Monday, July 4, 2011

Privileged People are Privileged, Even When I Love Them

Do you know what sucks? Sweat glands behind your knees.

I'm trying to write this cross-legged, so I don't think I'm long for this world.


Have you ever wanted to be a couple?

Not just one person in a couple, but, like, the couple itself?

Imagine running into them at The Strand. 
It has been scientifically confirmed that the couple demonstrating the highest statistical levels of awesome at present is Namanda Paiman. I mean, Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.

He is the coauthor of what is verifiably the best book of ever--Good Omens--in addition to approximately 2398098 other noteworthy sci-fi works in novel, graphic novel, film script, and song form. Though perhaps best known for his seminal work American Gods, I prefer its gentler, funnier spin-off, Anansi Boys, possibly the only book I've read by a white author that successfully features believable, not-highly-problematic protagonists of color.

Before her solo career, She was one half of the Bostonian duo The Dresden Dolls, a musical throwback to the cabaret form circa the Weimar Republic, with a queer twist. She now sings solo, perhaps most famous for her Riot Grrrl aesthetic as demonstrated by songs like "Map of Tasmania."

Who wouldn't want to affix playing cards to her own pubic bone, amiright?

Srsly, though, it's refreshing to see women reacting so strongly, and with such queer sensibility, to the rampant policing designed to keep female-presenting bodies in their places. Ever since Freud, women have been deemed intrinsically excessive (perhaps to make up for our "lack".) Amanda uses this designation, so often portraying women as hysterical and out-of-control and overturns it. By doing so, she puts female-identified bodies back in, um, c*ntrol.

Look, I wanted to write the word, but do you have any idea how mad my mom would be??

So. Palmer and Gaiman. I can haz over for tea and crumpets?

And then.

And then.

One day--yesterday--I was listening to Palmer's CD samples on itunes, trying to determine exactly how to spend my monies. And I heard something that I found--say it with me--very problematic.


The focus of my ire today is the Dresden Doll's song "Sex Changes."

Is it a shock that people who aren't trans* (aka. cissexual, or cis, people) can sometimes be transphobic? It shouldn't be. 

The song--which I had, of course, hoped would be trans* positive--includes lyrics like:

No second thoughts the knife is nearing
You'll never hear the little pitter patter pitter patter
Of this little feat of engineering
Of course I love you and of course it's what's inside that matters
But I think the whole charade is ending
It seems to me to be the only way to keep from getting
Caught up in a long life of regretting
The doctors said that once you get a taste for it you'll keep on cutting
So I guess it's about a girl whose boyfriend--or, possibly, girlfriend--is getting bottom surgery. And she [the narrator] seems to think that the surgery is both addictive and unnecessary (she references a charade.)

Of course, it could also be about someone who's getting an abortion. It's ambiguous.

Reading the entirety of the lyrics, it could really be either. But the discourse on trans* issues is especially troubling. 

Critique of surgery undergone by trans* individuals is hardly a newfangled thing. It's one of the most common excuses Radical Feminists use to pile their hate on the bodies of trans* folks. You know, the whole "you're not a feminist because you want to be a man now" and "you're not really a woman, you're still a man genetically and you'll always be a man and that's why you can't be in the Michigan Womyn's Festival."

So to see these fears and misunderstandings about trans* people in the lyrics of a song by a cis woman makes it really hard to give Amanda the benefit of the doubt. Do some trans* people regret their surgeries? Of course. Do all trans* people get surgery? No. Do trans* people get "addicted" to surgery? Only if you consider wanting to physically resemble your inner gender concept an "addiction."

I googled "Amanda Palmer transphobia" to see if anyone had written about it, but all I could really find was this quote from Amanda in an interview with

"The Dresden Dolls have always waved the giant flag of expressionism and individualism. We've always been very clear that we're a trans-friendly, gay-friendly, freak-loving band."


Aside from the lumping in of trans*, gay, and freak--whether or not Amanda, as neither gay nor trans* has the authority to reclaim that word for those communities--did we read the same lyrics? 

Amanda and I are bi (sounds like a good name for a band), but that doesn't give us the right to appropriate the experiences of other QUILTBAG individuals (Queer/Questioning, Unisex/Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Bisexual, Asexual/Allied, Gay/Genderqueer). 

We may be sexual minorities, but we are only ONE kind of sexual minority. We can't speak for other people. 

You know, I think this incident can deepen our understanding of "Map of Tasmania."

I love the song, I love the video, both for its camp and for its unapologetic pubic hair love letter. But I think there's something more going on here. 

