this keeps you on the edge of your seat. This is not one of those films in which everything happens in a predictable way - there are plenty of surprises, not so much in terms of the actual plot but in terms of the way the plot unfolds. I managed to catch it on television once and then miss the ending - fortunately, I saw it again fairly soon afterward (but not before calling my aunt to find out what the heck happened). I'm not saying anything else about it lest I spoil it for you.

4) Saboteur. This is perhaps the first Hitchcock film I ever saw, but for years I did not know what the title of the movie was - I just remembered the terrifying Statue of Liberty scene. Not that long ago, I bought a collection of early Hitchcock films, and lo and behold, there it was. This is basically a remake of The 39 Steps for an American audience, and some folks love to hate on it for that reason, but I like it.

5) The Night Flier. I read the Stephen King short story on which the film was based, and shortly afterward saw the film. I was impressed at how closely the airport that is the location of the final confrontation between Miguel Ferrer's character and the vampire matched the images I had had in my mind while reading. Even more impressive are the feelings of terror that these scenes of carnage and destruction inspire, especially when the vampire reveals his full face to Ferrer (which, by the way, is much more horrific than is the image below ~shudder~). It's a very good adaptation; any weaknesses, I think, are largely the fault of the original story.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Matter of Opinion?

An online acquaintance recently made the comment that she thought it was selfish for parents to transition (meaning, to change their gender). She felt that the experience of having, say, a father "become" a woman would be so traumatic for the child that it trumped any suffering the father might feel while living a lie as a man.

You can probably tell from my choice of language that I don't buy this argument. While I can only imagine what it would be like to experience this as a child, I find Noelle Howey's book, Dress Codes, to be a good argument for the possibility that being able to be true to one's self, to be a whole parent rather than a broken one, can in fact improve the parent-child relationship. Howey writes about the distant, angry relationship she and her father had while she was a child, and contrasts this to the closer and happier relationship they have now that her father has become a woman. Howey is glad that her father "came out." And I find her experience very telling; it suggests that it is the quality of the relationship between parent and child that is of utmost importance, not the difficulties that arise but the ability to work through those difficulties.

In cases like this - and in cases of gay/lesbian parents - people always feel sorry for the kids. Generally, even tolerant, well-educated people have concerns that the world will be tougher on these kids, that they'll have to endure teasing. And what fascinates me is that this response suggests that the solution for such problems is an individual one rather than a societal one: l/g/b/t people should not have kids. That way, children will never have to go through the agony of being teased for having parents who are "different." Rarely do I see people respond as if they themselves share some responsibility for the way society treats its members who don't conform. Never have I seen such people reflect: "Hmmm...What can I do to raise my child to be an ally rather than an enemy of children whose parents are l/g/b/t?" (While some object to making analogies between race and sexual orientation, I think the analogy is especially apt here: can you imagine suggesting that people of color not have children to avoid exposing such children to racism?!)

I think we all know that no matter what we do, kids are going to tease each other for perceived differences. I only know anecdotally what it's like to have l/g/b/t parents. But I do know many adult children of l/g/b/t parents who love their parents, who are glad that they are who they are, and who know that the things they went through in childhood made them stronger, more compassionate, more principled people. We can't protect our children from life's hard knocks, nor should we want to, really, given how important these experiences are for their growth and development. That may sound pat, but as I look back over the worst experiences that I faced as a child - including being completely ostracized and targeted by bullies in third grade to the extent that I had to switch schools - I both wish I hadn't had to endure that and am simultaneously glad for having had that experience teach me what it's like to be left out. I think I am a better person because of it: I learned to be content with my own company, I learned to quickly suss out - and value - my true friends as opposed to my fair-weather ones, and I learned to include other people and not seek to make myself feel powerful by excluding them. Those are important life lessons that I learned at an early age and never forgot, and they have served me well.

So I feel that, to some extent, contrary to my online friend's assumptions, difficult childhood experiences can actually turn out to be positive ones. But in addition to this, I also perceive a danger in determining for someone else what level of suffering one must put up with "for the children." Someone who feels like a woman trapped in a male body (or vice versa) is having an acute, agonizing experience that those of us who do not feel this way simply cannot understand. Depression - to the point of suicide! - is common among l/g/b/t people who feel that they cannot come out, that their lives will be over if they do (because their friends and loved ones will leave them), that they are trapped. The testimonies of l/g/b/t people about the freedom that comes along with coming out all point to the fact that coming out is necessary if one is to survive.

Finally, while I appreciate that this is not the intent, for someone who is uneducated about trans issues to say that "transitioning while one has children is selfish" smacks of transphobia. It assumes, first, that the speaker has an understanding of what this experience is like, that the result of transitioning will always be traumatic for the child, that the result of transitioning will mean the end of the parents' marriage (I can think of several examples in which this is not the case), that the suffering of the tg person is something that can be dealt with in ways other than transitioning, that the speaker is in a position to determine for someone else what level of suffering is acceptable and how it should be dealt with. And second, it places the responsibility for education entirely on the tg person. In what other situation would it be ok for someone completely outside of a situation to determine what the best course of action would be? Is it ok to proclaim, for example, that all people with AIDS should be celibate? That all people in bad marriages should stay in them rather than divorce? That all women should stay home full-time with their kids? Haven't arguments been made in each case that any other action would be "selfish?" And haven't we liberals and feminists objected to them every time? Further, haven't we also been consistent in arguing that it is our responsibility to make society a place where people are not oppressed on the basis of ability, sexual orientation, gender orientation, etc.?

So, for me, finally, it comes down to this: I really don't believe that we are all "entitled to our own opinions." We are certainly assured of free speech (well, for the time being, anyway). But that doesn't guarantee us the right to have an opinion about anything without having first educated ourselves about it. In fact, I think we have an obligation to educate ourselves about that which we do not understand before we form an opinion about it - which means that we should really try to prevent the jury from coming back until we've had time to study and reflect on an issue.

