Cis Privilege

•05/11/2012 • Leave a Comment

A friend of mine goes to a local university and is an officer of their Queer Straight Alliance. She has told me this story, in little bits over time as she’s gotten to know me better. The club was big on safe space trainings about a year or two ago, and she wanted to see one happen.  Specifically, she wanted to see one happen on trans* and gender non-binary issues. She wanted to have it in place of a club meeting. The other officers at the time refused to consider it, calling the potential training “boring”. The meeting was to be cancelled one night, but the club still had the room, so my friend held the safe space training in the room, for her and a small number of members.

What followed were death threats.

Yes, death threats. So severe that the police had to intervene.

And yes, the irony was lost on these people.

The situation evolved into a hateful mess, but the basis for it all, in my opinion, was in cisgender privilege.

To be cisgender is when one’s gender identity matches their biological sex. To paraphrase from memory Melissa Harris-Perry, “I am cis. This doesn’t make me normal or superior, it just makes me cis.” Cisgender privilege, however, is based in general culture’s belief in the opposite of that sentence; as a whole, we believe that cis people are normal and therefore better. It can be in the little things we take for granted, or it can be an entitled mindset. Sometimes when it shows in the individual it’s based in flat-out bigotry, and other times it’s just based in ignorance.

So I want to talk about some of what cis privilege looks like. Awareness allows for change! I’ve also included some solutions that individuals can apply to their own life.

1. Bathrooms

They come in male and female, with gender neutral bathrooms being few and far between. And trans individuals are often forced to use the bathroom of their birth sex. Violence can be a consequence for those individuals if they insist on doing what’s right for their self, depending on the social environment (for example, the transgirl who was beaten in the McDonalds), though it can also just be an issue in a work or learning environment for just getting along.

Potential solution: if you notice that your place of learning or working lacks gender neutral bathrooms, speak up. It may seem like a small issue to you, but it’s really not, and it can actually lead into a much larger discussion on gender issues as a whole in your location.

2. Assumption that you know someone’s gender by sight

This can be a hard habit to break, one I even struggle with as an ally. Gender is something we learn incredibly young, mimicking what is and isn’t acceptable sometimes before we can even use the English language. And in our cis normative society, we are taught very, very strict rules about gender and how to pick up on it, without it ever really being directly stated to us. Not to mention, when one makes assumptions on being able to instinctively know someone’s gender, they usually leave the third option out.

Potential solution: When meeting new people, request preferred gender pronoun (usually shortened to PGP). If you are in an environment where introductions happen in groups (discussion circles or club meetings are good examples) request that PGP disclosure be mandatory. And, most importantly to these solutions, do these things even when it’s not a “queer” gathering.

3. Thinking that you don’t need to understand what it’s like to be gender variant

And now I bring it back to the story I started with. A leader needs to understand what it’s like to be his, her, or zir’s followers in any way, shape, or form they can. And anybody whose gender variant is experiencing some serious cultural hatred right now, and needs their leaders on their side as well informed allies. Maybe to you talking about gender neutral bathrooms, gender health clinics, hormones, safe houses for gender variant kids being kicked out by their families, PGPs, and a hundred other related issues is “boring”, but for them it’s their life and it’s arrogant of you to think that you don’t need to understand it.

Potential solution: read a book. Take a workshop. Pull your head out of your rectum. And ask your leaders to do the same. To put it nicely: educate yourself and be unafraid to put yourself in the shoes of another.

Now, being cis myself, there are experiences that I am missing and I am entirely pulling from my own opinion and observations. So what are examples of cis privilege to you? And what do you do to combat it?

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I’ve become one of those people and I am insanely addicted to my Tumblr. It has much lower standards than my blog: I reblog things like crazy and I share random thoughts on a near daily basis. My queue posts quite a bit in a day, so it doesn’t get boring or die. I share, amongst other things, naked ladies, awesome tattoos, funny bits, social justice blogs, artsy pieces, and whatever fandoms currently interest me. (An idea of that level of geekery, I am a permanent Harry Potter fan, and I’m also currently very into Doctor Who and the Avengers. Hey, like I said, I’m one of those people.) I’m going to stick to a schedule for this blog of every other Friday, so please, check out my Tumblr. Oh, and I follow back!

Fear.