One of the many criticisms lodged against Radical Feminists is that they see the world in essentialist terms. Men and women, gay and straight, patriarchal and matriarchal. They celebrate the (cis) female body BECAUSE they see it as the epitome of the feminine. Sometimes called Difference Feminists, these ladies (and they're ALWAYS ladies) conflate being female with having a body scientifically designated as female. With this understanding, many RadFems believe that what makes them "real" women is their possession of vaginas. This understanding, of course, excludes many trans*, genderqueer, male-bodied, and intersex folks who identify as female or femme. 

I, on the other hand, follow the belief that I have a body, but I am not my body. 

I am more than my physical body. 

So, no matter how much I love "Map of Tasmania", I think that it is possibly a reflection of Amanda Palmer's essentialist beliefs. The song sends a great message on the surface--don't shave just because you're expected to--but it also does some body policing of its own, knocking the choices of women who choose to shave (and who apparently look like "eight-year-olds".)

I mean, I flout a lot of social norms, but I don't make fun of other people for following them if that's what they want to do. 

In some ways, the song is fetishizing the "ideal" female form just as much as Radical Feminists are. 

It's like a woman's worth is based on the length of her pubic hair, and, well, that's not really any better than being forced to shave. 

And, of course, for those who don't fit the form--there's the message that you don't belong. 

So...I guess what I'm saying is that the only couple I want to be right now is myself. 

I'm going to get a towel. I've had to wipe the back of my legs, like, five times over the course of writing this. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Capitalism and Catherine Ferguson Academy

Imagine you're a Republican.

Indulge me. Just for a minute.

Imagine you're a Republican, and that there are a lot of things you Care about.

One of those things is Family Values. 1.5 kids and a split-level spouse, as a former professor of mine is fond of saying. Family Values means that marriage makes everything better. Unemployed? Get married! Pregnant? Get married! Abusive boyfriend? Get married! To him!

"The first marriage was between Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden," as Rep. Steve King of Iowa once said, during the Defense of Marriage Act Congressional Hearings. More on DOMA in another post.

The Nuclear Family, according to these people, will survive the Nuclear Holocaust.

Nothing left but cockroaches and Fundamentalists.*

So in some ways I'm not surprised about what happened with Catherine Ferguson Academy.

A Detroit public high school specifically for pregnant women and young mothers, the academy has been extremely successful in sending their graduates out into the world prepared for college, careers, AND taking care of their child/ren. Students don't have to worry about daycare; their children are looked after at school while their mothers attend classes. The academy even has a working farm, where students take care of chickens and milk goats. Goats, people.

And, of course, because the school has been so successful and amazing and wonderful that every student in the past ten years has been accepted to college, it is closing tomorrow. Permanently. Because conservatives.

Apparently, it's too expensive. Which is funny, because it's a little less expensive than keeping a single mother and child on welfare for a year.

It's beginning to look like you, my Republican friend, aren't as pro-family as you claim.

Sorry. I know you're not really a Republican. But poetic license, okay?

Conservatives aren't worried about the money. Okay, maybe a little. They're always worried about the money.

They're worried that poor women will succeed with the help of your tax dollars instead of getting married and bootstrappin' it like the poor are supposed to. My ancestors did just fine, they tell you.

Not the view seen by the ancestors of the students at Catherine Ferguson.

Most of the students at Catherine Ferguson are black or mixed-race. Over ninety percent are qualified for reduced-rate or free lunches. And the majority of them are pregnant.

You'd think that any decent person would want these girls to succeed.

Perhaps the problem is that they ARE succeeding. Perhaps this is threatening to the wealthy, straight, white males that run this country. Perhaps these girls should be put on welfare where they belong, stuck in the system, so that conservatives can shrug and say, well, we tried, but look, they never get anywhere. Clearly, welfare isn't working, let's cut it.

The treatment of unwed black mothers in this country is abhorrent. In our society, the black female body is considered less-than by the dominant white paradigm--black woman have been slaves, unwilling participants in experiments (Henrietta Lacks), and uncompensated for their work. Virtuous women, we learn, are not only virgins, they are white. Black women have been construed as having less worth than objects since slavery days. No one cares about black mothers in this country because blackness is considered worthless. And, if you're unmarried, that's even worse.

For a much more articulate discussion of black motherhood as marginalized, please read the excellent blog Womanist Musings, run by Renee.

Conservatives probably think that Catherine Ferguson Academy is SOCIALISM. I'm pretty sure that the problem with conservatives is that they get so caught up in words and principles--liberty and freeeedoooommm!!!--that they won't stand for anything that disrupts the power of the free market or even hints at getting marginalized people on a more even keel.

Conservatives think that everyone has just as good a chance as everyone else. It's the myth of meritocracy.