And if you've made it this far and would like to read further on the subject, check out Dress Codes for a child's perspective, and Jennifer Finney Boylan's She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders for a first-person account of transitioning and the impact on an individual and on a marriage. See also Leslie Feinberg's Transgender Warriors for a discussion of what it's like to live in society when one's biological gender and one's unaltered physical appearance do not match.

Friday, January 20, 2006

It's All About The Sex

You know how, no matter how much you might want them to be otherwise, some relationships are just about the sex? You might have feelings for the other person, you let yourself be deluded into thinking that maybe things are going somewhere, that maybe the other person really has feelings for you - but then, you are given a rude awakening of one sort or another and reminded that the relationship really has no future, even if it's fun while it lasts. Are you getting what that's like?

My job is like that.

I love my job. I couldn't ask for more engaged, interesting students. I get to teach classes I enjoy. I have wonderful colleagues and a chair who is always looking out for me. And when I'm not teaching or performing other professorial duties, I get to live my slacker lifestyle, writing in coffee shops, playing guitar with friends, hanging out with my family, agitating for revolution, etc.

But I have no job security, and I don't make enough money to make ends meet. You see, being an adjunct is a lot like having a relationship with the university that's all about the sex. The U is very attractive, and he knows how to make me feel good. He says all the right things - he tells me he needs me, that he doesn't know what he'd do without me, that I'm good for him. And just when I start to believe it, when I start to think, "hey - maybe I really do have something with this guy that's worth hanging onto" - he starts acting weird, getting all distant because I want to leave some stuff at his place.

I'm going to have to start going out on job interviews with other guys.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Transplant 2: Paranoia on the Plains

To Northeasterners, especially those from urban areas, being noticed is what we work very very hard to achieve. We live for attention. We try to distinguish ourselves, especially in, say, a club. South Dakotans, on the other hand, live in terror of having other people notice them. At least, that's what it looks like to me. (You can see the cultural dilemma I face on a daily basis.)


If you go out to a "club" here - and I am using the term very loosely - you will find an environment that is very much like the high school dances I remember. In high school, everyone would line up against the walls at the perimeter of the gym or cafeteria or wherever the dance was being held. The DJ would be playing perfectly danceable music, everyone would be singing along and bobbing their heads, but no one would be dancing. No one wanted to be, as one of my friends put it, "those people," the ones who start dancing before the dancing gets going, before it is "cool" to dance.

Now, follow this logic for a minute. There is a moment at which it becomes cool to be out on the dance floor. This moment comes after some other, "less cool" people have started dancing. It is never cool to be the first people on the dance floor. So, that means that if one wants to dance and also be cool, one must wait until someone else decides to dance and thus makes the dance floor safe. It is rather similar to the way that penguins test the water for sharks by pushing each other in. If no one gets eaten, it's ok for everyone to dive in. I'm not sure what South Dakotans think is going to happen to the first few dancers, but I suspect that it is simply that other people will look at them. And this, to any South Dakotan, is torture.

When I got to college, I noticed a huge difference between high school and college dances. In college, when the music started, bodies hit the floor. These bodies seemed to flaunt the laws of physics. "Is it really possible to do that?" I would wonder to myself as I watched others contort on the dance floor. "Those hips have got to be double-jointed." Sweat would be pouring down faces, shirts would come off, and pretty soon, if it was a really good party, people would be dancing in bras and jeans or the like. But no one stopped dancing. I used to be the one who could keep dancing all the way through a high school dance, but in college, I would have to take breaks, breathless and panting, while the bodies continued hurtling and spinning and jerking and jumping.

I found the same things in the clubs in Albany and Hartford and Buffalo. Dancing was something that you took seriously and did your best to do well. There was an understanding that many of the dancers came because they loved to dance, and while they might enjoy a drink (or several), they did not need to get all liquored up in order to lower their being-looked-at inhibitions.

In South Dakota, however, dancing is something that you do once you've ingested enough alcohol that you have a legitimate excuse, should you dance poorly and embarrass yourself. However, there is one exception to this rule. For some reason I haven't quite figured out, it is perfectly acceptable for "dancers" to showcase stripper moves intimate...on the dance floor. Now, this is not so unusual; such behavior is the norm all over the country. What makes it odd in South Dakota is that this rule co-exists with the fear of being watched while dancing. Back when I was coming up, there was plenty of sexy dancing, plenty of bodies pressed up against each other and grinding, but it was done with more attention to the dance. These days, when I see people doing the sexy dance thing, they seem to have mostly forgotten to move rhythmically and gracefully. To paraphrase a friend, people have forgotten all about dance as a metaphor for sex and just decided that dance is sex.

So, in the clubs here, people are conflicted. They want to dance, but they are afraid of looking foolish, so they won't dance without drinking, they won't dance if there aren't enough people on the dance floor, they often won't dance alone. At the same time, they seem not to be afraid of being mistaken for exotic dancers. It is as if they are thinking, "If people are going to look at me, they might as well get an eyeful."

In case you are wondering, I am, of course, always tasteful and appropriate. My sexy dancing is both rhythmic and graceful, and I always gyrate on beat.

The Problem with Neighbors

Living in an apartment building is great. I like not having to worry about shoveling the walks or raking leaves or any of the maintenance that comes with owning a house. But lately, I've been having a real problem with my Downstairs Neighbors.

They smoke. I'm a former smoker, so I don't have an issue with this. I am not someone who feels that everyone in the world must stop smoking so that I don't have to smell their cigarette smoke. I am actually very tolerant of smoky environments. But their smoke has a way of getting into my apartment, and I do not want smoke in my home.

Last fall, when they moved in, I quickly found that if I left any of our windows open at any time of the day and most any time of the night, the smoke from their patio, where they'd leave their cigarettes burning in a big bucket, would rise and float inside our apartment. After a while of this, it began to smell like *we* were smoking. So, I trotted downstairs to have a friendly chat with my Downstairs Neighbors. The woman I spoke with was cordial and tried to be accommodating; she agreed to move the bucket o' cigs away from directly under my window, and that did, indeed help.