•04/27/2012 • 1 Comment

I had an incident the other day I haven’t been able to shake.

I’m a little delayed in social development in the sense that I don’t drive at twenty-two. I had a hang up about being in control of a death vehicle for years, and now I have a permit but still no license or car of my own. Fortunately for me, I can take a train right to where I go to school, there’s literally a stop on the campus.

While I was on my way to class, a friend of mine called me. He lives on the other side of the country, and we haven’t been able to talk as much as we used to since he took the graveyard shift at his job. Him calling me was the first time we had gotten to have a legitimate conversation in weeks.

Now, I can acknowledge my wrong in the situation: I was loud. I am often entirely unaware of the volume of my voice, and I had been contemplating for various sound barriers earlier and never brought it down. But I wasn’t really being rude in the conversation, either. We’re both jokesters, and it was a lot of laughing and silliness.

I walked away from the wall I was perched at to check for the train, and I went to say something and I heard a voice say, “how about you shut the fuck up?” I didn’t really think anything of it, but when I went to reply to my friend, I had a grown man in my face screaming at me.

“No, seriously, how about you shut the fuck up!”

“Uhm, me?”

“Yes you! Fuck! Just shut the fuck up!”

“Did I say something to offend you?”

“No I’m just sick of hearing your fucking phone call and your fucking voice and I just want you to shut the fuck up!”

“Okay. I can do that.”

And I turned down my voice, and I walked away to nearly around the block. I tried to keep talking to my friend just to spite the man, but I couldn’t really keep myself from shaking and crying.

It wasn’t the first time things had gotten crazy in relation to that train system with me. I have interfered with child abuse on a train, I have stood up in defense of a woman being harassed when a police officer directly refused to get involved, and I have been told off by people for requesting security when I was sick of hearing a young man threaten an older man over a seating scuffle with furious repetitive use of the N-word and insistence that he would “find his family and kill them.” But this situation left a completely different taste in my mouth.

I couldn’t help but feel attacked for being inferior. I’m young and female and, when compared to men, small; this man was twice my age, at least two or three inches taller than me, and, yes, male. All that happened in the aftermath, for a good hour or so, was me considering all the ways the situation would have been different had I been older, or male, or taller, or non-white, or anything. It didn’t feel like an attack on me for using my phone in public (he certainly didn’t get kudos from other folks on the train, and there tends to be a certain level of community amongst train riders even strangers), it felt like an attack for being a young girl. I can handle a meritocracy, but not the idea of being subjected to public embarrassment simply for being the not-privileged.

Also, I got the intense sense that he was truly threatened by my happiness. I was talking to a close and old friend, I was laughing and joking and smiling and just enjoying my life. This got under his skin enough for him to be yelling and cussing at me in front of at least fifty or sixty strangers.

But really, the thing I haven’t discussed with anybody in telling this, is sometimes I’m in public and my phone gives me the feeling of safety. Like, I’ll have the option of music, but I’ll choose to be on the phone with somebody because it puts a stressful situation for me at ease. And I feel like that security blanket was completely torched in front of me.

Do you have a situation similar to this? Feeling like a stranger is trying to control your behavior simply for being (heavy quotations here) “different” and so they can? Or maybe you’ve been on the other side of losing your mind with somebody and you have reflection or it? Or, hey, maybe even a defense of it? Please share!

How American Conservatism Tricks Us

•01/14/2012 • Leave a Comment

“Homosexuals make their choice to be gay and they are damned to hell for it! Not to mention that condoning their lifestyles will forcefully result in our having to condone pedophilia, bestiality, or worse: polygamy.”

Arguments like this are common when talking about sexual orientation. Okay, not when legitimately discussing sexual orientation or research on the topic, but when religion or conservative politics come onto the field and begin dominating with cheap plays. We have to hear about how homosexuality is illegitimate because nobody is born that way (my bribed scientist said so, he’s way smarter than your couple hundred scientists!) and it’s just a gateway perversion (the same way marijuana has hooked me on crystal meth).

I’m not going to discuss the ways this argument is wrong though. Every logical person and their hopefully equally logical mothers can do that. Instead, I’m going to argue how the mentalities of pro-gay people have taken the bait, and perhaps backed themselves into a non-progressive corner.

