Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gender Photo Round-up

A few gender-related photos from the past few weeks.  The first two I took.  One is of a unique unisex bathroom sign at a DC bar called The Boardroom (which is awesome, by the way.  They have drinks and board games galore and you can order pizza delivered to you from the place next door...).  The other is a photo of a baffling bookmark I saw in the checkout line at Barnes and Noble.  The third is an advertisement from the Swedish toy company that was compelled by the Swedish government to make its promotions "gender neutral."  The photo is linked to a fantastic related blog post about toy "gender apartheid."

Scrabble Unisex:

"His" bookmark?:

Ending toy "gender apartheid":

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Gender neutral" Easy Bake Oven

When I first saw the story about the 13-year-old who challenged the makers of the Easy Bake Oven to offer the toy in colors other than pink and purple (and to feature boys as well as girls in their advertising and packaging) for the sake of her younger brother and other boys who wanted one, I was impressed by her initiative.  I was also confused, because while I didn't have an Easy Bake Oven as a child, I had friends who did and I have no particular memory of them being super pink or purple.  My experience with the ovens are limited so my memories are likely fuzzy, but I seem to remember the thing just being kind of metallic and plain, looking something like this:
Apparently, my faded memory is not too far off, as Hasbro, the company that makes Easy Bake, acknowledges that they used to make what they called "gender neutral" options in the past, but after conducting market research which showed that most interest in the toys were from girls, they pinked and purpled it up.  (Read more here).  They now look more like this:
This all seems to have been roughly concurrent with the pink-and-purple sparkly princess craze that began its hold on America within the last ten or fifteen years.

The rest of my confusion stems from my lack of understanding of why Easy Bake ovens as they are currently aren't already "gender neutral."  Despite social anxiety about it, there's no prohibition against boys playing with pink and purple stuff.  Girls play with toys in colors besides pink and purple all the time, to no one's surprise.  Why is something that comes in colors that are considered appropriate for boys "gender neutral" while something that comes in colors considered appropriate for girls is not?  Just because something is pink or purple doesn't mean that it can't be for boys.  Nor does it mean that because something is supposedly more appealing to female children than to male children that it has to be pink or purple, as Hasbro has suggested.  I really appreciate the conversation the quest for the "gender neutral" Easy Bake oven has sparked because at its core is a challenge to the notion that only girls are interested in domestic-themed toys.  Still, I can't help but be frustrated by the reinforcement of the idea that pink and purple automatically means something can't be "gender neutral," or that all girls would want a pink or purple oven (thus the only reason to make blue or red or green or white ones would be because boys want them).  I know plenty of girls who probably would rather not have pink or purple if other options were available.  I also know a few boys who would be happy with hot pink.

At any rate, Hasbro announced its intention to unveil a "gender neutral" Easy Bake sometime in the new year.  I'll applaud this as an effort to provide more options and impose fewer limitations on kids, and will also encourage any boy who wants a pink oven, or any girl who wants a blue one, to have at it.  I also hope they take to heart the suggestion that they feature boys when promoting the toy - regardless of the color.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Marriage Thing

Marriage is on a lot of people's minds these days.  It was a "hot issue" during the most recent elections and remains a frequent topic of conversation on social media for both LGBT folks, our allies, and our "opponents," for lack of a better word.  I don't actually care a lot about marriage, though I am legally married to my spouse according to the District of Columbia, and looking forward to celebrating that union with family and friends next year.  In many ways, I think marriage reinforces a lot of things I don't agree with - for instance, that couples ought to be privileged over single people, or that poly-amorous people shouldn't have legal recognition of their relationships, or that one must be married in order to be viewed as fully adult.  I think any two (or more) consenting adults should have the right to enter into a legal commitment together as they see fit.  Marriage as it exists currently has a lot of baggage.

Still, I want it.  And I am forced to care a lot about it because not having it directly interferes with how my partner and I live our lives.  It affects our finances, our access to health insurance, our legal rights as parents of future children, and about ten bajillion other things that straight married folks take for granted.  A college acquaintance of mine recently posted a comment on Facebook about how Christians should vote their values in the election.  She provided justifications for voting against marriage equality, and folks who commented in support of her remarks said lots of things to the effect of "love the sinner, not the sin" and standing by "God's plan" for marriage.  I stayed out of the discussion as this individual and I are not close, and other friends of hers had challenged her views with arguments similar to ones I would have made, but the whole thing made my blood boil and weeks later I find myself still angry about it.  I thought about writing her a personal message where I could tell her about day I first knew I loved my partner, or how many of our friends - queer and straight - are becoming parents and what a wonderful job they're doing, or how at the wedding reception of two lesbian friends who have been together since high school, their families stood together and sang "Going to the Chapel" a capella to them.  I thought I would tell her about my friends whose ability to live in the same country as their partners is threatened because their partners can't sponsor them for American citizenship or residency.  I thought I'd tell her how the idea that some states might prevent my partner or my friends from becoming parents makes my heart catch in my throat and keeps me up at night.  Or about the lovely day last June when my partner tearfully recited her vows to me at the DC courthouse.  And then I thought that these things probably wouldn't move her because she has friends who are LGBT allies and likely knows gay people and has to have heard stories just like these before.

