Friday, 9 May 2014

Acceptance received to pursue my PhD!

Exciting news!

I've been accepted by the University of British Columbia to pursue my PhD with the Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice Institute. I plan to continue my investigation into the reproductive health of transgender and transsexual people, especially those who were female-assigned at birth. I look at menstruation, pregnancy, abortion, child-birth, lactation and menopause through a transgender lens, to look at how we conflate corporeality with identity. That is, we see a pregnant person, and assume them to be a woman, because we understand the experience of pregnancy as being so intrinsically linked to female-personhood; a pregnant person who identifies any other way, especially as a man, is viewed as an oxymoron. Health care service provision often depends on a particular understanding of experiences as gendered, and trans* reproductive health care troubles this understanding. I could go on, and on about this - and will have to! My dissertation will be hundreds of pages focused on this, and I'm incredibly excited.

I'm also looking forward to being in B.C., my favourite place, albeit in Vancouver as opposed to the Island which I adore. I'm a little daunted by the prospect of surviving financially in Vancouver, as housing appears to be more expensive than Toronto if that's possible - plus, they can restrict/prohibit pets, and I'm having trouble finding a place that will accept my feline companion and friend, Prudence.

In that vein, I'm selling some of my stuff at a garage sale this summer, as well as via a small ebay say. So far, I've posted a few shirts, mostly with 'queer' messages, mostly lesbian-specific. More to come. If you want to bid on anything, please do! It will help me fund this exciting adventure I'm about to take; every little bit helps.

Here's a link to my seller's page:

Here's an image of my favourite shirts that will be up for sale soon:

Friday, 8 November 2013

Sex and Gender - Not the same thing!

Let me repeat that. Sex and gender are NOT the same thing. I can't really believe that I need to say this, that journalists and scholars, institutions and authors are still conflating these two terms.

In the news recently, published in the Huffington Post, and my local Toronto Star newspaper, was this article: Germany To Allow Parents To Choose No Gender For Babies On Birth Certificates

Great, right? Think again.

This has absolutely nothing to do with 'choosing' a 'gender' for your infant. On the contrary. It is about infants born with ambigulous genitalia, having any number of intersex 'conditions,' and not having that child undergo painful and unnecessary surgery, so that their external genitals are made to conform to either the male or female sex, such that they can be labeled as one or the other on official documents. In short, this is about an infant's sex, not their gender.

Sex isn't as straight forward as we think it is. More often than not, a physician will spread the legs of a newborn and declare it to be male or female, based on a visual inspection of the newborn's external genitals. We have no idea what hormones or chromosomes the infant has - it is assumed that a child with a penis is male, and one with a vagina is female. When an intersex baby is born, and this determination isn't so clear cut, we have often surgically altered the infant's genitals, so that they are less 'ambiguous.' This has often been treated as a medical emergency (it isn't), the parents are often kept in the dark, or told to keep the infant in the dark, so that the child will never know that they were born intersex - this is said to make the child's life in their new sex 'easier.' It doesn't. It isn't a 'choice' that parents make. The title of this article is misleading, in more ways than one.

On 19 Kids and Counting (yes, I watch that show - guilty pleasure), there was an episode called "Gender Reveal" where the 'gender' of Anna Duggar's infant was, you guessed it, revealed. Unfortunately, a fetus doesn't have a gender. These terms are conflating so often, that most people don't realize that they mean different things. There is a "Chinese Gender Predictor," where you can predict your child's sex, based on the month of conception and your age. See the issue here? Don't get me started on the fact that this isn't actually possible - my main beef is that sex and gender are not the same thing, yet are used interchangeably.

I am part of this tutoring network, and on their website, they list the gender of each tutor. At first, the organizer was thinking of listing 'sex,' but felt like 'sex' could be too easily read as 'sexuality' or 'to have sex.' Sex is too closely associated with sexuality, so he decided to use 'gender' instead. He then listed my gender as female. I had to explain to him why this was incorrect - my gender is 'genderqueer' or 'trans,' while my sex is female. He posited that my gender was private, not anyone's business, and that he wanted to list me according to my sex (while calling it my gender). I pushed back, letting him know that my gender is quite public, and that it is my sex that I consider 'private.' (You'll note that I'm sharing it here - 'private' isn't the same as a secret. Rather, I prefer to be identified by my gender, referred to by my preferred gender pronouns, to not have my sex be anyone's business, or the basis on which they relate to me).