Let’s consider the argument against choice. Now, scientifically speaking, there’s lots of proof that sexual orientation is a genetic predisposition. Well, okay, it’s been proven a lot in men. Women’s brains and biology work so much differently that, if there is a genetic predisposition, it’s not the same as men’s and yet to be found.

But also with women there’s an issue of sexual fluidity. A woman can enter her puberty straight as an arrow, but end up in mid-life or even later marrying a woman. Or start out lesbian and end up with a man. Sometimes she’s swinging to the other side of the pendulum, sometimes she’s just not as picky, sometimes there’s just one exception to the rule.

And we deal with those women in the complex and profound discussion of sexual orientation in politics … by not bringing her up at all, and making her experience invisible. Why? Because her existence would, to ignorant minds, disprove the already frowned upon scientific evidence that sexual orientation is genetically predisposed and be a huge hurdle in the fight for marriage equality and all forms of gay civil rights.

Because, y’know, if it’s a choice it’s against God and America.

Think about this now in comparison: since the Cold War era, communism has been argued to be the antithesis and ultimate evil of America and it’s democracy. Why is that? Because we have options. Instead of us all getting minimal success, some get huge success and others struggle in light of their bad decisions. There is a perceived balance there, even when it turns out that there’s no true balance at all.

But best of all, we have choices.

If you choose what shirt to wear in the morning, and it’s different than the choice your family or pastor would make, it’s American freedom. If your mom bought bananas, your pastor bought bananas, but you decided you were more of a grapefruit type, that’s American freedom. Your dad saw you being a mechanic, your mom saw you being a teacher, you became a musician? America. Fuck, yeah!

If you choose who to share your body, bed, and life with, that’s against God and America, but only if it’s not already chosen for you? When did America become a theocracy? Why are there so many things we’re allowed to make choices about in our own life, even if they are miserable and unhealthy, but this one we have to defend with science, while meanwhile making a common experience totally non-existent?

To flip the coin to the other side, another issue I see when debating sexual orientation. It’s common for religious types to pull into the argument “other” perverse sexual practices and ask how far we are willing to take this? Now, for me, the answer is this simple: I am willing to take rights on sexuality and love as far as every person in my country and world is free to make any decisions between themselves and consenting adults. That immediately rules out animals, children, and any who are mentally deficient; leaving only grown ass people who can make their own decisions. It also rules out sexual assaults (consent) but includes violence or strange fantasy (so long as there’s consent). Notice, also, it leaves room for how many adults are consenting.

But people fall into this trap too. “If we legalize gay marriage,” a republican douchebag talking head will proclaim, “we’ll have to legalize polygamy too!” And the well-meaning progressive insists, “no, no, no! They are not the same! That’s baaaad!”

Now, this is true. They are not the same. And one doesn’t necessarily lead into the other. But it’s not bad (so long as there’s … guess … consent!).

When the average progressive (I think) thinks of any sort of poly-relationship set up, they think of Mormons. Or, if their knowledge on Mormons is wrong, they think of women (often young women, almost children) forced to marry older men by the masses (less Mormon-y, more culteriffic).

When I think of a poly-relationship set up, I lean more in my mind towards polyamory, basically group relationships. But even if you do just have one person with multiple spouses, so long as they aren’t Elizabeth Smarts who have been kidnapped and forced into it, so what? So long as your relationship doesn’t become an excuse to exploit narrow-sighted tax laws, so what? The set-up is not inherently bad, the same way that being gay isn’t inherently bad or against God, choice or not.

I feel, as the LGBT community and it’s supporters, we need to stop arguing for our rights by throwing others under the bus because they aren’t convenient for the arguments conservatives want us to have. We need to start writing our own inclusive arguments.

Seriously? Not This Again…

•01/13/2012 • Leave a Comment

So Jezebel writer Anna North discussed today the Anti-Rape Dress Code at the University of Buea in Cameroon. And I’m just really starting to wonder … when the fuck are we going to knock this horse shit off?

When will we stop with this attitude of “yeah, okay, a rape is a victim crime entirely based in control and not about sexuality, but toning down the sexuality would help a lot”? It’s such obvious and direct hypocrisy, and everybody just accepts it like it’s obviously logical, even if the statement is quite that literal.