So I'll say this:  People have varying religious views.  That's great.  Many people feel strongly about their religious views.  That's also great.  Some churches perform marriages for same-sex couples and some do not.  That's nice, and obviously within the prerogative of each religious community.  I fail to see what this has to do with me and my partner.  We do not regularly attend church, though I would say we share some supposedly "Christian" values like loving your neighbor, treating others like you'd want to be treated, engaging in active solidarity with the oppressed, and not hoarding wealth.  I do understand that religious views shape political views and that all of this informs how people vote on candidates and issues.  What I do not understand is how my government - both various governments of states I have resided in, and the federal government of the country of which I am a full-fledged citizen same as my straight marriage-loving friend on Facebook - can tell me that I may not enter into legal kinship with my partner and that the reason for this is some people think I am an abomination to their God.  I don't believe in that same God and by the rights bestowed upon me by our Constitution, I am not required to, so again, I fail to see why any of us, regardless of religion or political party, or personal view on the issue of marriage should accept this as a reason to deny legal partnership to some people and still call the United States "free."  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gender Photo Round-Up: Bathroom Signs

Interesting that despite the sign's acknowledgement that people may have varying gender identities, in the image itself - the "male" (indicated by pants-wearing) and the "female" (indicated by dress-wearing) are distinguished by an actual line down the middle.  Still, I love this and look forward to seeing how other images and language evolve as the world starts to become less obsessed with enforcing rigid binary gender.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Gender Queer Clothing Conundrum

I have a clothing conundrum.  I imagine most other gender queer or trans-identified folks who haven't undergone medical transition (and perhaps even some who have) can relate.  I like to wear masculine clothing.  I pretty much only wear men's pants and shirts.  I know that finding clothes that fit is a big issue for many in my boat.  I'm lucky in that I'm pretty flat-chested and reasonably tall, so it's not too hard to find things that fit right in that regard.  I'm unlucky in that I'm ridiculously scrawny and have essentially zero shoulders, making it hard to fill out even a size small men's shirt without having everything look really baggy.  Shoes are also a problem.  I have smallish to average-sized feet for a female, but very small feet for a guy, which means I'm usually limited to women's shoes.  This is fine for things like sneakers or running shoes, since those kinds of shoes often come in styles that are gender neutral.  It's harder for things like dressy shoes or, say, soccer cleats (I was sadly forced to settle for women's cleats with aqua-marine accents because my feet were too small for the black, red and white men's version.  At very least I was able to avoid the pink ones...).  I have yet to find a pair of men's shoes I like well enough to stick with, and that I think make me look like an adult (mostly when I put on the dress shoes I do have I feel like I'm 15).

But the real problem for me is not fit, it's being read as an adult.  Dressing up in general is a frequent issue since no matter what I do, or how sophisticated I think I look, or how I try to exude adult mannerisms, I get mistaken by somebody for a teenage boy.  My "fancy" outfits usually consist of nice pants, a button-down shirt, sometimes a skinny tie, and sometimes a sweater vest or jacket.  Without fail, I end up in a case of mistaken identity.  This past weekend, I went to my cousin's wedding dressed in gray dress pants, a slim-fitted button-down shirt, a gray sweater vest, and a pair of TOMS shoes.  I had a fresh haircut a la trendy metrosexual/urban dyke and was feeling like I was really rocking Ellen DeGeneres, not Justin Bieber.  Still, I was passed over by the wine pourer at dinner who assumed I was too young to drink.  Like totally, completely skipped.  She didn't even ask me if I was old enough.  Just.  Skipped.  Me. We had to get her to come back to pour me a glass.  This, after she poured my younger brother a glass without a word.  Now, my brother is 22, and easily looks it, but he didn't look nearly as put together as I did (no offense Drew - not sure if you read this...) and could just as easily pass for 18 or 19 as he could for his actual age.  Which I suppose says that I'm not even passing for even 18 or 19 - there might be some wiggle room for underage drinking at a wedding - but am being read as much younger.

So what do I do?  How do I confidently wear the clothes I am comfortable in while providing indication to others that I am an adult?  Is this possible, or do people just see what they see and I should just get used to this until I start to (thank god) go gray or get wrinkly?  Dykes, genderqueers, trans guys, please, I await your advice.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Children and Gender

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine shared a blog post on Facebook from fellow queer blogger at Feminist Pigs, providing suggestions to help children engage in what that blogger calls "gender self-determination," a term I have become completely smitten with.  I am in fact utterly smitten with the entire post, titled "Children's Gender Self-Determination: A Practical Guide," which you can read here:  I loved all five points listed in the "guide," but two in particular really resonated with me.

First, I loved the blogger's opening suggestion, "Don't refer to kids as boys and girls."  This is something I think about constantly since everything in life seems to be segregated by gender from bathrooms to department store clothing sections, and apparently now, Bic pens.  I worry for gender non-conforming kids, for my own not-yet-existent children, and for all children that so much of their childhoods revolve around not only gender-segregated activities, but gender-segregated language.  The author of the self-determination post advises people not to use terms of endearment like "buddy" or "princess" unless you use them in reference to any child.  What's scary about this suggestion is how hard it actually is.  I consider myself someone who has thought pretty long and hard about gender and sex - as social constructs, as medical constructs, as an obstacle in the way of my and others' participation in everyday citizenship, or as performance, and so on - and yet, I have to consciously and carefully stop myself from doing things, like using gender-segregated language, that I have been socialized to do.  For instance (I'm about to out myself as a crazy cat-lover, so if you didn't already know, I have two cats.  And I love them), our female cat is smaller, softer, and generally more cuddly (though I wouldn't say more affectionate) than our male cat who is larger, more active, and has coarser fur.  He likes attention, but does not like to be held.  Sometime after we got the second cat (the male), I noticed that I tended to use a softer voice, gentler touch, and different pet names (excuse the pun) for the female cat than for the male cat.  I called the female cat "sweetheart," "sweet pea," "bug" or "baby girl."  I called the male cat "buddy" or "baby boy," or by his regular name.  As I realized that I was doing this, I wondered if my use of tone and choice of words had any effect on the development of their personalities.  To get myself out of the habit of doing this with animals or people, I've tried to actively stop myself from using stereotypically gendered language around the cats - I make an effort to call the female cat "buddy" and to be gentler and sweeter with the male cat.  It is surprisingly hard.  It may not matter to cats, but I have to imagine these sorts of interactions have a profound impact on humans.  People use certain terms of endearment with female babies and others with males babies.  Others have made frequent mention of the fact that female babies are often told how "cute" and "pretty" they are, while male babies are told they are "husky," "handsome," or "smart."  (Case in point):