When you come across articles like the one above, remember to read between the lines. There is no such things as 'choosing' your child's 'gender,' even though the article title seems to suggest as much. Germany is taking a step in the right direction, by ensuring that intersex infants are not subject to unnecessary surgeries, in order to alter their genitals to align with the 'two sex binary' system that we believe to be so real, so important. Oh, and don't read the comments on online articles such as this - it will just make you angry!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Jay Smooth on 'No Homo,' the illusive gay rapper, and Christopher Street boys

Only today did I discover Jay Smooth and his "Ill Doctrine," a video-blog based in hip-hop commentary and anti-racist activism. I wanted to share three videos in particular, that have me inspired. I feel like I've been missing out. Excuse me while I go watch all 135 videos on his channel.

No Homo

 The Gay Hip Hop Book

East Coast Cats and Christopher Street Boys

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

"The Fosters" - Déjà vu, all over again, almost.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the television show "The New Normal." I critiqued the show for its 'homonational' representation of gay people and families. When I saw that ABC Family was airing a show called "The Fosters," I had a déjà vu moment. "The Fosters" is, for all intents and purposes, the very same show as "The New Normal" - homonationalism is at play, this time in 'lesbian packaging.'

"The Fosters" focuses on an interracial, married but not legally married, lesbian couple and their kids. Teri is a police officer, who's partner on the job is her ex-husband. Lena is the vice-principal of a charter school, which all the kids attend. They have five kids: Brandon (biologically Teri's with her ex-husband) and twins Jesus and Mariana, that they fostered and then adopted. The first episode shows this already rather eclectic family taking in Callie, a "girl from the wrong side of the tracks" who just got out of juvenile detention, and her little brother Jude. The story thus far has been around how the Foster family (clever right? since they foster kids, their last name is Foster?) will cope with the new foster siblings, and we get to see the 'antics' of each of the Foster kids in turn.

I find it note-worthy that some vocal members of the Religious Right have objected to the show, on the basis that it "normalizing lesbian families, which is bad, because lesbian families are bad." I, on the other hand, am objecting to the show because it is not radical enough! As countries like the US and Canada begin to subscribe to homonationalist ideas of gay and lesbian people, anything falling outside of this 'new normal' is further marginalized. Shows like "The New Normal" and "The Fosters," even "Modern Family," present an idealized version of queer people, families, communities, and the definition of 'normal' is expanded, ever so slightly, to include only a very specific few.

Again, déjà vu. I feel like I'm writing the same blog post, all over again. For more on the homonationalism of it all, feel free to read (reread?) my recent post about "The New Normal."

There are, however, some notable differences. In "The New Normal," I pointed out a general lack of a) gay community, in that David and Brian's circle of friends and extended family included, to my memory, no other gay or lesbian people and b) that David and Brian generally did not touch, kiss, or hint at the sexual nature of their relationship.

The same cannot be said for "The Fosters." In Episode 5, Teri and Lena have a party, and we get a chance to see some of the couple's friends - they are, not surprisingly, other lesbian couples. One particular couple are Kelly and Jenna, who have been together for 20 years. We learn that their marriage is on the rocks. Seen as the pillars of stability for Teri and Lena, part of the episode is dedicated to the ways couples can drift apart, by forgetting to the small stuff like buy your partner's favourite guacamole, to not having sex anymore because kids, bills, laundry come first. Teri and Lena are found sneaking into the back seat of their SUV to have sex as the episode ends. So, that's great right. This show now solves the problems I had with the "The New Normal" and all is well and good. Not quite. While I'm not surprised that the couple don't have particularly 'radical' friends, since it wouldn't suit the already rather 'vanilla' family-oriented show, I would have been more interested a juxtaposition between Teri and Lena, and perhaps their less-family-oriented peers, who didn't choose the "normal" way. Instead, we get a lesson on how to keep the romance in your relationship, as played out through the 'failings' of another long-term, monogamous couple with a child.

In what feels to me like an "everything but the kitchen sink" moment, this show also seems to want to tackle gender variant children. Jude, we learn, has had previous run-ins with foster parents and kids at schools, because of his gender nonconformity. His former foster father caught him trying on women's clothes, and he was beaten for it; bullies at school threaten him because he wears nail polish. In an act of solidarity, another boy wears nail polish the next day, in what may develop into the kind of supportive friendship we can only hope all children have.

I will be particularly interested to see how the show proceeds with this story line - so far, we know that Callie would prefer Jude conform for his own safety's sake and tells him that his nail polish will only get him beat up again. Lena, on the other hand, tells Jude about how sometimes she and Teri don't hold hands, in particular neighbourhoods for example, or late at night, because it isn't always safe. She encourages him to be himself, places the responsibility on others to accept him for who he is, yet seems to also reinforce the 'only in the safety of our home' narrative, as she helps him take off his nail polish with a cotton ball and some rubbing alcohol.