When they win, they pat themselves on the back, convinced that they were right all along when it's really the SYSTEM of free-market capitalism that rewards the already privileged.




* sentence lifted more or less wholesale from the excellent apocolypse comedy novel Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Victoria's Not So Sure About Her Secret

I was supposed to get my bitch in the mail this afternoon.

Bitch. You know, the magazine?

Instead, when I unfurled the stack of bills, crap masquerading as bills, and bills masquerading as crap, I found Victoria's Secret.

You know, the catalogue?

I looked at the cover for a second. Then I looked at it again.

Folks, I was terrified.

This is ostensibly a magazine targeted at straight women.

It looks like "lesbian" porn made for straight guys.

18-year-old me is not amused. 

Yeah, I know.

But WHY?

Do I have sex hair?

There are many things this photo says to me.

None of them involve me wanting to have what she's having.

When I see these women in these magazines, I think they're sexy. They're attractive. But they're not for me, are they?

They're supposed to be a woman's physical ideal. What you can look like if only you buy that tiny teddy. Which makes it even weirder that they're giving me, their (presumably) straight reader, such bedroom eyes.

She clearly wants you in her bed. Yes, you. 
I guess it's not too weird, if you don't think about it.

Victoria's Secret just wants to sell what society has decided constitutes sexy clothes and undergarments.
What's the best way to advertise that these clothes are sexy?

Show sexy people wearing the sexy clothes while projecting as much sex appeal as possible.

It seems so self-explanatory.

Unless, of course, you're a woman attracted to women.

Then, it's just really fucking confusing.

On one level, I can understand that the photos are idealized images meant to get straight women to buy shit. On another, I feel attracted to them and yet understand that I'm not the target audience for this attraction.

Now, I don't want to malign the choices of any other lady-lovin' lady, but when I see these pictures they're more of a turn-off than anything.

Because women know what it takes to look that good.

It takes tanning beds.

It takes a styling team.

It takes the longest, thinnest bodies and even then it takes the highest heels.

Sometimes it takes plastic surgery.

It takes long-ass acrylic nails, and lady-lovin' ladies certainly don't wear those.

You know why.

Think about it.

This is not to say that these women aren't real.

Their images are airbrushed, certainly. But they are women who have won what our society sees as the genetic lottery. And I'm personally fed up with shoving groups of women under the bus in pursuit of the "real" woman.

Real women have curves.

Real women don't.

Get the picture?

Coming back from that brief tangent, I'm trying to say that these women are clearly being targeted as ideal representations from the male point of view because the patriarchy wants men to think that women just look like that.


More on Teh Patriarchy later.

Women who love women look like a lot of different things, but far fewer than you think look like the women above.

As the kids would say, "sick."

This is Robyn.

She's a Swedish popstar.

My gaydar was pinging all over the place with this one, but she's actually confirmed she's straight.

Now, if the models of Victoria's Secret looked like her, I'd likely be feeling a lot less cognitive dissonance while looking at the magazine.

I think it'd be pretty difficult to convince me that Robyn isn't sexy. Even if you're not attracted to her, you can't deny that she has that raw fierce quality that just can't be airbrushed out. She's herself. She doesn't take shit.

To me, this is queer.

You can be gay or bi and not be queer.

Queer is breaking boundaries in any way you can. It's fire and glitter and twisting under and over fences.

Queer is used as a verb nowadays. "I like how she queers cinema," I might say about a filmmaker. Or "I'm trying to queer the gothic romance."

On the most surface level, this can mean breaking expected norms of romantic attachment by making a same-sex couple the center of a novel.

On a deeper level, it can mean questioning the validity of the very term "same-sex".

Queer rejects stability, not because it's bourgeois (although I'm sure some people reject it for that very reason) but because stability tends to mold things into patterns, and patterns tend to solidify oppression.

This doesn't mean we're running all over the place screaming our flaming little heads off (although, again, I'm sure it does for some people.)

We work to make the world a place for EVERYONE to LIVE.

So, Victoria's Secret.

I'm probably better off not knowing, anyway.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I Made a Thing

This explains everything ever.

Wimminz Issues

I wanted to write about something substantial today, but my brain had other ideas.

My brain still wants to talk about Thor. 

I'm not going to pretend that it was the best movie of ever, or anything like that. Watching it in 3D gave me a bit of a headache, and the glasses--being on top of my own and all--gave the characters dim little double shadows. Plus, everything was really dark. Not metaphorically. It was dark because we were all wearing tinted glasses.

So, I'm not going to talk about Loki this time--there may or may not be a picture of him on my my desktop right now--because there are other feministy things that need to be discussed.

Like wimminz.

There were four wimminz in this movie. And though none of them were REALLY fleshed out, they were endowed with feminist magic dust.