A few years later, when little boys start acting macho and tough and little girls declare their obsession with all things princess, we smile, sigh, wash our hands of any responsibility in shaping gender identity and say it must be in their "gender DNA" or something.  Which brings me to the second point I liked so much about the gender self-determination post.  The third suggestion is "Don't diagnose your kid," meaning that every time children step outside of socially-constructed gender boundaries doesn't mean that they are "gender non-conforming" or transgender.  It means that the socially-constructed "boundaries" are just that - constructed.  Children are merely showing us their willingness to explore a diversity of interests, if we're willing to accept that we might have been wrong about the connection between the physical features we use to determine sex and the personality features we attribute to gender.  And yet, sometimes young children do appear to subscribe to rather rigid forms of masculinity and femininity.  In that vein, the blogger also warns against automatically attributing a male child's obsession with guns, for instance, to testosterone.

Some of the literature on early childhood development insists that preschool-age children often have very rigid ideas about gender and become almost gender caricatures to the extent that they might develop obsessions with guns and/or princesses because, according to such research, children that age do not actually understand that sex and gender are fixed and cannot change.  The children worry it might change and thus, act in a way and police each other in a manner that reassures themselves that it will not.  But sex and gender do change.  We know this because there are gender-nonconforming people, trans people, intersex people, people who claim a third gender, people with a diversity of sizes and shapes of reproductive organs, people who like to wear dresses on some days and a suit and tie on others, and just people in general, most of whose lives do not reflect idealized masculinities and femininities.  Sex and gender are not fixed.  Perhaps preschoolers are more savvy than we realize and can see that sex and gender are quite fluid.  Given the fairly consistent rigidly gendered messages most children get from birth, though, it is easy to see why young children might fear gender fluidity - it is not, according to most of their most important adults or books or toys or movies or TV shows, something desirable.  Which is why I like the idea of gender self-determination all the more.  If kids can see that gender is fluid, why not allow them to embrace that?  What are we so desperately clinging to when we insist on defining people by gender, beginning at birth.  I think the answer is that it's the adults, and not the kids, who actually fear change.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Goaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!!!: Gender & Sports Part II

I am obsessed with the U.S. women's national soccer team.  OB-SESSED.  I follow their blog, know their roster by heart, have seen all of their Youtube videos, and watch every game I can when they're on TV.  I have a shirt that I made with Sharpies that says "Hope Solo is a Keeper" and I once traveled several hours each way during a weekend trip to the beach to see them play in person.  I love them.  They're of course across the pond playing in the Olympics right now and although the opening ceremonies are not until tomorrow night, they have already played their first game (Which they won.  4-2 over France.  Alex Morgan scored two goals.).  In honor of this kick-off week for Olympic soccer, I thought I'd do another sports-related post.

My obsession with the soccer team aside, the issue of gender and sports begs a more serious question: How do homophobia and transphobia play out in the gender-segregated spaces of athletics?  Obviously, I intend to relate this question back to the U.S. women's soccer team (see above paragraph re: OBSESSION).  Although Megan Rapinoe, a midfielder for the U.S. women, is the only U.S. women's national team member that I am aware of being publicly out, I'm fairly certain she's not the only queer player on the team, a fact to which she herself has alluded.  The women's team head coach is also out and a number of the team's players pretty easily set off the gaydar.  Rapinoe commented in a video interview (see below) that she feels queer players are generally accepted by teammates with no issue in women's soccer, but that homophobia is much more prevalent on the men's side. She describes sports as "the last institution of homophobia:"

When she officially came out earlier this summer, Rapinoe again made mention that in general, queer female athletes may find more acceptance from teammates and within their sport generally, than queer male athletes.  See more here.  

While I'm not sure that sports is "the last institution of homophobia" (I'm certain we can all think of plenty of others...), I do think it's clear that, at least in soccer, queer players on women's teams are pretty visible, even if they're not publicly out, while queer players on the men's side seem nonexistent.  I'm sure we can all think of reasons why this is true - mainly that athletics have long been associated with the kind of "conventional" masculinity that doesn't make much room for variance from the status quo and in fact, I would say that sports for men is an environment in which gender is heavily policed.   Anecdotally speaking, it seems that men's sports is heavily dominated by the kind of verbal (and sometimes physical) gay-bashing that would make being out in that environment extremely trying if not altogether impossible.