(Side note: I noticed that she was very visibly pregnant, obviously near her delivery date. She told me that she didn't want to smoke in the house. So I had some interesting conversations in my head about the contradictions inherent in all of that.)

But then it got cold, and my Downstairs Neighbors apparently started smoking indoors. Suddenly, even with my windows closed, my apartment began to smell like cigarette smoke all the time. I finally figured out that the smoke was getting in through the bathroom fan, which is set into a ventilating system in the wall that is connected to the apartments above and below me. So, I began turning the fan on at regular intervals, which seemed to help.

After a while, even that wasn't enough to keep the smell away. So, for the last couple of weeks, I've left the fan on continuously. Usually, this keeps the smoke away. There are some days, however, when even that does not keep the smoke smell out of the bathroom. Further, leaving the fan running continuously has had the side effect of making the apartment even more dry than usual, despite our humidifier.

Then, as I posted the other day, my kid got croup. That meant that he desperately needed a moist, humid environment. It also meant that he couldn't be exposed to cigarette smoke. Hmmm. I took a rag and stuffed it into the vent in the bathroom, plugging up any opening through which smoke could come. Then, I taped a plastic bag over the vent. Finally, for good measure, I kept the bathroom door shut.

That seemed to work well. I was able to keep the kid's room sufficiently humid, and the house (and bathroom) were free of smoke.

Until a couple of days ago, when the kid woke up at 4am with a coughing fit, and I went into the bathroom to start the shower in order to create a steam room for him. When I opened the door, I smelled smoke. I couldn't bring him in there to breathe steam because he'd also be breathing smoke. I had to rip out the rag and plastic bag and run the fan all night to get the smell out.

The final straw: The other day, I opened the dryer to pull out some blankets. Like the bathroom fans, the dryers in our building all vent into a common space. So, now my blankets smell, albeit faintly, of cigarette smoke.

A pox on you, Downstairs Neighbors, who don't like to smoke in your own apartment, but who nevertheless smoke in mine.

(By the way - in case you were wondering: the kid is fine. He seems to be over the croup, thank god.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

William Shatner Rocks

There's nothing else for it - you just have to check this out and watch the entire clip. Really.

  • William Shatner Does Rocketman
  • Movies That Make Me Hot

    And, by "Movies That Make Me Hot," I of course mean, "Movies That, If I Should Happen by And They Are On The T.V., I Must Watch in Their Entirety."

    Casablanca This posed an interesting problem for me yesterday, given that I was on a break from my own class when I passed by my colleague's film class while he was showing this film. I contemplated pressing my face up against the glass window by the door to watch - or even sneaking inside and taking a seat in the back of the room - but I ended up dejectedly trudging back to finish teaching my own class.

    The Manchurian Candidate The original, of course. The Denzel Washington version wasn't bad, but it was nowhere near as good as the original. Which reminds me of an interesting exchange that took place in a class last semester (if you are over 30 and/or a film buff, you will find this amusing). I had asked the class to cast a play we were reading. One student cast Angela Lansbury as a woman who basically helps a killer escape justice.
    Me: That's a perfect fit for her.
    Student: Really? Has she played an evil character?
    Me: Ever see Manchurian Candidate?
    Student: Was she in that?
    [I mentally smack forehead with hand]
    Me: Dude, she WAS the movie.
    Student: The one with Denzel Washington?
    [I mentally smack forehead again]
    Me: No, the original. The one with Denzel is a remake.
    Student: There was an original? She was in it? She played a bad guy?
    [I mentally bang head against wall]

    Alien A couple of Saturday mornings ago, I was coming down with the cold my kid had. I had that groggy feeling you get when you wake up and go back to sleep several times, and to help me regain my alertness, I switched on the t.v. I was just in time to see the Paramount logo. As the title credits started to roll - Tom Skerritt...Sigourney Weaver - I *knew*. This was ALIEN. One of my favorite movies, one that I can watch again and again. Of course, it's not a movie to watch with a four-year-old in the vicinity, so I reluctantly turned it off.

    Evil Dead 2 Actually, I'm lying - I don't think I can watch this one endlessly anymore, only because I've seen it so many hundreds of times that it's lost its thrill. However, as it has been a few years now since I've seen it, it may be time for a little Bruce Campbell...hmmm...

    All About Eve I learned recently that this classic was nominated for more Academy Awards than any other film until Titanic came along. I'm not a huge Bette Davis fan, but she really is wonderful in this. And you just know that every drag queen in the world secretly practices her Bette Davis impression in front of the mirror: "Fasten your seatbelts. We're in for a bumpy night."

    Titanic No no no - I'm just kidding. In fact, I never saw the film. When I heard about James Cameron's horrible labor practices (which included my friend's brother, who worked on the film, nearly falling asleep at the wheel during his drive home after a long, hard day), I decided to boycott the film, which, as you all know, was a hugely successful strategy with a significant impact.

    Tootsie OK, seriously? When I was about 12, I went to see Tootsie in the theater and became obsessed with it. I'm not really sure what that was all about, but I found Dustin Hoffman's Michael strangely compelling. It's not a movie I would probably ever watch again, so it doesn't really belong on this list, but I'm including it because I would have watched it over and over again back then. I even clipped the movie advertisements out of the paper and saved them. All right, look, it was 1982, he was a man challenging gender roles and really understanding what the world looked like from a woman's perspective, I was 12. Stop laughing.

    Nightmare on Elm Street I do like to stay to see Johnny Depp get eaten by the bed and turned into tomato juice - but I'm only including this here because one time, while I was, shall we say, chemically impaired, I happened by a friend's dorm room and this was on his t.v. Naturally, I interpreted this to mean that I was actually a character in the movie, and I immediately sat down on the floor to determine what my fate would be. Hey, it was a good distraction from watching my hands go all Michael Jackson and turn into werewolf paws.