See Jane.

Jane is an astrophysicist. And she's dressed like a normal person.

She even has a cute animal tee on under her normal person sweater.

She does cool sciency things, and when Thor tells her to run away, she doesn't. And she helps with logics and stuff.

She doesn't need to be rescued, and neither does her wisecracking assistant, Darcy.

Wearing normal attire, as well. And nerd glasses. And looking like me.

The thing is, women aren't particularly sexualized in this movie.

Need I remind you who is?

You're welcome.

And, the thing is, Thor's hotness is remarked upon. By the wimminz.

When Jane hits him with her car at the beginning, Darcy takes one look at him and says, "Does he need CPR? Because I totally know CPR."

I would say that this is an incredibly female-friendly film, especially considering that Thor gets punished and redeemed of his fratboy ways.

Then there's warrior goddess Sif.

Who looks like this in the comics.

I mean, come on. You can't fight like that.

Sif is awesome because when Thor's rallying everyone to go on a mission, he says, "Who convinced everyone that a woman would be the best warrior in the realm?" and she says, "I did!"

I liked that part.

Then, there's Thor's mother, Frigga.

She's awesome because she kills things when she has to.

So, see Thor. You won't be Thorry.


I'm really sorry about that.

Oh, and

I couldn't help it. If you click on it, you can zoom in and see his cute little twisty mouth, all plotty and devious. Awww!

Saturday, May 14, 2011


It was my dad's birthday. We had already watched three consecutive episodes of Buffy--fifth season conclusion, not exactly bunnies and butterflies*.  I had then, for some reason, decided that we should follow this Buffybinge by seeing Thor. In 3D.

I don't know how many movies you've seen in 3D, but it's a bit like being horribly, horribly drunk. Everything's distorted and flying into your face and you're sinking, confused, into your seat and laughing like it's keeping you alive. And then there's Frost Giants everywhere and--

Actually, that last bit's just Thor. Though I wouldn't be surprised if Frost Giants were the reason I feel so dazed while watching other movies in 3D. WHERE ARE YOU HIDING, FROST GIANTS???


So, my dad and I went to see Thor and the first thing I noticed was this:

Not too shabby.

Even though Thor is kind of a douchebag for the first half of the movie, I certainly wouldn't say no.

And then I saw this.

Ohai, Loki.

Broody? Check.
Smart? Check.
Lithe? Check.


He's the fucking GOD of mischief.


I grew up reading about Loki the Trickster. How he nearly ended the world 2987163987 times. How, when he tricked someone into killing someone else, he was tied to a rock deep underground and left for eternity, a serpent dripping acid onto his face.

Talk about angst.

In Thor, which is based on the Marvel comic books of the same name, Loki and Thor are brothers, sons of Odin. I don't remember this from the mythology, so I'm going to be lazy and assume that's it's specific to the comics. In the movie, Loki appears at first rational, sensible, and highly intelligent, especially when compared to his loud and boastful older brother. Later--SLIGHT SPOILERS--Loki becomes sort of insane (I'm not revealing why, because you should see the movie) and more angsty.

And evil.

Hooo boy.

It doesn't hurt that actor Tom Hiddleston is an absolute beauty in realsies.

Judas, you've got competition.

* Actually, there were bunnies. Which were interpreted by some *coughcoughANYAcough* to be a portend for the end of the world.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mama's Day

My mama's wearing the most badass patterned socks. I can see them peeking out beneath the hem of her jeans right now, checkered indigo and violet, splashes of green vaguely reminiscent of a wriggling worm. She's knitting a sweater, and it looks pretty good until you look at it closely. Well, it still looks pretty good then, if two-toned sweaters knitted from different lots of yarn don't bother you.

She got new glasses this week, round like the seventies. Round like hipsters.

Not that the seventies were round, or anything. I was referring to the glasses people wore IN the seventies. And hipsters.  But you probably got that just from reading.

When she graduated college, she wore sunflower-patterned culottes that stuck out under her gown. Scandalous!

My mom was my fashion icon. When I was younger, I would borrow her shoulder pads and tape them to my chest*.

I thought that's what they were for.

I don't remember if this lead me to believe that women in the '80s had naturally massive shoulders.

Basically, the only thing that's remained awesome since the '80s is my mom.

Once we were in the car, and I said, "This stop is Croton Falls," in imitation of that strangely preppy recording on our local train.

She thought I said, "This stuff is Crump Balls."

This is why I love her. Happy Mother's Day, Little Little!


Littlest Little

*This was before that time I stuffed her bra with socks and wore it around the house, or the time I strapped it to my head like a silky earmuff necklace.