For female athletes, I would certainly not say that there aren't pressures on them to conform to certain gender norms (see my previous post on gender policing in women's sports), but I do think that there's a subversive element to women's sports that lends itself to being a more queer-friendly space.  In almost every case, women have had to fight their way into athletics.  While youth sports for both boys and girls is now commonplace, this was very recently not the norm.  Just one generation ago, when my mom was growing up, there were no organized sports for girls - even at the high school level, opportunities were very limited.  Now that's changed, but the face of elite and professional sports is still overwhelmingly male.  Women's teams at the national or professional level still have to fight tooth and nail for recognition, audience, and revenue.  Despite the fact that our women's national soccer team has been unbelievably successful over a number of years in the form of two World Cup titles, three Olympic gold medals, and the all-time leading international goal-scorer (male or female) as alum Mia Hamm, we've had difficulty sustaining a women's professional soccer league in the U.S.  Our men's national team has never won a World Cup (their best finish was third place way back in 1930) or an Olympic medal (they didn't even qualify for London this year), men's professional soccer is alive and well in a number of American cities.  The point is, female athletes have to fight the status quo to exist, while male athletes, generally, do not.  Maybe this reality lends itself to greater acceptance of deviations from the mainstream within women's sports than in men's, or maybe not, but I still look forward to seeing more athletes come out of the closet and break down this "institution of homophobia."  Megan Rapinoe has gotten the ball rolling (pun intended).  I hope others will follow.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Policing Femininity": Gender and Sports

Caster Semenya, South African sprinter

A friend recently Facebook commented on a blog about the policing of femininity in elite athletics.  I read the blog, found here, and the original article that inspired it, which you can find here.  The article features the story of a South African female track runner, Caster Semenya, whose gender has been "investigated" by the International Association of Athetics Federations (IAAF) and who is now apparently undergoing "treatment" because her body naturally produces higher levels of testosterone than the average woman.  She will be competing in the 2012 Olympics while continuing this treatment.

I found this story both interesting and disturbing.  When I've thought about gender and sports in the past, it's usually been related to athletics as a gender segregated space and how this affects transgender athletes' opportunities to participate.  I've also done some thinking about LGBT athletes and sports and the difference in the dynamics of openness and acceptance of queer athletes between men's and women's teams.  I had not really considered the question of intersex athletes or folks whose bodies don't fit into what science considers "normal" for male and female bodies.  I guess that's what I find most disturbing about the above-linked story.  Most of us who have taken a sociology or Intro to Women's Studies course are familiar with the idea that gender is socially constructed (i.e., created and reified by social tradition and norms), but that sex is biological (i.e., a fact - people are born male, with a penis, or female, with a vagina).   One of the ideas that completely blew my mind in college was the notion that not just gender, but biological sex as well, is a social (or in some instances, medical) construction.  Infants born with what we might call "ambiguous" genitalia are not actually that uncommon.  However, many such infants, sometimes called intersex, end up undergoing surgical "correction" to genitals that medical science has deemed outside of the norm.  What this means is that babies born with a large clitoris or very small penis might have their genitals cut off so that they can be raised as girls with "normal" sized clitorises.  But there's nothing abnormal about these babies to begin with except that their bodies don't reflect what their doctors expect to see in male and female bodies, so they are made to fit.  The same thing is happening to the female athletes under investigation for "abnormally" high testosterone levels:
"In a move critics call 'policing femininity,' recent rule changes by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the governing body of track and field, state that for a women to compete, her testosterone must not exceed the male threshold."
Who sets the "male threshold"?  Are there males whose testosterone levels fall below it?  There must be, just as there are clearly females whose testosterone levels "exceed" it.  The article asks if high levels of testosterone give these women an unfair advantage.  It likely gives them some advantage but I'm not sure I'd call it "unfair."  It's an accident of birth the same way someone having a critical mass of fast-twitch muscle fibers (good for explosive strength/speed) has an advantage in the 100 meter dash over someone with more slow-twitch muscle fibers (better for distance and endurance).  I'd be surprised if I have a single fast-twitch muscle in my body, but if I wanted to be a sprinter I wouldn't force fast-twitchers to undergo treatment to make it more "fair."

Ultimately, I think this goes beyond the IAAF "policing femininity," which it certainly is.  I think we're learning that biological sex and the human body are more diverse than we may have ever imagined.  People have anxiety related to gender and performance for this exact reason - male and female are not the clear and mutually exclusive categories we like to imagine them to be.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Queer Citizens

I've been thinking a lot about citizenship and queer identity lately.  The first openly trans person to testify before the U.S. Senate spoke in support of ENDA (the Employee Non-Discrimination Act) today, so these issues are especially present in my mind at the moment. (To see a video of the testimony, visit here).

For a nation that prides itself on its abundant "freedom" and "liberty," the United States actively denies many of the rights and privileges of citizenship that many people take for granted to its queer citizens.  Social and legal constraints work in concert to prevent queer and trans folks from participating in the social, political, economic, and religious life of the nation to the same extent that straight and cis-gender folks are able to.

Understand that there are people - United States citizens - who have been effectively deported from the U.S. because they can't sponsor a spouse for citizenship the way straight people can, and rather than face permanent separation from their loved one, they leave the country.

Understand that there are people in this country who would fire other people from their jobs based solely on their gender identity or expression and understand that current U.S. law permits this behavior, as do most local and state laws.

Understand that there are places in this country where a trans woman can be placed with male inmates in prison, despite grave concerns for her bodily safety and psychological well-being.  Understand that this is akin to cruel and unusual punishment, a fate our country strives to protect its other citizens from.

Understand that there are people in this country who are denied the right to adopt children and become parents because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer-identified.  Understand also that this means that there are children in this country who are denied the right to have parents because they live in a state where LGBTQ folks are not welcome to adopt and there simply aren't enough straight adoptive parents.