I worry that if the show depicts a lesbian couple being a positive role model for Jude, and that Jude is allowed to express his gender variance, that the Religious Right will have a field day. Not ONLY does the show depict lesbian families as good thing, it also *gasp* says that kids should not have to conform to the ridiculousness that is gender norms, as played out in how they play, dress, sit, talk, act. How awful. *note incredible amount of sarcasm here*

I also worry that if Jude's gender variance isn't handle with great care, that the parents watching the show in their living rooms may take away some ideas that will ultimately do their own gender variant kids harm. Tread with care, ABC.

Why do I watch this stuff?!

Monday, 24 June 2013

My Armpit Hair - A Conversation with my Mom

My Mom is a pretty rad and radical woman. She has always supported my outspoken nature, my passion for knowledge, my strong sense of self. My parents fly a rainbow flag from their basketball net, in the suburbs. When I came out, support. When I came out again, support. When I got married, support. When I got divorced support. When I decided to stop shaving... that's another story!

I stopped shaving my legs and under my arms about a decade ago. I blogged about this very topic almost two years ago. And although it's been ten years, we still have awkward conversations like this one, complete with my inner-monologue:

AJ to Mom - "Wow, it sure is hot out here. The garden looks great though, having those few weeds out of that corner, and with the Rose of Sharon coming in. I sure am sweaty."

Mom to AJ - "Speaking of which, I know that you feel really strongly about this, but I wondered if you had thought any about how professional it is for you to not have your armpits shaved."

AJ to self - Wait. I'm a grad student, and I work on research for some pretty radical people. Does the university, or the Principal Investigators on the projects that I work on, really care about my armpit hair?

AJ to Mom - "No, I'm not worried about it. If it is 'unprofessional,' it is no more or less so than a man not shaving. If I were working in an office somewhere, I just wouldn't wear tanks and it's not really something other people need to know."

Mom to AJ - "But... aren't you worried about the smell?"

AJ to Mom - "The smell? As in, body odour? No. Not really. I mean, I've found deodorant that works, and I figure that my close friends, or someone I've been with, or a stranger on the bus even, would have said something."

AJ to self - I've had some partners tell me that they like my hair, the smell of me, actually. Wait! Do I smell right now? *smells armpit* No, all clear. Wouldn't she tell me, if I smelled? This seems more like a hypothetical concern, based somewhere else. Maybe it's more about this idea of professionalism. So, is my potential to smell unprofessional?

Mom to AJ - "That's true, I guess. I don't know. I just feel like maybe it's time to let this one go."

AJ to Mom - "No, I don't think so. I like my hair."

Mom to AJ - *Sigh* Alright, I guess. Do you trim it at least?

AJ to Mom - "Oh yeah, when I need to, but it's not like it just keeps growing and growing. It's as long as its going to get, and I'm not really a hair person otherwise."

AJ to self -  Where did that come from? *smells armpit again, just to be sure.*

End scene.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Who Gets to "Bet On Their Baby?"

There is a new game show on television called "Bet On Your Baby." I just have to rant about it.

According to ABC's website: "All parents think they know their baby well, but are they willing to bet on it? "Bet On Your Baby" will reveal the answer to that question each week in an hour-long program featuring memorable families with toddlers between the ages of two to three-and-a-half years old, who will play to see how well they can guess their child's next move in the hopes of earning money towards their college fund."

So, adorable children get to do things like make animals noises, identify vegetables, shoot soccer goals, and play other games, while their parents place a bet on how successful the child will be. In the first round, five sets of parents 'bet on their baby,' and can win up $5000 toward their child's college education. Then, all of the babies are let loose to remove the stuffed animals that cover a logic puzzle; the parent who solves the puzzle first, has a chance to smash a pig with a hammer, to win from $500 to $50,000 more.

Why am I ranting about this, you might ask? Oh, let me count the reasons:

1. Apparently you can only bet on your baby, if your baby is able-bodied, has no developmental delays or other disAbilites. Glasses are okay, but no blind or deaf babies, thank you very much.
2. Only gender-conforming babies, too. No boys in tutus or girls with clip on ties, allowed.
3. The premise of the game requires that the baby have two parents. Because single parents have SUCH an easy time paying for their children's college education. What about three parents, or four?
4. Those two parents have, at least until this point, been heterosexual, largely married, couples. There have been some mix-raced couples, some couples from different ethno-cultural backgrounds, but no gay or lesbian families, no trans families, that's for damned sure.
5. All of these parents have been able-bodied, and have no other identifiable disAbilities. Because you know, people in wheelchairs don't have kids.
6. At least one parent in each couple has been employed, and in some cases, both the parents described having what are quite high paying careers.
7. The host endlessly flirts with the husbands/boyfriends/fathers, in front of their partners. When the women kiss and hug their partners, she tries to lean in for one of her own, like it's a joke (and indeed, the audience laughs), yet the look in some of the women's eyes says "I'm grinning and bearing it, because we're on television." For such a wholesome, family show, you'd figure that even the suggestion of infidelity would be strictly forbidden. But no, away the host flirts. In between rounds, she even gets the babies to fake crank call other celebrities, so she can flirt with them, too, through the baby.
8. The success or failure of the parents when it comes to 'betting on their baby' is framed as being the result of how well the parents know their child. The unpredictability of two to three-and-a-half year old children is clearly a factor in whether bets are successful, but no, it's how well you know them (i.e. whether you've been privileged enough to spend enough time with your child to teach them things like identifying vegetables - again, the single parent is probably more dependent on day-care and may 'know their baby' less than the stay-at-home parent who has the income of their partner to support them)...

It's not that game shows have a history of pushing the envelope, that I necessarily think so highly of the game-show format, that I am shocked at how narrowly "Bet on Your Baby" frames 'family.' On the other hand, the ABC network has received a number of nominations and awards from the GLAAD media awards, which recognizes news, television and other media for their inclusive representation of lgbtq people. Is it therefore notable that "Bet on Your Baby" has yet to include a single gay or lesbian family.

While it might seem like "just a game show," and according to the creators is 'the happiest show on television,' "Bet on Your Baby" sends a very particular message about families, parents, children, and who is most deserving of a chance at college - because in the United States, with it being so atrociously expensive, it's not like even wealthy families can afford it anyway. But gamble, and you might just get to send your kid to college! It's like the lottery system that decides if your child can get taken from their poor, under-resourced and poorly staffed school, and transferred into the 'rich people' school nearby. It's a lottery, a gamble, there is no security in it. I haven't read the fine print, but I can imagine that if a winning family, really needs that money between now and when their child attends college (16 years from now, about), that you couldn't access it. Your child isn't likely headed for college tomorrow, if you can't feed them today. So, try your luck at this game show. If your family is normal enough, your child attractive enough, you might just get to put away a little something for their future.

End rant.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Gendered Politics of Taking Up Space

An interesting tumblr feed was brought to my attention today, that has me somewhat captivated - Now, I may have a blog and this strange virtual presence, but I don't really 'do' Facebook, tumblr, twitter, myspace. Bear with me, if this isn't as new to you, as it is to me!

I would describe the content of this page as a combination of:
a) images of cisgender men (presumably, some may be trans), taking up (lots of) space in public transit;
b) an overwhelming number of vitriolic comments by cisgender men (again, presumably), defending themselves and making what, in many cases, are ridiculous excuses; and
c) the insightful, politically-aware responses to the comments, by the feed's various moderators. 

What I find most captivating about this feed, is the lengths that some of the men go to, to defend their privilege (without even acknowledging that it exists), and how they don't seem to realize that by commenting so aggressively on the feed, they are enacting a virtual version of 'taking up space.'

What do I mean by taking up space?

First, we have to remember that space is political, that access to it is privileged; although we are in the year 2013, the way we sit on buses, is as informed by today's gender expectations, as yesterday's race relations. You cannot separate how and where you take up space, from the politics of it all.

Second, even if the performer of a particular action isn't aware of it, the way they take up space is something they've been taught based on their subject position as gendered, raced, classed. There is no neutral position, and even the well-intentioned, may take up 'more' space without realizing why or how it impacts those around them.

Third, a quick word to those who then reply "well, women take up space, too." Yes, we do, because we've fought you for it, and we intend to stand our ground, while making space for those around us - when you take up space, it's for you and it goes without saying that you should have it; when we take up space, it's something we've edged out for ourselves, and we take it up for all of us (which includes men, as not all men have the same access to the privilege that it takes, to take up space.)

Finally, I don't often get into us v. them, men v. women conversations - I don't find them particularly productive, as someone who is invested in troubling the two sex/gender binary system. However, my challenge to the system does not make me blind to, or outside of, the impact of sexism, and the reality of patriarchy as it currently operates. So, I find myself engaging in an 'us/them' conversation about space, noting that the 'us' is problematic, and that the 'them' is a very particular group of people.