    Of course, I'm leaving off a whole bunch of great films that never seem to show up on my t.v. screen, along with many that are favorites of mine but that I wouldn't necessarily watch repeatedly. I have a feeling I'll revisit this topic in another post.

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    Why Facebook Really IS Evil

    Last night, I was sitting around with some students chatting about Facebook. Facebook is basically a version of MySpace that is set up for high school and college students. Since I am neither, I haven't really seen much of what Facebook has to offer, though I did have one brief tutorial session from a friend who loves Facebook, just enough of an introduction for me to get a general sense of it. (I'm not sure what makes it more attractive to students than MySpace, but maybe someone will helpfully post a comment here and explain that.) Anyway, it's billed as a way to keep in touch with old friends and make new ones, and I suspect that because it's supposedly for students only - though anyone with an "edu" address can gain access to it - it might feel deceptively like "safe space." It is apparently so much fun and so addictive that one of my students kept repeating, "Facebook is the devil." (I don't really get WHY it is so much fun or so addictive, but then, I don't get text messaging, either.)

    Well, here's what you need to know about Facebook. Apparently, in addition to being a place to meet friends, it is also a service that very helpfully collects information and photographs and then sells this information to a variety of vendors - including our very own Department of Defense. Why should this be cause for alarm? Because it is illegal for the DoD to collect such information on its own...but apparently it is perfectly legal for someone else to collect this information and then sell it to the DoD. And Facebook, according to one source of mine, appeared on the scene specifically to provide this service. If you are a conspiracy theorist, you should have the cold sweats right about now.

    The thing is, once you're on Facebook, you've provided information that you can't get back. It's out there. It's in your permanent file, mister.

    I suppose I shouldn't really be surprised by this. I mean, we all know that whatever we send out into cyberspace is public - we can't control what happens to it, and we have to assume that others will have access to it. Further, we know that there are all kinds of ways that businesses collect information about us to sell to various advertisers and marketing agencies. So it isn't exactly a huge leap to get from there to the DoD.'s freaky in a 'Big Brother' kinda way. Sadly, even that is not surprising.

    Croup. Crap.

    The kid has croup. This is scary to me. If you don't know what that is, it is a virus that causes a sharp, barking, uncontrollable, spasming cough. Croup can get bad. When I was in middle school, my younger brother had to go to the ER in the middle of the night to be placed in an oxygen tent because he had croup. So, it kind of freaks me out to be one of the people expected to handle this sanely.

    In the first place, it sucks when your kid gets sick. My mom always used to say to me, "I wish it could be me instead of you" whenever I was sick (which, to me, always sounded more than a little masochistic if not just plain weird). But I think I understand what she meant. It's not just because parents worry about sick children or because we don't want them to suffer in any way, although these are the obvious reasons. But it's also because, as a parent, you identify with your kid's discomfort and fear, and you remember your own childhood illnesses and the way they felt, the way you couldn't communicate to others what you needed in order to feel better. For me, these memories involve me being awake for long hours at night, either nauseous or uncomfortable, with only the closet light on in my room. (In contrast, as an adult, I can control this somewhat - I have a t.v. in my room, I can leave the light on, I can take all kinds of medications whenever I want to in order to treat my symptoms. I've never forgotten what it was like lying there in the half-dark; to this day, when I have a bad cold, I sleep with the lights and the television on.) So, first, I remember what that felt like and how much I hated it, and second, I worry that I haven't been able to make my kid comfortable because he doesn't know or can't tell me what would make him feel better.

    When the sickness prevents your kid from sleeping, it's bad enough. Three-thirty this morning found me driving around my regular "nap route," hoping that the kid would eventually fall asleep (he did). And of course, when the kid isn't sleeping, neither are you. I'm amazed at how well parenthood has prepared me to function on very little sleep. Today, on less than four hours of sleep, I drove the car (a feat in itself), attended two, two-hour-long meetings, did all kinds of laundry, and am just now sitting down to read and grade (I doubt I'll make it through that little project).

    When the sickness involves sitting in a steamy bathroom (which relieves the cough and allows the sick kid to breathe more easily) with a crying kid who doesn't like being sweaty - well, that's no fun, either. Especially if it's three am and he's screaming like a banshee.

    But when you know that the illness itself is risky - and you know this because the flier the doctor gives you tells you to sleep in the kid's room to monitor his/her breathing - and when the codeine cough syrup the doctor gives you *also* comes with a warning that it can cause breathing problems - well, even if you are pretty sure that your kid is in good shape, it's pretty freakin' upsetting.

    He's apparently fallen asleep - there are no coughing sounds. We may all get some sleep yet. Wish us luck.

    Sunday, January 15, 2006


    Just thought I'd add a little encouragement to y'all to leave me comments if you feel like it.

    Mama Time

    In the last two weeks, people in my house have been sick. A lot. So I've had more days home with the kid than usual. Quite often, this will make me crazy, because I always have stuff to do - books to read, classes to plan, articles to write, etc., etc. After a week of sick days, a weekend day can feel overwhelming, because I have all that stuff from the week to catch up on - and the kid, too. (And in this case, my partner is sick in bed (finally his turn, I guess, poor guy.)) But I have to admit, sometimes being home on days like this is a lot of fun. For instance, earlier today, while I was quietly typing here at my desk, the kid was sitting in a big cardboard box with an empty wrapping paper tube playing "sailboat." "Bob the Builder" - an episode I hadn't seen before - was on in the background. I alternated between working on my blogs, checking email, and clearing off my desk, while he played happily on his own a few feet away from me.

    Later, we ran errands together, stopping by a local restaurant to retrieve a forgotten scarf, the big box bookstore to pick up a book I had ordered, and the mall to get all kinds of things: socks for him, handbags for me, pizza for both of us. He crawled around under the Hot Topic t-shirt table while I looked through band t-shirts (they always have The Smiths but never The Cure, New Order, or Depeche Mode - why is that?!). He helped me pick out socks for him, adding pink and yellow to my pile of navy and white. (The kid is no dummy. He notices that boys are doomed to the ugly colors in the clothing stores. Stupid sexist fashion industry.)