Understand that there are people in this country whose physical safety is under threat each time they exercise the simple freedom to walk down the street at night with friends.

Understand that there are people in this country who cannot use a public restroom without being gawked at or scrutinized at best and harassed, physically harmed, or killed, at worst.

When Americans get all excited about their "freedoms," I always wonder: which (and whose) freedoms are they referencing?  Because it seems to me that the U.S. has a number of laws (or lack thereof) that protect straight Americans' intolerance of things that make them uncomfortable, like gay folks getting hitched or transfolks working in the cubicle next to theirs.  Despite this, there's reasonable precedent in the U.S. to prevent one group's discomfort from standing in the way of another's rights, especially if the group experiencing discomfort is the one in power (see history re: emancipation, women's suffrage, Brown v. Board, Loving v. Virginia, repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell").  I heard someone say recently that if Mississippi were to put interracial marriage up for popular referendum, the way same-sex marriage has been up for referendum in a number of places, it would fail by a long shot.  Waiting for a majority of the country to get on board with same-sex marriage and non-discrimination isn't fair - if we'd done that with interracial marriage, it would still be illegal in some states.  We can't love freedom and deny the rights of citizenship to our own citizens simultaneously.  So even if queer folks, for whatever reason, distress you, imagine someone in your family being forced out of the country in the name of "family values" or imagine someone you love enduring unemployment or suffering public humiliation condoned by your government.  Then call your elected representatives in DC and tell them to support ENDA.  While you're at it, mention that you think DOMA sucks.  It's the American thing to do.  It's what any American citizen would expect of another.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Gender Photo Round-Up

Some quick gender and social justice-related photos from the past couple of weeks:

Gender Neutral Bathroom Win/Fail
I saw this sign outside a bathroom in the University of Maryland student union.  Great sign.  Love the sentiment, especially the last paragraph.

The problem was that whoever posted the sign, rather than just taping it to the bathroom door, affixed it to this giant student union poster board and set it up on a huge easel outside the so-assigned bathroom.  Which kind of takes away from the anonymity and comfort gender neutral bathrooms are meant to foster - that folks can use the bathroom without feeling like, well, a spectacle...

Fitness for Strength, Not Looks
I saw this rather refreshing ad for a gym membership in the Washington Post Express the other morning.  The woman in the ad supposedly wants to workout so she can build strength and power, not so she'll look great in a bikini or have perfect abs or some such bullshit.  You so rarely see women portrayed like this that it's kind of astonishing when you run across an ad focusing on women's abilities rather than their bodies (and implying that women themselves also care as much or more about their abilities than their appearance).

Speak Up
I came across this list circulating on Facebook the other day.  A great explanation and reminder of why we need to eliminate certain words and turns of phrase from our vocabularies.

Forks Are Simply Too Dangerous
This has nothing to do with gender, really, but it's hilarious and who doesn't love hilarious signs?  Care of the food co-op at the University of Maryland...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Funny or Not Funny?

It seems that some people have a hard time discerning what constitutes appropriate joke material and what does not.  So for all you Hunger Games fans - this is the transcender version of Katniss and Peeta's game, "Real or Not Real."  I call it "Funny or Not Funny."  If you feel confused about what is a joke that's actually funny and what is a joke that's not funny because it hurts people, please freely consult this handy guide.

"Funny or Not Funny" is a very simple game.  Things that are funny are things that are funny because they're just... funny, like kittens falling asleep while they're doing something else.  That's very funny.

Ellen Degeneres making fun of things like Go-gurt and toilet paper?  Also funny.

This video of a baby cracking up about ripping paper?

Funniest thing ever.

Jokes at the expense of gender non-conforming folks, or jokes at the expense of gay folks, or jokes at the expense of differently-abled folks or racist jokes?  Not funny (and for the record, they're not "edgy" either).

Making fun of men who like to wear dresses?  Not funny.

Using "retarded" as a synonym for unpleasant things or to denigrate others?  Really not funny.

Making racist jokes or using racist caricatures to get cheap shock-value laughs?  Not. Funny. Ever.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

10 Simple Things Cis-Gender/Straight People Can Do to Fight Transphobia and Homophobia

10 simple things everyone - but especially cis-gender and straight folks who want to be allies to queer folks - can do to challenge transphobia and homophobia:

1) Use "partner" or "spouse" in place of "husband" or "wife."

2) Say "parents" instead of "moms and dads" when discussing parenthood in general.

3) Ask if you're not sure what name or gender pronouns someone prefers.

4) Encourage your favorite stores, restaurants, or coffeehouses to make their bathrooms gender neutral - especially if their current bathrooms are single occupancy.

5) If someone asks you to call them by a different name than you're accustomed to, do not tell the person things like, "I just can't call you something new" or "But you don't seem like a 'so-and-so' to me" or that you like their old name better.  Try saying, "I'm so glad you shared that with me.  I will try really hard to make the switch quickly!"

6) Don't make jokes at the expense of transpeople or gender non-conforming people and ask others to stop when they make such remarks.

7) When someone gives birth or adopts, ask the child's name before asking about the child's gender.

8) Avoid relying on gender stereotypes when interacting with young children.  Instead of focusing on how "cute" little girls look and how "tough" little boys are, ask all young children in your life about their favorite books or their favorite songs.  Ask if you can help them do a puzzle or draw a picture.  Take them on a nature hike or a bike ride or a tree-climbing adventure.  Teach them that it's okay to express sadness, anger, and joy and that there is room for a person to be both competitive and sensitive.  Help them learn  to be good nurturers of animals and other people.