Not to mention the implication that it’s just a straight crime done by men to women. Women need a dress code to be kept safe, but men are simply the perpetrators so there’s no need to protect them with silly dress codes or anything.

And how about some new ideas, world? Dress codes have existed since the dawn of mass education, often conservative ones (I’m thinking of catholic schools and other private institutions for k-12) and they don’t show any signs of preventing sexual assault or harassment. Why is it so DIFFICULT for us, seemingly as a species, to consider programs that teach boys how to not assault and harass girls, instead of simplistic rules that only make the outsides look presentable and rape-free?

I know this idea isn’t some new genius creation on my part, but they’re not common, not even on college campuses. Not as common as silly little dress rules anyway about covering your knees and shoulders. Oh, and then when you DO get campaigns aimed at men…

Recently on Facebook (not through Men Can Stop Rape’s direct facebook, thank God) I found MCSR’s series on, well, their namesake. It’s not really so much about men checking in with themselves and partners and seeing about consent, BUT it is about men holding other men accountable and not condoning their potentially shitty behavior towards women. Readers, I think this is fantastic! The blame and responsibility for men’s oppressive actions and violence have been put on us for decades, no, centuries, and now there’s a group that’s come together and is attempting to tilt that aim? Awesome!

Yet, I saw (more than one, on each of the four-five posters) comment that went something like this:

Congratulations on keeping to gender norms and assuming that only men rape women [or, when a man was shown respecting his gay date, "that only men rape"]. No, seriously, shame on you. DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHY! [No, seriously, somebody said that.]

Now look, I don’t want to come off like I’m somehow think that rape is a straight game only of male violence, or even by a majority. Violence is overly condoned as a whole in this culture, and assuming consent is too common in all relationship types. But can’t we just acknowledge a good step in the right direction when it happens? Am I being too hopeful or lazy when I say that not just culture change but mass cultural phenomenon change is something that has to happen slowly?

I mean, it’s fantastic to assume that the end of the Mayan calendar is actually a sign of mass enlightenment and life will be that easy and change that quick; but the truth is, there’s a lot of change I want to see in this world in the way of gender interaction and sexual acceptance that I just may not live to see. I understand that each conversation I have with people can be a change in another’s world perspectives (or even my own), but I don’t expect people to become as out there as me overnight (or for me to become like another person’s beliefs).

The truth is, before I start writing this blog and researching women’s rights issues, nobody had ever really presented the argument to me before that a woman is never responsible for her rape, that the man always is. I had never seen the idea before that sexual irresponsibility and violence is not just “boys being boys”. And yeah, I probably had some assumptions that clothing inspired rape. Maybe in the feminist world these ideas are widespread and evolving quickly, but we’re not trying to change our own minds, we’re trying to inspire the general public. And the slate they’re coming from isn’t necessarily a fantastic start.

So yes, we know that men rape women, and men rape men, and women rape women, and yes even women rape men. But we’re comparing our knowledge to a masses that’s basically still in the dark ages of sexuality mentalities: rape is done by large, masked, and – let’s be honest with ourselves here – black strangers with weapons and lots of force. And women appreciate their sexual virtue above their life itself so they’d furiously fight their way out of it. Anything that deviates from those norms is, obviously, not a rape. If she says it was, she’s just a whore with morning after regret.

I feel we feminists, as an activist-y subset of the world, learn quick. We don’t accept the norms for what they are, so we learn and expand our thought processes, and we speed on light years ahead of the world around us in figuring out what humanity and appropriate treatment of one another is. We accept grey scale like nobody else. And that level of intellect is liberating, it truly is. The problem, is we forget what it’s like in the box, assuming any of us were ever there. We expect everybody to develop as quickly as we have, to change the world to our needs at the drop of the hat. But there’s 7 billion minds to change, folks. Just remember that once in a while, as you’re formulating your argument against somebody whose on your side.

To take this post somewhere completely different, I’m going to link out to a video I found last night. It’s long, and much more about the message than the viewing (just her in her kitchen), I know I listened while playing Minecraft (cue geek alarm). It’s a fascinating feminist point of view though: arguing that, in the majority of the world, systemic gendered violence is not an issue of women, but of men. (I’d argue that in some cultures, violence against women IS still considered an acceptable norm, ie genital mutilation, but it doesn’t take away from her point at all.) It’s definitely a video that qualifies under that “light years ahead of most folks” category, but you’ll view your world a little differently afterwards, assuming your mind is open to the message.