    He did go a little nuts after a couple of hours, peeking under the dressing room stall a couple of times. But by then, it was time to go, and he fell asleep in the car on the way home.

    All in all, not a bad day.

    Saturday, January 14, 2006

    Gender in the Gym

    When I first started lifting last summer, I was really intimidated by the whole atmosphere of the gym. The men tended to outnumber the women; the smells and sounds were sharp and strong; it was clearly a male space. I entered it with a trainer, who very quickly showed me how to use some of the machines (several of which, until then, had been a mystery to me).

    I also felt awkward about my own physical presence. I am extremely critical of my own body, and I tend to assume that everyone else is, as well. No matter what else is going on, no matter what I am doing, I am always thinking about my body, about the space it takes up, about the way it looks, about the enormous difference I perceive between what I see and what I think I should see. And so putting on shorts and a tank top and appearing in public was extremely difficult for me (and still is).

    But in this gym, unlike some others, bodies seem to be less on display. They are there, not to look good, but to function. It isn't that people don't notice the other bodies, but more that everyone is focused on what their own bodies are doing. And in the seven or so months that I've been going there, I haven't run into very many beauty queens (of any gender). Instead, what I've been struck by is how "normal" everyone's body seems. I had expected to feel horribly out of place - too big, too out of shape, not muscular enough, too fat, whatever. Instead, I mostly feel like just another body, one of many people trying to see what I can do as I move and turn and lift.

    But I watch myself. I haven't figured out how to move comfortably, yet I notice that my movements have indeed changed. I don't walk the same way in my athlete's costume as I do when I am not wearing it. I know how to move as a dancer; my body remembers how to walk with grace. But I can't be graceful in tennis shoes, and I am forever stumbling over my own feet, or awkwardly turning and bending to replace weights on the rack.

    And so I notice my own movements, especially when the others around me seem to move with more fluidity and purpose. But I notice, too, those moments when my body looks and moves in ways that seem pleasing. I try to be a little more generous, and to love the parts of my body that I think are unloveable. I try to remember that my mushy belly covers strong abdominal muscles, that it came by its shape stretching to accomodate a baby, that it feels good to touch. And then I make myself think of something else, turning my attention to the miles on the counter, focusing not on how my body looks but on how it feels, both flesh hardened to my touch and also the sensation of tired, accomplished muscles and limbs.

    I will probably always be on display, even if only in my own mind. But in the gym, I have moments when I can experience my body as energy and movement first, form second.

    Friday, January 13, 2006

    What's Scary about Feminism? - Part I

    I did a quick seach on blogspot to see what came up when I typed in "feminism" or "feminist." There are a frightening number of anti-feminist blogs that seem to see feminism as a hate-filled ideology. It always surprises me to encounter this perspective, perhaps because the feminism I embrace, the feminists I see on a daily basis - it/they are not scary or weird or hateful. Your mom might be a feminist. Your best friend probably is one. And I am one, and although I occasionally - VERY occasionally, like maybe twice in the last four years - will get evaluations back that complain that I am or my course is too feminist, I don't think I'm a feminist of the scary variety (nor do the vast majority of my students).

    Not that I'm not "militant." If militant means that I believe that women are oppressed in American society, that Hooters is unredeemable, that fraternities are bad for men and women, that women should be paid the same as men, that abortion should be legal and available on demand (as opposed to mandatory waiting periods) and that excellent education, health care, childcare, and jobs are everyone's right in this country, then, yes, I'm a militant feminist.

    Do I hate men? No. Do I see men as the enemy? There was a time when I did, back in my young and newly politicized days (just like I moved through an anti-straight political period when I was first coming to queer politics). But now, I see us all struggling together. There are certainly times, such as when I am asked by a smirking man to explain "the point" of Women's Studies, usually as a pretext for him to make a derogatory comment about my profession/field of study, when I see individual men as my enemy. There are also times, such as when I revisit rape and domestice violence statistics, or when a group of men I don't know try to get me to climb into their car (as happened recently outside a club), when I realize that, statistically, men ARE my enemy, since it is quite likely that I will be sexually assaulted and/or raped by a man in my lifetime. But, probably fortunately for my overall mental health and good will, these times seem to pass quickly.

    In actuality, I am surprised and a little concerned to sometimes find myself more likely to give men more room to feel comfortable with feminism than I am to give women this same space. Lately, I've worried that I give men in my classes more attention than I give women. Perhaps this is all in an effort to say, "hey - I'm not a scary feminist. I believe that feminism is a form of humanism. I believe that gender oppression hurts all of us. And I think that if you really understood what feminism was all about, you wouldn't find it scary at all."

    In my personal life, I've recently begun to give men the benefit of the doubt in ways I never would have before. For example, I used to hate it when men I didn't know would hit on me at a club or assume it was ok for them to make physical contact. But these days, if someone asks me to dance at a club, most of the time I will respond graciously. Instead of looking at the situation only from my own perspective as a woman, I'm also more aware of the roles that the men around me are trying to fulfill. I recognize that it's a risk for a guy to ask a woman to dance, and I don't see the point of being mean for no reason. I can look outside of my own politics to be flattered by the attention, which is generally meant as a compliment. I don't even get particularly annoyed anymore if I find a stray hand on my butt; I realize that, for better or for worse, this is part of the scene, which is largely about hooking up, even if that's not why I'm there. I feel in enough control of the situation that it doesn't threaten or offend me, although it does get old (and I know that some of my younger friends resent this kind of attention and the idea that men feel entitled to touch their bodies without permission). I imagine that if it were a constant occurrence, or if I felt unsafe, or if I didn't feel in control, it would bother me, too. (And, frankly, I have a feeling that my tolerance of stray hands is diminishing - it *is* getting old. And, of course, if I act like this behavior is acceptable, then I'm just allowing someone to think it's ok to grab a woman he doesn't know instead of pointing out that perhaps it isn't.)