9)  Post a rainbow sticker or some other marker on your door or cubicle or desk or wherever you can at work, to signal to your colleagues that you're a safe person to talk to.

10) Find out if your employer has a gender identity and expression non-discrimination policy.  If they do not, advocate that they adopt one.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day

Today is May Day, or International Workers' Day.  It's a day to celebrate the labor movement and the working people who have fought for so many of the rights we enjoy now (like the weekend, the 8-hour day, laws against child labor, family and medical leave, etc...).  The labor movement may be smaller today than it was in the past, but it is still vibrant and active and workers are still sticking their necks out to fight for rights and protections that can benefit everybody.

Some cities and states have passed laws protecting transgender and gender non-conforming people on the job, but there are still over 35 states in which it is legal to fire a person based on their gender identity or expression.   Folks have also been advocating for a federal nondiscrimination act to protect gender identity and expression, but thus far, no federal legislation has passed.   Since most states do not protect against gender identity discrimination at work, unions have taken up the cause and have often been able to negotiate such protections into their contracts.


In honor of May Day, check out the good stuff Pride at Work (part of the AFL-CIO family) has been advocating for on behalf of transfolk:


Friday, April 27, 2012

Navigating Gender Segregated Space: Parents = Men or Women

My partner and I recently enrolled in a series of classes called "Maybe Baby," offered through a local LGBT families organization, to help us learn more about our options and legal rights for someday building a family.  After we "signed up" (i.e., emailed somebody to get on a wait list for the next course), I learned that the series is usually gender segregated - male couples meet in one class and female couples in another.  This makes some amount of sense, I suppose, at least for those considering pregnancy as an option.  Still, I was rather taken aback.  I had envisioned a class with lots of different kinds of families and people - men, women, whatever.  I hadn't envisioned Maybe Baby as a "lesbian" space, perhaps because I don't really embrace a lesbian identity, though I am sure most people perceive my partner and I as lesbians.  I was surprised and disappointed that the organization running the class - an organization for and of queer families - had apparently just assumed that everyone taking the Maybe Baby class would be cis-gender  and/or in identifiably same-sex relationships.  What if an FTM and his female partner wanted to take the class?  Would they be in the men's or the women's version?  If pregnancy were on the table they'd probably have a lot in common with folks in the women's class, but would they feel welcomed and comfortable there?  What if an MTF and her male partner were interested?  Pregnancy wouldn't be an option for them, so they might want to be in the men's class to learn about surrogacy, but would they be comfortable or welcomed there?  What about genderqueer or gender non-conforming folks?  What about a transman and a male partner?  Would they be automatically shuffled into the men's class even though pregnancy could in theory be an option for them?  It's not clear based on the information that was emailed to me after we signed up.  No one even asked our preference.  And what about adoption, which my partner and I are also interested in and will also be a topic of discussion in the series?  I can't imagine there's much about adoption that can't be discussed in "mixed" company, and as it turns out, enrollment appears to be low for the upcoming class series, so many of the topics will be discussed by a combined "men's" and "women's" group.

Still, I'm planning to mention some of my concerns to the organizers of the class and ask if anything like this has come up before and how they have addressed it.  I'd like to suggest that they consider how they present information about the class and to make changes to ensure that they don't assume anything about the gender identity of anyone who expresses interest.  If anyone, it should be an organization like this that knows that not all queer folks who want to pursue parenthood necessarily fit neatly into the categories "men" and "women."  If a class like this is not a safe space for genderqueer and trans parents to share their experiences and seek advice, then what will be?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Damn You Google Search

When in need of some quality procrastination, many of us have likely paid a visit to the Damn You Auto-correct page (if you really need some distraction or entertainment - say, you're a grad student passionately trying to avoid grading papers or writing your thesis... I would also highly recommend watching Canadian anti-drug PSAs from the 1980s on Youtube).  I'd like to suggest a new site dedicated to things accidentally searched (or found) via Google search.  Interestingly, since starting this blog, I've had a few mishaps on Google.  I have learned that it pays to carefully consider your search terms prior to hitting "enter"...

I present you with the following mini-list (I expect this may grow over the course of this blog).

Things Not to Search on Google:

1. "Dyke Daddy"

Granted, I probably could have exercised better foresight on this one, but let me explain.  In poking around the web for other blogs that challenge the gender binary, I've discovered a couple of queer parenting blogs  documenting what one blogger has dubbed "lesbian fatherhood."  I've come across a few related blogs about female/genderqueer same-sex couples choosing to go by "mama and baba" or "mom and dad" instead of "mom and mama" or something similar.  I thought hey, I like this idea! and quickly went about trying to find others in this camp of genderqueer female dads.  Since I don't embrace the term "lesbian" I hastily did a Google search for, well, "dyke daddies."  I sure did get a lot of results about "dyke daddies," but, as you can imagine, they weren't really the kind of "daddies" I was hoping for.

2. "Toys featuring female main character"

Now, these search terms seemed a little more innocuous to me.  I did this search when I was writing my Lego blog entry and thinking about gender segregation in children's toys.  I was actually having a really hard time thinking of very many toys that featured a female hero, so I thought a quick Google search might jog my memory.  Not only was the search not helpful (Among top returns were a couple of Wikipedia pages on Toy Story characters, some random piece about Smurfette, a list of kids' movies with central female characters, and a website about favorite female main characters in sci-fi novels), but it brought up three sponsored Google ads for women's sex toys.  Um...  WHAT?  Like I said, the search results themselves weren't particularly helpful but at least they were on the right track.  So why the sex toy ads?  It's unclear to all.