A Plea to New Moms

•01/12/2012 • Leave a Comment

Written January 5th, 2012:

I spent the other night with a friend of mine, who would definitely prefer to remain fully anonymous, not even a cute little nickname. We went and got some food before impulsively taking a trip to a bar and drinking. At the bar, a bar I’ve gotten way too drunk at on a couple of occasions now, I promised to not go past the second drink – the third always took me past buzzed and into retard drunk. My friend always has three without problem, so he had his three.

Except he used well instead of his favorite brand.

And ate a very small meal before we went, and no food before.

My poor friend got so smashed, that the better word is obliterated. I had to aid a man twice my size in walking through Downtown. Very slowly.

Abruptly, after a few blocks of giggling and silliness, he said, “sometimes, I get emotional when I drink too much.”

“It’s okay love,” I replied, “emotions do not bother me.”

We got about three steps before he broke the fuck down. In the middle of the sidewalk. Huge heartbreaking sobs. He sounded like a completely different human being.

One by one, he cried out all of his problems, but coming back to the same note in between: I’m supposed to be a man. I’m supposed to never cry. I’m supposed to control my emotions. I’m supposed to be there for others. I’m supposed to put myself second. I’m supposed to not need consoling.

And I’m a failure, because here I am, crying.

(Even though he cried about all the things the rest of us do, especially in our early twenties: heartbreak, complex family dynamics, and the fear of being himself to all people.)

So here’s where the plea comes in:

Hi new mothers! (or perhaps new fathers!)

Your child is somewhere between a newborn and two. Or, hey, my message doesn’t discriminate that badly, maybe your amazing bundle of youth and beauty is under five. Maybe you have a son, maybe you’re pregnant with a son. Maybe you don’t have sons at all, but a daughter, who is also a member of society and our culture.

STOP THIS CYCLE.

Seriously. Fuck the tradition you were raised in. Fuck what you know. Fuck patriarch. Find a new approach.

We are raising our male children, as a whole, to be unhealthy. We’re doing it with a fear and oppression of women. We have a list we keep in our head of things that are feminine, and they are bad and to be avoided at all times, number one being emotion. Because emotion means crazy.

EXCEPT IT DOESN’T.

Name to me one animal in the kingdom, besides us homo sapiens or even our near dear close relative chimpanzee, that cries. I bet you can’t. BECAUSE THEY DON’T FUCKING EXIST. You know why? Because to cry over something, to express emotion and understanding about it, requires communication more complex than survival purposes. Two animals can do that: the chimpanzee, and the human being. Perhaps there’s another primate who is capable, but it’s still within our family. And when compared the hundreds of thousands of creatures in this world, perhaps millions even, two to five species is a drop in the ocean.

Our thumbs, our emotions, and our language have created the world around us; and separated us from the animal kingdom.

I’d love (sarcastically speaking) to see a revolution in humanity that required the removal of thumbs in girls, because they are tied to hard manual labor and minimal thought, and thus are masculine and disgusting. I’d love to see droves of women get drunk and cry over their missing thumbs, how they always wanted to do manual labor but their parents insisted it was *shudder* not what good little girls do. They don’t trouble their families that way, no no. Women stay women, and men strive to be women to better fit in society. So lose the damn masculine thumbs.

Does this analogy make it seem as ridiculous to you as the original, currently existing concept does to me? Obviously thumbs don’t equal those things. Thumbs do all sorts of cool fucking shit, man. It’s not just manual labor: it’s writing. It’s reading. It’s holding a hand. It’s opening a jar. It’s a necessity to life, these not fingers.

Emotions aren’t *just* when you cry because shit’s hard. Emotions are when you laugh. Emotions are when you fall in love. Emotions are when you wake up and you just feel … good. Emotions are also, in their most erratic form, when you’re mad. Not only a little mad, but livid. You can feel the adrenaline tingle in your extremities, and you don’t know who, but you’re hurting fucking somebody.

Yet, laughing isn’t considered crazy. Love is considered crazy, but not in an avoided sense. We live through the shitty days just for those few days when you wake up positive. In fact, I’d argue that anger is the craziest, most frightening emotion, yet it’s male. It’s acceptable.