Now, let me be clear. If the bus is empty, if you are feeling particularly insecure or unsafe, if you are unwell, or physically need more space than others based on your size or disAbility, by all means, take as much as space on the bus as you need. If you are caring for children, you need more room, too. But if you are an able-bodied man, please realize that by simply taking up two seats, you are engaged in an act with a deep-seated history, that you can't just brush aside. The excuses you bring, and the demands you place on women to simply 'ask nicely' in order for you to move, are a major part of the patriarchy that we are so critical of.

My favourite excuse, I have to say, is that men need more room for their genitals. I laugh to myself at how egotistical that is, and scientifically/medically ridiculous! As if, there is an evolutionary reason why men would expose their most vulnerable body part to potential danger. Just as women have 'overcome' and dealt with the obstacle that is breasts, you would figure that men, in all their 'superiority' would have long figured out how to sit, without squishing their own genitals, and without two feet between their knees. Seriously. I'm giggling to myself right now.

Coupled with this excuse is the "it's more comfortable" excuse. Unfortunately, comfort is a privilege, not a right. Comfort should never come at the expense of someone else. Sitting cross-legged, tight up in a little ball, isn't comfortable for women, yet we are expected to do it. If you think you are entitled to be comfortable, look around you, and see who is taking advantage of this, and whose comfort isn't being considered. Chances are, you will see men prioritizing their comfort, over that of those around them. Indeed, by sitting legs spread next to someone, you are making that someone uncomfortable - both in terms of their physical body having to squish into the remaining space, and in terms of safety, and the potential risk to that person if they ask you to move. It is unfortunate, but true - when asked to move, many refuse, or react aggressively.

Honestly though, the thing I find both most captivating, and most threatening, is not the men on the buses, sitting with legs spread wide. It's the men who comment on the feed, and whose sense of entitlement to take up space is so strong, that they spew hatred all over the internet. As if calling women bitches and sluts for calling you out on your privilege, doesn't say something about patriarchy. How dare we take up space, shed light on the hypocrisy of it all! It makes me angry, defensive, and it's meant to - these men are being intentionally antagonistic, and although the moderators of the feed occasionally reply in ways that I wouldn't, they nevertheless seem to respond to the aggressiveness of these men better than I ever could. Look at me, setting my blog up for someone to call me a feminazi, or denounce me as some 'radical.' Is radical bad?!

A message to those men who are just now realizing how they take up space, and that it impacts those around them... You can be a self-reflective, intelligent and compassionate person, who can change! Isn't that great?! It's a process of unlearning, for sure. It will mean that you have to let people call you out, when you slip. It will mean reminding yourself that no one should have to ask you to move, so they can sit. Courtesy to your fellow traveler means not spreading your legs so wide, that my seat becomes half of one; sitting in the middle of two seats; sitting in the aisle, and putting your bags in the window seat; putting your feet across the seat(s) next to you; putting your briefcase on your left, and your lunch left-overs on your right; leaning into the seat next to you and talking loudly on a cell-phone such that any request for you to move would be ignore/unheard anyway; sitting sideways so that your knees block the seat next to yours; laying down across the seats; ignoring or pretending not to hear when you are asked to move, etc, etc. It's not only courtesy, it's a privilege that you don't even know you have, yet seem so desperate to defend when you write hateful anti-woman letters to moderators of online communities.

So yes, while it's true that some of the images may not be as 'horrible' as others, and that some of the individuals in them may have had reasonable reasons for taking up space, the fact is still true that (most) men are socialized to take up more space, physically with their bodies, as well as with their voices, than women, who are taught that crossed legs are 'lady-like,' and that to be smaller, is better (who wants big feet, after all? or to be taller than their partner?).

Those are my two cents. Yours are welcome, as always, even if they are critical are mine! I will not, however, tolerate any of the kinds of hateful, disrespectful and historically unaware comments like I've read on this tumblr feed - my blog is MY space, thank you very much, and free speech does not include hate speech, by anyone.

May 29 2013 - Update

I've been thinking more about this, and wanted to share. On a bus, there is a pretty clear standard set of how much space you should take up. There is a seat, and your body is supposed to fit in it, be contained by it. However, how much space we take up, and our boundaries around personal space, are cultural. There is an entire field of study, called Proxemics, about how cultures set and maintain these boundaries. For example, and in general, people from Canada, the US, Europe, and Australia, claim more personal space, than people from parts of Asia, Africa, South America. What we as Canadians may interpret as rude or like an invasion of our personal space, may in some cases be a different in cultural boundaries around personal space. So, if you find someone standing quite close to you, to talk, and you find yourself having to step back (and then they step forward, and then you step back, ag nauseum) it could very well be that you are engaged in a kind of 'cultural dance', and it's not about gender or 'politeness.'