So, moral of the story: I can't be trusted on Google and apparently the only toys "featuring" female heroes have to do with sex.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Baby X Resurfaces

In 1978, an author named Lois Gould published a fantastic fictional piece called "X: A Fabulous Child's Story," about the Joneses, two parents who participated in a special "Xperiment" to try and raise their baby as an "X" - without revealing whether little X had male or female genitalia.  The story is brilliant.  It challenges gender socialization, such as the way we talk about babies' bodies - telling baby boys they have "husky biceps" and baby girls that they have "cute dimples."  It also gives voice to some of the difficulties faced by gender-variant folks, such as public bathroom use - an issue faced by the story's own Baby X when X enters elementary school.   But the story doesn't focus only on struggle - it also highlights the warmth that members of the Jones family feel for each other and the freedom X has to play with many kinds of toys, try many kinds of activities, and express many kinds of feelings, which X appears to share with X's classmates and friends throughout the story as other children recognize the value of such freedom and claim it for themselves.  All of the tribulations and joys that the Joneses experience in the story are the tribulations and joys that come with reducing the pressure of gender expectations in our lives.  The story's point isn't to say that gender shouldn't exist or doesn't matter.  Rather, its point is that we have let gender become a dictator of our lives and personalities - a dictator that often overpowers our own sense of self.

Recently, two real-life Baby X stories have made the news.  First was the Canadian couple last May who said they weren't revealing the sex of their new baby to anyone except their immediate family, at least for the moment.  You can read their story here.  More recently is the "where are they now" version of the story - a family in the UK who have only just now revealed the biological sex of their five-year-old.  Their story is here.  There's been a lot of chatter about these stories across the internet in blogs, comment forums, and follow-up news pieces.  Some of the commentary has been positive, but much of it has been marked by vicious criticism of both parents - everything from folks accusing the families of trying to raise gender "neutral" (whatever that is) kids and being too PC to folks declaring that these parents are idiots and that they're doing their kids a disservice by raising them as "freaks."

What strikes me most about all of this is how much this totally un-scary thing scares people.  The idea that gender, and even biological sex, might not actually be the rigid categories we imagine them to be - that they might not be real - terrifies people.  I think part of this is fear of change, fear of the other, and the pervasive intensity of transphobia.  Gender and sex are such real categories to so many people that despite their roots in personal privacy (we are, after all, on some level talking about what's between everyone's legs) they become a public, not private, matter.  Many folks become angry when they discover the "truth" about trans people who present as a different gender than they were assigned at birth.  When people discover that someone they believed was a cis-gender woman in fact was born male, they often become angry because they feel that they were "deceived" in some way.  Gender informs our social interactions in a way that leaves a lot of folks lost and confused without their comforting guidance.  The first thing we ask parents of newborns is whether they've had a boy or a girl.  I think gender roles and the sex binary have become so pervasive in society that people don't know what to say or how to act until they know this information.  And now we have these parents who are refusing to tell us?  How dare they. The comments towards the real-life Baby X parents tend to focus on the kids (they'll be teased, they'll be confused, etc...) but I think this anger actually comes from a sense of so-called perceived deception.  How dare they deny us this information that we have a right to know, the tone of the criticisms suggests.   

One of the lovely things about Gould's Baby X story is its tone.  Somehow the story manages to convey the seriousness of the issue while at the same time exuding humor and exposing our ridiculous adherence to gender norms in friendly, cheerful prose.  The story reminds us that X is just being a kid and that breaking down gender barriers isn't actually the earth-shattering event we might all imagine it to be.  Perhaps we need a global rebirth of the Baby X story in the twenty-first century, followed by a collective deep breath and sigh of relief that thanks to a new generation of forward-thinking gender-benders, we may, finally, be on the brink of freedom.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Toy Binary

This morning, I spotted an article on the girls' toys/boys' toys issue that I found rather distressing.  The article is about Lego's attempts to better market to girls (read it here).  While the column raises some decent points, the author's critique is problematic and confusing.  He seems to criticize Lego for the stereotypical implications of its new "Lego Friends" line aimed at girls, while himself buying into many of the same assumptions about gender that appear to be driving the folks at Lego.

Here's the deal: Lego has come out with a new line of toys, called "Lego Friends," which is supposed to appeal to girls.  Apparently Lego attempted to do some anthropological analysis of how boys' play differs from girls' play.  Their conclusions?  Boys like to build stuff and then put it up for display.  Girls don't like to build stuff, but rather care more about the characters and being able to play with the thing once it's built.  Really?  I'd like to see how this study was conducted.  Did they watch kids play in mix-gender groups or same-sex groups?  Did the kids get to choose toys from lots of diverse options?  How old were the kids?  Did they come from a wide variety of backgrounds?  In what ways had the kids' families and communities socialized their notions of gender roles?