    So I don't automatically perceive men as my enemy, and I do empathize with the social role men are expected to play. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't also recognize the ways in which men collectively oppress women. Maybe, if you're reading this and you find feminism scary, I've lost you there. I'm not saying that all men consciously and purposefully oppress women. What I am saying is that, through male privilege, through institutionalized forms of sexism, men (mostly unthinkingly, I like to believe) support gender discrimination. And women support it, too - we are often complicit in our own oppression, until we see what's going on.

    The thing is, challenging patriarchy means taking huge risks. If (heterosexual and bisexual) women want to date men, to marry them, to be loved by them and thought to be attractive by them, then professing feminism kind of limits the pool (though I do know lots of guys who are turned on by feminists - go, feminist-lovin' guys!).

    My particular brand of feminism is also antiracist, and I see a clear parallel between feminism and antiracism in terms of the way men, in one case, and white people, in the other, respond to each. Both are about challenging authority and dominant culture, and we are saying that men and white people have got some power and advantages that they didn't earn and don't deserve, and that they got these at the expense of others. Further, we are saying that, as a result of living in a society that is institutionally sexist/racist/whatever, we are all sexist/racist.

    Most people don't want to accept this. We take it personally. We feel that we are not bad people, and yet we are being told that we are. As a white person, I'm aware of my white skin privilege, but it took me a while to be able to accept it. I thought it meant that I was a horrible person, but what it really means is that I've finally become aware of the way society works. I am not to blame for the structure of society, but I'm responsible for educating myself about inequality and oppression and for doing everything I can to interrupt it.

    It's the same thing with men and feminism. Some of my strongest feminist allies are men. There are certainly schools of feminist thought that argue that men can't be feminists, but there are schools of every strain of political thought that argue for exclusion. They are not the entire movement, nor are they even the most dominant parts of the movements. So anyway, any men who are willing to recognize what's going on and to take responsibility for doing what they can to change it? Those guys are part of my revolution.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Having Faith in SD - Part I

    One of the things I really like about living in this part of the country is that there is an acceptance of faith that I have not found in other parts of the country (esp. the Northeast).

    In the Northeast, it is entirely cool to be on a faith journey, though less so if you actually call it that. It's more acceptable to be seeking something, or trying out a religious or faith tradition, esp. if it's something "exotic" (i.e., non-Western religious tradition or at least a less well-known Western religious tradition). It's less acceptable to speak directly about god or to join a traditional organized religion. I find this to be particularly true in the academic community (as a whole, not limited by location), regardless of the faith that one professes. I would go so far as to say that in certain circles, admitting a belief in the divine can cost you the respect of your peers.

    In the Midwest, it causes confusion and sometimes suspicion and fear to talk about things like a "Goddess circle" or Buddhism. Non-Christian traditions are very definitely seen as "other," to the extent that even the newspaper reports on "other holiday traditions" when talking about Kwanzaa or Hanukkah.

    But in the Midwest, I've heard people use the kind of godtalk I've only ever before heard in association with fundamentalism (e.g., "god is trying to teach me a lesson about x") without the slightest hint of religious orthodoxy or fundamentalism. Perhaps because Christianity, or at least religion, is assumed to be nearly universal, there seems to me to be an opening up of possibilities in the way that one can interpret these traditions. For example, on the East Coast, I knew lots of people who had more or less rejected the faith of their upbringing, or who had at least stopped going to church. Here, I know lots of people who question the faith they grew up with, but a larger percentage of them seem to use that as a motivation to find a different church rather than to stop going altogether.

    There also seem to be fewer walking religious stereotypes and more complex individuals - or at least, you would think so, because people actually do talk about their faiths somewhat. I mean, this is still South Dakota, and for those of you not familiar with the Midwest, let me just say that it's not like you think. Lutheran Midwesterners are not large with the pouring out personal issues and emotions, so while there are groups like the "feisty Christies," as some of my friends and students call them, they are a small percentage of the overall population.

    Anyway, so when people talk about god out here, it's kind of like they're just telling you something general about their day, and it doesn't have to be a "moment," and it doesn't mean that they are in the next breath going to insist that women must obey their husbands. But it does mean that there is sometimes a connection between our every day lives and our thoughts about that which is spiritual. There's a common understanding that this is important to think about in order to be whole people, not from the perspective of "being saved" (I have encountered much more fundamentalists on the East Coast than I have here) but rather from the perspective of thinking about ourselves as spiritual beings. And while those who are atheists probably find this to be a very frustrating undertone (hell, even those of us who don't fit easily into the Lutheran or Christian faiths find it frustrating), if often feels to me to be a welcome breath of fresh air just to be able to talk openly and express my questions, doubts, and faith.

    So what I've found here are some people who are very faithful (usually, but not always Christians, who also have liberal politics that serve social justice (this makes me happy), and who also work hard to live out their beliefs. (Yes, of course, I know people like this in the Northeast, too; perhaps I'll hammer out the differences between the regional groups in a future post.)

    On the other hand, as the last Presidential election reflects, people tend to be generally more conservative here, and issues like abortion and gay marriage freak many of 'em right the hell out. But that's a whole 'nother story.

    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    Mean Friends

    Have you ever had a mean friend?

    A mean friend is someone whose mean streak is obvious enough that you can see it, even though you try to tell yourself that maybe it's not as bad as it appears. Maybe she gossips (not harmless gossip, but hurtful gossip). Maybe she likes to exclude people. Or maybe you suspect that she's using you for something, perhaps because she feels you have the right social connections.

    The thing with mean friends is that they are often some of the most fun people to hang out with. They are usually doing cool things. They like the same things you like. They make you laugh. And their meanness is never directed at you, and in fact it isn't even always on the surface, so that many times you can forget about it or pretend it isn't there.