Crying, that thing you do when life gets to be too much and you need a release, the thing somebody does solely for their own sake, that’s feminine and crazy?

My plea to you, parents of a new and hopeful generation, is let go of the fear of feminine. That thing that’s been driven into you since birth, that thing that you’ve now internalized into a fear of yourself, don’t pass it on. Acknowledge how unhealthy it’s made you.

But have emphasized awareness on what it could do to your beautiful bouncing boy. An inability to express one’s whole emotional spectrum is unhealthy, to say the least. I learned my friend can only cry when drunk. How long do you think it will take my friend before he’s a full on alcoholic? It seems unavoidable to me, although the concept to him is absurd. And I hate to scare tactic you, beautiful parent, but the inability to deal with emotions is often what causes substance addiction, male or female. I fear my friend isn’t some standalone story, no matter how much he thinks he is.

With love for you and your new generation bundle,
Stefani

PS: did you notice how my analogy was as impactful to the oppressing women as the oppressed man? That’s because the shutting down of emotions in boys is still tied to a hate of what is feminine. Oppression hurts all of us.

Blog in Review 2011: “I had [the fight] actually worth having.”

•01/11/2012 • Leave a Comment

Becoming Empowered

I should explain something. As a girl in American culture, weight has sort of been an issue for me. I could argue up and down forwards and backwards that my health is my top concern, but I’m coming to terms with the fact that it’s not.

In September 2009, I had a health emergency. It was found, though wholly unrelated to the health emergency, that I was five six and one hundred and ninety pounds. Unhealthy. Doesn’t look very good on me. I only lost ten or fifteen pounds, but for a year, I felt pretty good. Not as small as I wanted to be, but sexy, rockin’ my own skin. Then I spent my semester off, mostly at home, without a bike or gym membership and increasingly worse asthma. Now I’m at one hundred and ninety five pounds (or I was at my last weigh-in, about a month ago).

I’ve been finding my confidence dwindling. I used to feel pretty, now I’ve felt fat in the face. I used to love dancing, now I feel out of shape and uncoordinated. All because I have a stomach that sticks out just a touch farther than my breasts.

So back to this posted entry. Were I not in a Starbucks, I’d probably cry at it a little. I completely forgot this even happened. HOW did I let myself forget doing such an incredible thing? I’ve been an activist since I was eighteen years old; I’ve spoken publicly in front of a hundred or even two hundred people; I’ve written top essays in less than three days; but standing up to a total creep in a stranger’s car in a city I don’t know? Proudest moment of my life.

And I remember for days after how Kay and Tina bragged and laughed about what I did. Quiet reserved Stefani was ready to kick that guy’s ass! She called him out and didn’t give a fuck!

I’ve been so deeply focused on my shell and the weight that’s expanded it, and it doesn’t fucking matter. I’d be the first to argue it for another girl, so it’s time to for myself. What matters is that I’m a fighter for my fellow human. What matters is I can stand in front of a crowd of people I don’t know and speak my voice and my experiences with confidence. What matters is my brain and my ability with words and facts.  And what matters is when I see a girl in a dangerous situation, I risk my own safety as an equally small and powerless female to get her out of it.

I should have pride in all of this. I should feel like calling attention to myself, not becoming invisible. I should feel powerful, not like I’ll be a victim again, any day now.

Blog in Review 2011: Sweet Naked Castro

•01/10/2012 • Leave a Comment

SF Pride, Part One: So Much Nudity!

I found these posts in my history and freaked. Oh my God! I forgot about Pride!

Well, okay. Obviously I remember going and experiencing it, it’s not like I just completely blacked out going to the Queen of all Prides. But you know how it is when you go on a trip? You spend your first few days (to first weeks, depending on how long you were gone) giving your friends and loved ones all the juicy details, all the stories and craziness, but then they’ve heard it all.

In the following months, my recollection of Pride to people has been “Cody, I am still SO MAD I didn’t get to fuck Kay’s friend.” And him saying, “I know babe, I know.”

I WANTED THAT ONE NIGHT STAND STUPID BAD, GUYS.

But I forgot how much that night defined me. In fact, I’m finding (especially with the part I’m posting tomorrow) that I don’t let it define me enough.

 
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