The author appears to accept this "study" without question.  While he does cite a neuroscientist who states that boys' and girls' play is more similar than different; an author who was concerned that the new Lego line doesn't feature enough occupations that might encourage girls to pursue science and math careers; and an 11-year-old female Lego enthusiast who pretty much thinks the new line is stupid, he more or less accepts as gospel that toys people might generally believe to be appealing to boys won't be appealing to girls (and vice versa).  This is made clear in his opening anecdote about his own children, including the so-called conundrum he claims to have faced last month while trying to find an "appropriate" Lego set for his daughter.  He states:
"If you know Legos, then you know the difficulty of my quest.  Buying Legos for my 9-year-old son?  Easy.  Harry Potter, Star Wars, Alien Invasion, Prince of Persia, Pirates, Ninjago.  The list of boy-oriented Lego themes is long.  Girls are another story.  The choices are close to nil."
I'm sorry.  Did I miss the memo that said that Harry Potter and Star Wars and pirates are only for boys?  Or the one that said that "boy-oriented" toys and "girl-oriented" toys cannot possibly be the same?   Geez, I must have stuck those notes in my file of Stuff That Belongs In The 1950s. 

It's true that the Harry Potter story, for instance, revolves around a male hero, but it's also true that the books include a strong, smart female main character, and last time I checked, the stories were beloved by boys and girls alike.  The author ends up choosing an ambulance set, which he describes as "gender neutral," for his daughter.  By what logic he arrives at the conclusion that an ambulance is "gender neutral" but other Lego sets are not is a mystery to me.  He does mention that his daughter liked the ambulance set because it had a female driver.  If he means to say that Lego could include more female figurines in its set, I wouldn't disagree at all.  But if he means to imply that girls just aren't interested in outer space, medieval castles, or Harry Potter, or that they don't care for the challenge of building complicated stuff, I must heartily beg to differ.  I know very few folks from my generation - male or female - who didn't like Legos as kids.  I have plenty of female friends who liked building Lego sets and plenty of male friends who liked playing with them, and plenty of people in general who liked doing both.  This is all anecdotal, of course, but I think our own experiences ought to give us good reason to seriously doubt marketing "studies" that insist all kinds of nonsense about the "nature" of girls and boys and how they play.   I also think that if we're finding that girls have minimal interest in Legos, it may have less to do with the Legos themselves and more to do with how we teach little boys to be masculine and little girls to be feminine.  If we encourage very young girls to build with blocks and use their minds as much as we praise their cuteness and encourage them to carry around baby dolls, maybe we wouldn't have to try so hard to "market" Legos to them.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Hair is a really gendered thing.  For the most part, our culture dictates that long hair is best for girls, and that short hair is best for boys.  If girls are to have short hair, it must be styled a particular way, usually with those really annoying long wisps (sideburns? sidebangs? I have no idea) that go in front of your ears and that I cut off myself in the bathroom mirror for years when I simply could not convince anyone that despite being female-bodied I did in fact want a MEN's haircut.  If boys are to have long hair, god forbid they should wear it in a bun or curl it or have bangs or anything of that sort (though I must say that the hipster movement has made some headway here).

At any rate, yesterday I got my haircut, something I usually look forward to and dread in equal measure.  I look forward to it because getting a [good] new haircut is like getting anything else new - the novelty is really exciting for at least a couple of weeks.  I dread it because I have a tendency to get attached to my hair when it starts to grow out - even when it's becoming dangerously reminiscent of a mullet in the back or getting annoyingly into my eyes in the front.  I remain attached even when having a mop of unruly hair usually leads to my being mistaken for a teenager boy significantly more often.  One summer a couple of years ago, I let my hair grow really long - down to my shoulders - for the first time since my junior year of college.  I loved it, but found that others read my gender - and my queerness - differently when I had my hair long than when I had it short, even though I never did anything "girly" with my hair and even though nothing else about my mannerisms or physical gender presentation had changed.  The difference made me uncomfortable so partway through that summer, my long hair and I parted ways.

There are also other things that frustrate me about getting a haircut.  First is that haircuts in DC generally are expensive (another on the long list of reasons to miss Ohio).  It is very difficult to get a decent haircut here by someone who knows what they're doing for a reasonable price.  Second is that it is actually hard to describe to hairdressers - particularly those who aren't queer or who aren't familiar with my particular brand of queerness - what it is that I want.  I want a short, dudely haircut.  This is remarkably difficult for others to comprehend.  Third, places like to charge different prices for men's and women's haircuts.  I understand why this might be, but it sucks for those of us who don't fit squarely into one category, or whose hairstyles don't follow convention.  Why should I pay $5 or more extra for the exact same haircut as the dude in the chair next to me just because I don't share his presumed biology?  It's hard to avoid this predicament when I make appointments over the phone since people hear my voice and put me down for a women's haircut without thinking.

I've had a number of DC haircut mishaps relating to the above-mentioned three frustrations, including the time Olga at the Dupont Circle Hair Cuttery gave me a crooked $18 haircut which consisted mostly of her grabbing chunks of my hair and snipping it off while proclaiming, "See?  More better!" and then trying to blow-dry my sweater and fashion me a head covering out of a plastic bag because it was raining out and she thought I was going to make myself sick in the cold.  Or the time the "junior stylist" at Bang Salon cut himself no less than a dozen times during my haircut, making for a very nerve-wracking experience on my part.  Or the time the other "junior stylist" at Bang Salon, who could not stop her hands from shaking, informed me partway through my so-so marathon haircut that I was her first short cut...      

So yesterday I made a hair appointment online.  I bit the bullet and decided to go with a full-fledged hair-doer (my "junior stylist" days may be over...).  I also booked a men's haircut slot for the first time instead of a women's.  Which, like always, is what I got, but for the men's price.  I am happy to report that this time around, my hair is not crooked, my appointment was done in 30 minutes flat, nobody lost a finger (or an ear!), and I did not catch pneumonia or require any kind of hair poncho or blow-dry services for my clothing.