    But I always feel unsure about whether or not it's safe to relax around my mean friends. Maybe I'm just channeling middle school, but I feel like mean friends will eventually turn on you, so it's best to keep a distance and not let them get too close. At the same time, when I'm with a mean friend, I usually worry that I'm not cool or interesting or exciting enough to keep their interest, and that I have to be careful or they'll drop me in search of someone more cool or interesting or exciting.

    I remember one really telling moment years ago with a mean friend who was also beautiful and popular. I can't remember the context, but we were both at the same academic conference, and it was clear to me that she was trying to limit our dinner group to only those whom she deemed "cool." I said something to her about not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, and tried to elicit some compassion: "you remember what it feels like to be left out, right?"

    She gave me a blank look in return.

    And then I understood. At least some mean friends, perhaps more often the beautiful and popular ones, have always been the gatekeepers. They've never been the ones who were themselves kept out. This may make them even more dangerous because they really are capable of empathy in only certain contexts or up to a certain point.

    I tend to have mean friends periodically. The thing is, I really do wonder sometimes if they use me or if I use them. Generally, I don't keep in touch with mean friends if I or they move away. I am aware when someone is occupying the mean friend slot in my life, and I think on some level I'm treating that friendship as a filler, as temporary.

    On the other hand, however, I have had quite a few friends who started out as mean friends and turned out to be just regular friends, even, on occasion, wonderfully nice friends. Sometimes it was simply that I had been wrong about them, and they weren't actually mean. Other times, it seemed that they changed and stopped being mean. I honestly don't know which of us it was who changed. Perhaps it has always been a matter of my perception and my judgment.

    And of course, since we've all had our moments of engaging in hurtful gossip, excluding people, and using people, it sort of begs the question: have I ever been the mean friend?

    Friday, January 06, 2006

    Why Blog?

    I think it's interesting that I feel somewhat shameful, not to be blogging, but to be telling my friends, "Hey, I have a blog, come check it out." I'm not sure why this is. I think on one level, it's about feeling weird asking for attention (everybody, look at this thing I made!). On another level, it's because I don't know if what I want to say is especially interesting to anyone else (Oh, man, she expects me to read her blog...crap.).

    I've been trying to figure out why I wanted to do this in the first place, given my ambivalence about having other people read it. (Because of course, I must want people to read it; if I didn't, I wouldn't have a blog, I'd have a journal - and I do have one of those, and it's for those things that I'm either too smart or too frightened to share. And I certainly wouldn't be telling people about it. So it seems weird that I feel odd about it.) But it's definitely strange to write knowing that others will read what I write. With anything else, I might tinker with it for a while before turning it over to others to see. Here, the time between composition and publication can be instantaneous, so there's an immediacy and a sense of exposure that I don't have as frequently otherwise.

    And then I also feel the pressure to write with perfect grammar and punctuation. I mean, I do teach English, after all.

    One reason I wanted to do this is because I knew it would give me an excuse to write, which I rarely get to do anymore. And of course, writing is one of those generative activities. It only works if you do it often - otherwise, when the muse comes, you're somewhere other than with keyboard or pen in hand, and you miss her. And you miss the writing that writing leads you to, whether it's inspired or banged out, bloody and raw, one letter at a time.

    So I love having the excuse to do this because for some time now, in my regular daily life, I no longer make time to write. I used to sit down with a cup of coffee in a cafe, my work spread out in front of me - readings, articles I was working on, student papers - and always, *always*, I'd begin by writing in my journal. Sometimes I'd just note snippets of conversation or impressions of what was going on around me; sometimes I'd have thoughts about whatever I was working on or whatever relationship was foremost in my mind. But I always began with that space for my own writing before I got to anyone else's or to the writing I had to do for anyone else. And now? *This* is mostly my space.

    But another reason is that I have things I need to say. I'm not necessarily sure what they are or how to say them or even that I'm brave enough to say them, but I'm hoping that this experiment will lead me to greater honesty in my own writing.

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    Transplant - Learning the Language

    I grew up in upstate New York, and after a couple of years in Connecticut, spent the rest of my time before South Dakota in Buffalo, NY. Buffalo was actually a great place to live – people usually think of it as a place with a lot of snow and little else, but those of us who spent more than a couple of years there learned that it was, as someone told me when I first moved there, “one of the best-kept secrets in the country.” If you’re looking for a busy and varied arts community, you will find it in Buffalo, home to any number of active arts organizations. I think it’s no accident that Ani diFranco, the Goo Goo Dolls, and 10,000 Maniacs all live(d) in or near Buffalo.

    Anyway, after living in NY State for so long, I qualify to myself as well as the rest of the country as a “New Yorker.” This is different from the kind of New Yorker that someone who actually lives in New York City is. Generally, if you say to anyone in CT, NJ, or NY State that you are a New Yorker, they will assume that you mean that you actually live in “the city.” But once you leave the state and the “tri-state region,” “New Yorker” takes on a different meaning. People outside of the New York area don’t really care about the distinction between actually living in “the city” and living in the state. (People who live in NY City don’t really care about the distinction between living any number of places outside of “the city” – if you don’t live in New York, you might as well live in Washington State, for all they care, but don’t expect them to understand or appreciate the pleasures and unique qualities of Buffalo (and certainly not Sioux Falls).

    Being a New Yorker means, first, that I greet each day with a healthy dose of cynicism. When I first moved out here, I was suspicious of all the friendliness that I encountered on a regular basis. It seemed too good to be true. And indeed, it was – I have since been told, on numerous occasions, that no matter how friendly South Dakotans might be to your face, they are definitely talking behind your back. Still, there is a cheerfulness, a quickness to smile and to exchange pleasantries, that you won’t find with such regularity in New York. In the face of such cheerful, warm “good mornings” from co-workers, I find it difficult to sustain my cynical outlook. In fact, after living here for several years, I have found that I, too, have adopted the cheerful outlook on life that so distressed me when I first arrived. While I am still suspicious, I now save my suspicion for institutional plots and conspiracies rather than the nice woman standing next to me in line at the grocery store.

    But cynicism is only part of being a New Yorker. New Yorkers speak a different language from that found in the Midwest. Frankly, New Yorkers bitch. When we greet each other, we don’t say cheerful things. Instead, we begin sentences with, “Can you believe it?! Wait till you hear what this jerk did on the highway this morning,” or “I am so pissed about...” or “Don’t you hate...” Shortly after I first moved to Sioux Falls, I went into work and a co-worker very genuinely (and naively) asked me how I was that morning. I responded, “Oh, God! Can you believe this weather?! And then the bus was late, so I had to stand in the rain for 10 minutes. AND I am so depressed after looking at the headlines this morning. How are you?” My co-worker looked shaken, and very sorry she had asked. Clearly, this was not the expected South Dakotan response to the question.

    But perhaps the most important point about language is that New Yorkers curse. My friends from back east and I pepper our language with various swear words, mostly notably the trinity of all-purpose curses: fuck, shit, and damn. We also say “hell” quite often. I have found, however, that since moving to Sioux Falls, my language has been cleaned up considerably, at least in public (and especially in the University of Sioux Falls library). Case in point: back home, when surprised by distressing news, one might say something along the lines of, “Holy fucking Christ!” Here, a response of, “Gosh!” is more likely.

    But now that I've been here for a while, I'm noticing that the New Yorker in me is making herself heard more frequently. I'm no longer the same New Yorker I was; I can control my tongue and my temper most of the time without even thinking about it. But more and more, I'm finding that while I like the general cheerfulness in others and in myself, I also really like the occasional bursts of discontentment, ire, and just general bitchiness.

    I'm a New York feminist in exile...and a South Dakota bitch.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    T-Shirt Politics

    All I really want is to live in a place where I can own and wear t-shirts that say shocking yet funny things like:

    "I love my cunt." (I do.)

    "I had an abortion." (Well, actually, I haven't, so I probably wouldn't wear that one. But I'd like to live somewhere where it was an option for me to do so without fearing for my job or personal safety.)

    "I love feminists (and cute lesbians)." (Because hey -- who doesn't?)

    Or, my favorite (seen on Gawker a while back):
    "Anderson Cooper gives me a boner." (A woman was pictured wearing the shirt, which made it even better.)

    See, I think that t-shirts should provoke thought, or laughter, or both. Sadly, all I've really got that does this is my "this is what a feminist looks like" shirt, and when I wear it, people give me funny looks, especially on campus.

    But...I just ordered a bunch of "my vagina is moving to Canada" buttons...and I hope to distribute them among the masses and start a movement...

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    Full Circle -- The Semester Begins

    I started teaching my interim class today. I have a couple of students who were in my very first class at this college, who were freshmen then and who are now seniors. I can't believe they're already seniors -- I remember how nervous and shy they seemed at the beginning of the fall semester (the way freshmen often do). And now they're all poised and sophisticated, taller, and grown up.

    I feel like I've come a long way in my teaching since then. I remember that class as being a very difficult one to teach: I was brand new to the college, it was a class I hadn't taught before, and on top of that, I had chosen a book that we all ended up hating. And there were even a couple of disciplinary problems thrown in for good measure (who I haven't seen since).

    At the other end of the spectrum, I have had quite a few repeat students this year. A couple of them have really made their presence felt in my classes over the last year, but they probably won't be in my courses again for some time (given what I teach). I'm going to miss them. Others have taken courses with me nearly every semester for some time, and I am fully enjoying having them in class again.

    I spoke a bit today about privilege and oppression. I'm always a little bit worried when I talk about issues like feminism, racism, homophobia, etc., in the classroom. I know that there are some students who automatically turn off when they hear those words. I really struggle to present the information in a way that is accessible to everyone, so that they don't turn off but instead try to engage with the materials I'm presenting. That's all I want -- for them to interact with what we're reading and talking about.

    Anyway, this class looks like it will be great -- interesting students, good co-instructor, great texts. Even considering that I'm working with a syllabus that I didn't create, I'm really looking forward to it.

    Monday, January 02, 2006

    Happy New Year -- Cleaning Up

    Probably most of the time, when someone tells you she spent her New Year's Day cleaning up puke, you figure she had a good time the night before. I DID have a good time on New Year's Eve, but not that kind of good time.

    After literally YEARS of staying home with the in-laws on New Year's Eve, I actually went out this year -- and not just out, but out to TWO parties. I felt wildly liberated to have big plans for the evening, let me tell you. The first party was somewhat formal -- wine and conversation. The company was delightful, and I had an awesome and long conversation about American medicine with a doctor who had assisted in the delivery of his own son. The second party was equally fun, and more informal -- beer, pool, and cards. I got in one really good (lucky) pool shot and pretty much sucked otherwise.

    So I had a great New Year's Eve, didn't drink too much, and got to bed at a not-too-unreasonable hour. New Year's Day morning, however, my nearly-four-year-old son complained of not feeling well. By the end of the day, he had thrown up in his bed. Then, one of the cats starting throwing up. Altogether, by 1am today, I had had to wash three sets of sheets and pajamias and clean up several spots on the rug. And I slept (not too well) on the floor at the foot of my bed in which my kid slept, so that I would be right there if he needed me but not so close that I'd catch whatever he had.

    All of this wouldn't be so bad if I weren't Parent On Duty until my partner gets back tomorrow -- and if I didn't have a brand new class beginning tomorrow for which I have to prepare brand new lectures -- and if I didn't have to cancel all of my babysitting arrangements for yesterday and today because of my kid's illness.

    And on top of all of this, the Lost DVDs are due back at the video place today, and I only made it through the very beginning of the two-part season finale.

    Way to start off the New Year with a bang!